Varun Khare, Business Head of Paytm Insider is known for his dynamic approach, strong drive which has led Paytm Insider Scale to new heights. His expertise spans key areas including account management, new business development, media strategy and agency management.
Khare recently spoke to Loudest.in, here are some edited excerpts from this exclusive interview.
Q1.Can you tell us about the inception of Paytm Insider's music event business and its journey so far?
Paytm Insider was founded in June 2017, as a marketplace for organizers to seamlessly manage and plan events, and for consumers to discover and buy tickets to exciting experiences in their cities.
Since then, we’ve grown manifold in terms of our offerings—from the kind of events we curate to the 170+ cities we are present in today. Last year itself, the music category on Paytm Insider grew by over 2.2x compared to 2019.
I joined the Paytm Insider team in 2020 with a brief to lead IPs and Touring. At this point, over a conversation with Shreyas (CEO & founder of Paytm Insider & Head of Product - Paytm) and Madhur (President and Group CFO - Paytm), we made the choice to pivot away from acting as sole promoters and producers, owing to the fact that unlike the West, India as a market has more producers who act as promoters. Keeping that in mind, we chose to focus on our core offering—which is ticketing—and double down on how we could further benefit the live events ecosystem via IP’s & touring.
Needless to say, each decision comes with its own pros and cons. In this case, we felt it was in the best interests of the marketplace and of course ours, to be able to act as co-promoters and co-producers with our partners from across the country. This has enhanced our offerings to the consumers, venues, brands and the co-promoters we work with.
Q2.Paytm Insider has become a prominent player in the music event industry. What strategies have you implemented to achieve this success?
Our decision to move away from being sole promoters or producers and instead act as co-promoters and co-producers with our partners, has truly paid off. We have, in turn, been able to focus on the fundamentals of our offerings, i.e. being fully transparent with partners, sharing insights and analytics, and being able to make available the resources at our disposal. When I say resources, I don’t mean money alone. The intangibly amazing experiences that our teams have had while being able to handhold and work with artists, brands and co-promoters to stir growth and opportunity in metros and other cities across the country, serve as an immeasurable resource.
We’ve also ensured that we don’t only focus on the larger names/crowd-pullers in urban markets but instead spend some time understanding regional markets and consumption habits. All this, while being able to essentially speak to fans in their language and settings across various genres in their own cities. Today 32% of fans who buy tickets to concerts and music festivals are not from the top 10 cities.
Q3.How does Paytm Insider curate and select the music events it promotes? What factors do you consider when choosing which events to feature?
While we’re on the lookout for international acts, our core focus is on musicians from India. We believe there is great scope for growth amongst mainstream artists and talent in regional markets, particularly in tier 2 and 3 cities. Not keeping the focus solely on urbane English or Hindi-speaking talent, has ensured the widening of our customer base. The tremendous audience responses to South talent like that of the legendary Ilaiyaraaja, Pradeep Kumar, Vijay Antony, Motta Maadi Music, or Aniruddha, and Eastern genius of Rupam Islam & Fossils, Anupam Roy and Chandrabindoo, among others bear testimony to our focus to non-urban markets
Q4.Music event trends are constantly evolving. How does Paytm Insider stay ahead of the curve and adapt to changing audience preferences?
A simple but accurate answer to that would be that Paytm Insider is constantly working to evolve with the industry and its trends. It is a constant balance between content and context. So, from an A&R perspective we ensure that we are aligned with global trends and music by having regular deep conversations with the artiste fraternity. We have a team that is heavily exposed to and knowledgeable within the live entertainment space and are passionate about music. This certainly is a big plus.
Simultaneously, we continue to work closely with promoters and our partner network across the country to understand trends and forecasts whilst cross checking with internal A&R teams and pulling up rich data and analytics to better understand consumer behavior and spends. Of course, always having a good ear to the ground can never go out of fashion!
From a business point of view, we consistently track macro developments such as GDP, economic conditions, licenses and policies including (but not limited to) music licenses.
Despite every tool and technology at our disposal, nothing can replace the organic feedback of being at these gigs and catching an audience’s reaction firsthand. Our highly committed and superlatively passionate team is always present in full-force at these events not just for troubleshooting, but for experiencing the artiste and the audience live. It isn’t always about the scale of the event. We have had times when a 200 pax audience has given us more insight than a couple of thousands at a gig venue.
Q5.What challenges does Paytm Insider face in the music event business, and how do you overcome them?
Kickstarting an IP & Touring team meant we were undertaking more risk – To start with, we chose not to adopt a top of the pyramid approach by owning our own IP’s and restricting data and insights. Instead of competing with our partners, we opted to invest our money and resources where it truly matters: i.e into the industry directly with expert promoters, producers, artists and venues. Kickstarting an IP and touring team has resulted in us undertaking more risk and our awareness of this risk factor has only fuelled us to do better.
Therefore, we approached every gig, tour or IP, with the same intensity to ensure a predictability of the customer experience, production standards and business efficacy. At times, not all of this remained in our control but the intent has always been to move forward together and develop a close-knit, large community of professionals. We have never lost sight of our role in fostering this sense of community and pride ourselves for not indulging in navel-gazing.
Besides all that, there are challenges like every industry faces. I for one would like to see the live industry feature more in larger forums like FICCI for example and I do see room for a reduction in taxation for the arts. But from a more myopic standpoint, things like unseasonal weather, small (but growing) list of talent, lack of single window clearances for permissions are all challenges we continue to face.
Q6.Paytm Insider is known for its seamless ticketing and event management services. How do you ensure a smooth experience for both event organizers and attendees?
