There has been a drastic growth in the popularity of independent user-generated reviewing sites in the last decade. Several businesses have also seen to be using this medium as a part of their advertising campaign as well.
According to a research conducted recently by India’s apex Internet Association- IAMAI, more than 60% of Internet users in India believe that online reviews greatly influence their choice.
But the pioneer of this industry remains Mouthshut.com!
What Is Mouthshut.Com And Their Business Model?
Founded in 2000 by Faisal Farooqui; MouthShut.com is a portal wherein one can Read, Write, Rate, and Comment on Reviews about a whole range of products or services. One can also use the site to compare products as well.
In other words, mouthshut.com is an all-round consumer review platform and all the content on the site is completely user-generated as well.
Any visitor can become a member for free and then can begin with writing reviews or sharing photos and diaries, discuss their opinions about brands or their products, etc.
MouthShut.com had fathered this concept much before they were popularised by Facebook and Twitter. It has become one of the topmost, highly popular and trusted consumer feedback networks that accounts to millions of reviews written by ordinary consumers on thousands of products and services across around 250+ categories.
At large, it is a community where consumers connect with each other by adding each other in their Trusted Circle, send each other Virtual Gifts, maintain a photo gallery, etc. “Trusted Circle” is something that people use to avoid the possibility of fake or malicious reviews.
Other than that, MouthShut.com also has a service wherein any cell phone user can send SMS-based reviews on +919769696967 and post on Mouthshut.com. It’s called ‘Mouthshut Mobile Service’.
More recently, with the changing environment and in an attempt to modernize its business model, Mouthshut.com has also moved itself from being a consumer review site, to a buyer’s guide.
In this new role, MouthShut will be acting as a platform that helps consumers decide which product to buy from a range of categories. It would also act as a blog where consumers can file complaints for bad service or products and companies can take it from there to act and react to complaints.
Beyond all that – Mouthshut.com has also been of great use in “Academic Research”. Due to the depth and variety of original content, MouthShut.com has and is being used by researchers to understand the behaviour of the masses.
The articles and reviews on the site have been greatly used to quote consumer and culture pattern by various mediums. And mouthshut.com as a whole has also been a part of several case studies on Consumer Behaviour as well.
On the other end, Mouthshut.com not only offers its consumers a free platform to express their opinions, but also has various programs to help businesses to gain from the platform, so that they can improve offerings and brand reputation. They call it “Mouthshut for Business”!
For businesses, MouthShut.com helps them understand the complex web of Social Media and reviews. It also helps them scale-up their brand by using offering various options such as branding and ads. Overall, they help you to attract eyeballs with Display Advertising, Video Ads, Contests, etc…
Additionally, they also help you to directly connect with your customers with the help of Brand Pulse. ‘MouthShut Brand Pulse’ in their words is – an annual subscription based feature for brands who wish to have meaningful interactions with consumers. It helps you understand what people are saying about your brand.
All-in-All – Mouthshut.com’s business model is a clever mix of advertising, sales and local sales for the retail industry, online market research, and a perfect platform to understand the satisfaction of their customers.
MouthShut.com also offers a portal that provides daily discount deals on spas, dance classes, health checkups, car service, restaurants discounts etc., called – ‘Dealface.com’.
What Market Segment Are They Targeting?
If you look closely, mouthshut.com is a business model that targets both ends of the pole. On one end, their audience is the consumers who are reading and writing reviews about products or services for the benefit of the ones who may be looking for advice; while on the other end, their target audience is also the businesses who want to improve their customer engagement and resolve issues or complaints that they might come across.
According to a recent study by Nielsen global survey – 87% Indians who access the Internet trust recommendations for purchasing of products or services from others, than any other kind of advertising. Thus, making word-of-mouth the most powerful tool in the industry!
Having said that; MouthShut.com being a platform for first hand product reviews and product information, primarily targets the buyer end of the market who are in search for genuine advice!
Talking about the kind of audience they receive; interestingly, the visitors from within India are usually in the age group of 8 to 25 years, while the hits that they receive from the West, and the mostly the ones who visit to check out travel deals and to understand their genuineness, and are in the age groups of 30 to 55 years.
According to their research, the youth in the family are more internet savvy and frequent users, and are also the important decision makers in Indian homes. And this is the age group mouthshut.com actually targets.
What Are Their Business & Marketing Strategies, Partnerships And Revenue Models?
To begin with – Mouthshut.com is made in adherence to ‘Web 2.0 standards’ which has greatly helped them in creating a platform which is able to generate Crowd-sourced Content.
This has helped them to create a logical and diversified monetization strategy such as – earning revenues from reviews and products from brands, Backlinks to Product sites, Aggregation of eCommerce, etc!
Other than that, due to an enhanced network of users, fresh and search friendly content, mouthshut.com is also able introduce a ‘Cost per click model’, and is also able to boost their SEO (Search Engine Optimization) greatly.
MouthShut.com has also partnered with Google for their snippet program, which helps Google to display product ratings from MouthShut.com directly in Google Search result.
Additionally, they also participate in Google’s AdSense Publishing Program.
Many domestic and international brands have been leveraging MouthShut.com to create and increase their brand value. They have tied-up with a range of online and offline companies for the promotion, advertisements, etc., of their products or services.
