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From The Front Lines: Anirudh Singla (Pepper Content)

Patrick Mc Govern

Patrick McGovern

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Michael Brown

September 06, 2023
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The Bowery Capital team is continuing our blog series covering B2B Marketplaces. We are doing deep dives on various companies, interviewing founders and investors, and learning what it takes to build success in the B2B Marketplace arena. This week, Anirudh Singla, Founder & CEO of Pepper Content, answers some of our questions. You can read all of the posts in our series by going here.

Pepper Content is an AI-powered content marketing platform with an expert-led talent marketplace that connects global brands such as Google, Meta, Amazon and Adobe with over 100,000 creators. Pepper’s Founder & CEO Anirudh Singla sat down with our team to share some of his marketplace learnings.

What inspired you to launch Pepper Content?

The idea for Pepper Content emerged in my college dorm room while studying at BITS Pilani. I identified a whitespace when looking to earn passive income to support my education through freelance writing, and I began to utilize gig marketplace platforms like Fiverr and Upwork. At this time in India, the digital media space was approaching an inflection point. I saw early signals that a B2B marketplace content platform offering something similar to “Uber for Content” could become a massive business.

Who are the typical companies and content creators that collaborate through Pepper Content’s platform?

On the demand side, we have enterprises on Pepper Content across multiple sectors including multinationals in e-commerce (Amazon), financial services (PayTM, Edelweiss), healthcare (Apollo), and software (Adobe, Cerner), as well as a range of fast growing mid-market companies. On the supply side, we have high-quality freelance expert talent, including content writers, graphic designers, localization experts, video creators, and other creative professionals.

How does the platform acquire and retain high-quality content writers and link them with the right companies and jobs?

Pepper’s initial talent pool acquisition strategy utilized informal Facebook groups in India which catered to the content community; we identified Facebook groups for content writers with almost four million users and this was our best source for early supply. A single writing job posted in these groups would rapidly gain traction, with 500+ users reaching out almost immediately to inquire about the opportunity. This reaffirmed my belief that as a marketplace we would never be supply-constrained because curated talent is abundant.

To date, about 200,000 creators have applied to offer their services through Pepper Content, however, we only work with the top 3% of the applicant pool. We use an automated matchmaking process and a smart recommendation assistant which ensures every job put forward by the demand side is matched with the right freelancer. Pepper Content shows opportunities to freelancers based on their availability, and when these writers express interest in a given opportunity, they are then evaluated for that job based on their industry expertise, previous work quality, and writing style. Our matching algorithm also accounts for customer feedback and past ratings, which functions as a quality control layer. All of these factors result in us having a fine-tuned, creator-level understanding of whether the freelancer is a good fit for the particular assignment.

How are the content creators first vetted when they join the platform?

The vetting process for content creators consists of rigorous tests to improve and retain the quality of talent we can provide to customers. Our stringent evaluation system includes over 400 tests, starting with a grammar proficiency test that almost 70% of the applicant pool fails. The next rounds of evaluations are focused on the applicants’ industry and vertical specializations. In addition to the automated tests, the creators are also evaluated using a matrixed approach which enables management to identify two key groups of creators: motivated and patient people, and those with niche expertise.

Pepper’s customers include 400 of India’s largest corporations and multinationals. What is your GTM strategy to penetrate markets in EMEA and the US?

Pepper Content began as a B2B marketplace that naturally evolved into a SaaS-enabled marketplace. A core aspect of our GTM strategy was to make SaaS technology and a marketplace work in combination to compound and drive network effects. The questions we were trying to answer were: i) how can I generate more demand from customers by giving them the ability to get insights on what to do? And ii) what is the best strategy to create unique content and drive ROI? Pepper Content’s GTM strength stems from a strong outbound enterprise motion that echoes the new-gen India Enterprise Story, enabling the company to have onboarded almost 2,000 customers including the likes of Amazon, Adobe, Facebook, and Google. Nearly 25 of the top 30 financial institutions in India use Pepper Content.

The success of our global GTM strategy is evident through our success in the US, where we have reached a $1M run-rate in the last five months. Pepper is a US-registered entity with an Indian subsidiary, and we have partnered with venture partners like Lightspeed and Bessemer, who understand the US market well.

As Pepper Content began to get initial momentum, were there any levers you could pull that supercharged user growth?

A big lever that helped us was realizing that for any B2B marketplace, quality plays a huge role in the business. Many people think that once they reach a certain scale, they’ll go back and fix quality. However, quality, especially in B2B marketplaces, is proportional to customer revenue retention, and there is a direct correlation between the two. A lot of Pepper Content’s focus went into rebuilding quality levers that we should have addressed earlier in the company’s life cycle. If we had addressed these issues early on, we could have compounded 3x faster. Another vital factor is recurring contracts; retention over time is crucial because the talent element of the supply side only sticks around if there is predictable demand. How do those B2B enterprise relationships evolve into more recurring and strategic rather than transactional? All these levers need to compound over the long term. Otherwise, you end up scaling quite a lot, but then in leaner months things can end up going back to zero.

The platform recently launched, an assistive tool built on GPT to generate short-form content copy; how will this differentiate from what demand-side customers could do with OpenAI’s platform?

We recognized quite early on that AI would play a massive role in this space, so about two years ago, we built an AI writing assistant called Pepper Type, similar to Copy or Jasper. We scaled it to over half a million users through a product-led growth GTM motion. The success of Pepper Type was reaffirmed when it became the first AI product on Product Hunt and the 11th fastest-growing product on G2 in 2022. Pepper Content’s stance is that the future is not talent or AI, but talent plus AI.

Pepper Content is differentiated from OpenAI because we’ve built a SaaS business marketplace that enables companies to drive the content marketing lifecycle from strategy to ROI. At the same time, we enable their teams to use generative AI workflows inside our platform and have access to an expert talent marketplace. In a true sense, we can tie together workflow software, expert talent, and generative AI to make the platform successful.

As a B2B marketplace, what metrics do you focus on to track the business's health? Do you have one KPI that is your North Star, or is it a more varied approach to assessing how things are going?

A core metric is our customer invoices rather than the industry standard of billings because it’s what is most equivalent to cash flow. The second is gross margin because that’s what you end up making. Managed marketplace revenue is not like gross transaction volume; while we do account for overall revenue, we always focus on margins that eventually lead to profitability as a core function.

What is the most common piece or type of content these enterprise users use?

We believe enterprise users focus on outcome-based growth from a platform rather than input. The enterprises we work with are more concerned with how you drive ARR and that outcome, and it's always about workflow with an enterprise rather than point solutions. What differentiates Pepper for Enterprises is that we have AI embedded in their day-to-day workflows and have a stronger understanding of what customers are looking at from a strategic third-partner standpoint to end-to-end execution. The biggest problem with ROI is that it doesn't work out if strategy creation, distribution, and analytics aren’t on the same page.

What is your advice for any B2B marketplace founder starting their startup journey?

B2B marketplaces are amazing businesses that can compound with the proper leverage. We believe the key to a successful B2B marketplace is to marry customer expectations to the end outcome, and if you can achieve that in a scalable method, that can be a real success. I am convinced that SaaS-enabled marketplaces will have a big moment this year, especially with how generative AI is democratizing the ability to scale-up - this will benefit companies operating in verticalized SaaS and business marketplaces; it’s truly a remarkable space to be building in right now.

Special thanks to Suchritha Patlolla for her help on this one. If you liked “From The Front Lines: Anirudh Singla (Pepper Content)” and want to read more content from the Bowery Capital Team, check out other relevant posts from the Bowery Capital Blog.