We have an extremely skilled and experienced team whose efforts are dedicated to creating a seamless, predictably reassuring experience for our customers, talents and brands. In fact, we don’t produce events, preferring instead to work with the very best producers in the country in order to put together these experiences. We don multiple hats as an extension of the talent team, brand and sponsorship teams and production teams. We remain committed to the customer experience, ensuring that we are marketing and promoting the right experiences to our vast audience across both Paytm & Paytm Insider. We see ourselves as project directors on behalf of all stakeholders. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution; we focus on our core and also look to complement our partners who bring different strengths to the table. Our attitude of inclusion has built tremendous goodwill for us with attendees and organizers alike and we’re both grateful and mindful of that.
Q7.How do you build and maintain strong partnerships with artists, venues, and other stakeholders in the music event industry?
As previously mentioned, our intent and focus has always been to work together with artists, promoters, venues and brands. We do this with complete transparency, unfailingly working on good faith and constantly trying to derive more value for all our stakeholders. We acknowledge, understand and respect our shared goal with these stakeholders and never lose sight of how to complement them towards that.
Yes, we’d love to and are exploring this in select markets. To be honest though, this is more a question for the music rights owners to see if they’d like to partake in including this offering as a part of our collective success.
Q9.What role does technology play in enhancing the music event experience for attendees, and how does Paytm Insider leverage technology to achieve this?
Great question. We place a lot of importance on our technology, not only focusing on consistently improving the customer journey but also ensuring that organizers have a smooth experience when planning and managing their events.
We have built a seamless user journey for customers — from discovery of events/artists to quick checkout with M-ticket options available across most events. Cashless payments made possible via RFID solutions enable customers to purchase F&B and merchandise at events with just the tap of a card.
Our turnstiles and scanners have helped secure entry to as many as 100,000 fans per match across multiple stadiums, during the IPL season, concerts, tours and other events. Customers also have the option of seamless ticket transfers as one the many value-added features our platform offers.
From an organizer point of view, we’ve built a complete DIY dashboard to enable them to create, manage, contract and settle events with ease without even having to engage with a representative at our end.
They can use our services to host on ground or digital mediums like video-on-demand or streaming events. The organizer dashboard offers insights on event-related stats like traffic, sales information, trends, revenue generated, including the ability to manage guest lists or send out specific communication or event guides to attendees.
Q10.Paytm Insider caters to a diverse audience with varied music preferences. How do you strike a balance between mainstream and niche events?
Honestly, it’s not our responsibility to create that balance — there is, after all, an organic relation between an artist and a fan. We’re here to ensure that we do our best to match demand and supply in some cases, or enhance discovery in some others. Music is a form of expression for us fans as much as it is for the artist writing it. Therefore, it doesn’t require a censor or funnel to balance one over the other. We respect the listener to make their own choices that allow for their best interpretation of themselves.
Q11.How do you see the future of the music event business, and what are Paytm Insider's long-term goals in this industry?
We’re in an incredibly nascent space which only means the potential to grow is incredible. I do see a lot more short-term competition in this space, more venues and infrastructure to support this growth and much more philanthropic or brand support as a part of the industry growth. We will see more relationships converting to partnerships than simply client-vendor relationships, as we enter a space of collaboration to be successful.
We want to be the best curators for your scene, whatever it may be—from music gigs and concerts to theater performances, comedy shows or even your favorite sport leagues. We want to be your guide to discovering exciting, unique experiences in just about any city in the country. If we can do that whilst delivering the best support to our fans and other stakeholders, we’d be extremely happy. That will always be both our short-term and long-term goals.
Q12.Can you share a memorable success story or an event that you believe truly exemplifies Paytm Insider's commitment to the music event business?
The music festival I-Rock (Independence Rock) hadn’t hosted an edition of its rock festival for over a decade owing to various reasons, particularly the fact that it hadn’t been able to sustain itself financially through each edition over time.
Last year, when our partners Hyperlink Brand Solutions along with Farad Wadia, the founder of I-Rock, came to us with this opportunity to bring back the festival, our team jumped at the opportunity to pick it up and revive it. This was a festival that past generations had experienced, and it was important that a new generation of artists and fans experience it too. As participants in the experience of bringing it back, we felt like custodians of a musical and experiential legacy that was intrinsically tied with generations of music lovers in the country.
Hyperlink made it a great success with the way they produced the Mahindra I-Rock. Together we went out and got brands to support it through sponsorships and partnerships. A sold out first edition meant that not only was it a success, but we also managed to make it financially viable and sustainable for the foreseeable future.
Q13.In today's digital age, social media and online marketing play a crucial role in event promotion. How does Paytm Insider utilize these platforms to reach its target audience?
We recognize that the digital is the present and the future, while remaining cognizant of the analog that drives these digital experiences. Events are primarily marketed through the inventory and collaterals present on the platform. We also tap into the massive base of Paytm-rich data that allows us to understand audience preferences, be it across OTT, streaming or even subscription services for products, brands or television. This enables us to aid and fastrack discovery for fans.
We use the available real estate across conventional means like social media platforms but continue to rely on talking to fans at other points of intersection through their daily life - audio streaming platforms, radio, outdoor media, residential societies, corporates, malls and cinemas, grocery stores and cabs amongst other mediums. Mediums will change as is their wont, but the fundamentals of audience satisfaction will at their core remain the same despite evolving and updating with the times.
Q14.Finally, what advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to venture into the music event business?
My advice would be to always focus on delivering the best overall experience. Fans are your priority — focus on them. That's what the artist, venue and brands want too!
Work towards creating sustainable experiences — don’t get easily drawn into bidding wars and have strong conviction in both costs and revenue sources. Put blinders on and focus on what you’ve picked up, don't get distracted by what your competitors could or are doing. Lastly, always work in good faith BUT document everything!
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