At the same time, they have also partnered with various brands to become a ‘one-site stop’ for them, where consumers can contact the company directly through their site, for any complaints or otherwise. These companies in return pay a subscription fee, but access to the site remains free.
Moving on to their Marketing Strategies – Mouthshut.com has always been known for their most unique marketing strategies which greatly rely on Word-of-mouth, which has always been their primary strategy to market themselves.
Going back to their starting days, mouthtshut.com had has rolled out a marketing stint wherein, they had promoted their brand on the back of the Auto Rickshaws. The idea was to use autos across Mumbai (to begin with) as a low cost but effective marketing tool.
They had painted the URL of its website behind the backs of thousands of rickshaws. They paid these Auto Rickshaws Rs.200 (on an average) for letting them display the ad for a few months.
The company later expanded this advertising campaign in Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Chennai, Kolkata etc. And according to their research, a huge majority of the users came to know about mouthshut.com through these auto ads.
This stint had become so famous that MouthShut.com was also mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur Magazine, London’s Financial Times, and almost all the newspapers and TV channels in India.
Looking at the grand success of this strategy, even large companies such as Oracle copied their idea in India as well.
Due to such brilliant strategies, Mouthshut.com has also been recommended by various social media commentators and its credibility is such that their content is also often used by many including at least fifty non-fiction books, and the Marketing Management textbook by the Father of Modern Marketing himself – ‘Philip Kotler’.
Who Leads The Brand?
Born on the 23rd of April, Faisal Farooqui is the Founder and CEO of MouthShut.com.
Faisal belongs to a family who own a couple of bakeries in Mumbai. He has completed his Bachelor of Science degree in Information Systems as well as Finance from the State University of New York at Binghamton.
Later, he was also recruited from campus itself, and had worked in the Telecoms consulting practice of American Management System, in Fairfax, Virginia.
Faisal is named as one of the Top Contemporary Entrepreneur in India and has often been invited to speak on entrepreneurship, technology, social media and marketing seminars globally. Besides this, he has also been a guest lecturer at colleges such as the American University in Dubai, IIM (Ahmedabad), IIT (Mumbai), NASSCOM, NITIE Mumbai, IAMAI, etc.
He has also received several awards, some of which include: -
- Listed among 50 Indian Young Leaders (British Embassy, India)
- Received the ‘Top 100 Digital Icons of India’ Award
- Listed as top Business People of India – Entrepreneur magazine
- Termed as a Youth Icon (Doordarshan, India’s national TV channel)
- Awarded as the Top 100 Powerful Digital Icons in India (Impact Magazine)
Other than mouthshut.com, Faisal has also cofounded ‘Zarca Interactive’ – a Virginia-based enterprise survey and feedback company in 2002.
How Has Their Growth Been So Far?
Mouthshut.com has begun as a self- funded and what the leverage he held was that, since he belonged to a financially stable family, he didn’t have any financial pressure to support them.
The total seed capital that he started-off with was roughly ₹12 lakhs that he had collected from his savings and help from friends. He started-off in a small garage at Bandra that his father used to own and had given him to use. Out of the total, more than 50% of it was used to arrange computers and setting up servers. The rest was used in the day-to-day functioning.
He began with a team of 7 software engineers and graphic designers, and focused more on the product than on the beautification of the office.
Since he didn’t have a lot of business experience, the initial year was a real pain. He had exhausted all his financial reserves in the first nine months itself to develop premium quality of content, and had come to a stage where he had no money to pay the salaries as well.
He had to reach out to his family to help him out with funds. As a matter of fact, he didn’t even take any salary for himself for the first two years. To add to that, the revenue in the first year was zero, so he couldn’t do any advertising as well.
What helped mouthshut.com the most was word-of-mouth publicity, to become popular. This increased gradually, and with the increase in the number of hits, the website became large enough for to tie up with Google and display their advertisements. And with that began the incoming of revenues. This helped them to break even in the second year.
With that money, they also began strategic advertising, and came up with the idea of displaying their company name behind Auto-Rickshaws, which went viral and made them a huge brand!
Within a matter of a decade, they also received various awards from across the world, increasing their prestige even more.
By 2011, Mouthshut.com was carrying reviews of more than 4 lakh products and services and also was getting an average of 1.2 lakh hits a day. They had also increased their staffing to 30, and had also moved to a bigger office as well. Although the amount was not disclosed, but it is certain that they were generating revenues worth a few crore rupees by then.
By the next year, the company also launched its mobile site, with a strategy to establish a strong mobile presence. To be more specific, they had three specific goals – to offer their vast range of content to people, to help consumers in taking decisions quickly, and to continue to help consumers to share their views and opinions more easily.
Although, the company has been tight-lipped about the amounts of investments received, but according to their website, over the period of time they have been funded by three investors, which include: designMD.com (Virginia, USA), Direct Information Technology LLC (Dubai, UAE) and a few Angel Investors in America of Indian Origin.
And today, in a matter of 3 years; the company has grown on to influence the world with its 8 strong million consumers who visit the platform per month. They now have around 5 million registered users who regularly review more than 500,000 diversified products and services.