Image: Mexy Xavier; Light painting: Neha Mithbawkar
Kishan Panpalia | 22
Head of business, Pepper Content
In 2014, the maths was simple. There was an opportunity to make money. “It was ₹1 on every kilo of scrap,” recalls Kishan Panpalia, who was then in Class 8, and exploring options to make some quick bucks. There was a problem, though. In Akola, India’s cotton city in Maharashtra, nobody thought money could be made out of scrap. “Ek rupaya margin pe kaun kaam karta hai (who works on a margin of one rupee)?” was the question that tormented everybody. So, everybody scrapped the thought and idea of doing business.
Panpalia, however, was different. Business was in his blood. His father was a civil engineer-turned-builder who also had a sanitary ware shop. The young lad spotted gold in scrap, convinced his friends and relatives to put in some money, and decided to make most of the intra-day fluctuations in the trading of scrap, which was a highly unorganised market. Panpalia started buying a few tonnes of scrap and converted those into a volume game. Money started flowing and everybody got their share. For the schoolboy, business was all about being street smart and sniffing an opportunity that was missed by all.
Five years later, in early 2019, the maths again looked simple. There was money to be made, and the amount again was nothing much to write about. “We were offered 15 paise per word,” says Panpalia, who couldn’t make it to IIT and had a soft landing at BITS Pilani in 2018. During the second semester of his first year, he joined Pepper Content, a content marketplace started by his college seniors Anirudh Singla and Rishabh Shekhar.
What made the co-founders rope in Panpalia early in December 2018 was his hustle, and something else. “I was also great at jugaad
,” says Panpalia, who stunned everybody in college by raising a sponsorship of ₹1.25 lakh for an event. If you consider the normal sponsorship raised so far—₹25,000 or so—Panpalia’s feat is staggering. View the full list of Forbes India 30 Under 30 2023 here
The founding team of Pepper Content had stumbled on a business opportunity. But the larger question was: Who would write content for 15 paise per word? That was the rate offered by an automotive car parts dealer who wanted some cool content. Panpalia, along with the co-founders, decided to write themselves.
In 10 days, the team churned out 300 pieces. That’s how the business got underway. And there was no looking back.
Pepper works with over 2,500 customers, claims to have over 1.2 lakh content creators, and tags itself as the largest freelance creators’ platform globally. So far, the startup has raised $18.1 million from a battery of funders and angels, including Lightspeed Venture Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, Tanglin VP, Titan Capital, Gokul Rajaram (Doordash, Pinterest), Kunal Shah (Cred), Dheeraj Pandey (Nutanix, Adobe) and Ashish Gupta (Helion VC).
The backers are impressed with the work done by Pepper Content and Panpalia. “Age is just a number, and this statement has truly been proven by Kishan,” reckons Anant Vidur Puri, partner at Bessemer Venture Partners. Pepper, he adds, has been one of the highest growing companies, and Kishan has been one of its strongest foundational pillars. “The immense level of maturity, business sense and revenue management at his age is unheard of,” he underlines. Making an early-stage venture dive so deep into the enterprise market and acquire over 2,500 customers in under three years is testimony to Kishan’s business acumen.
Panpalia, meanwhile, shares his success mantra. “When people asked why, I answered by asking why not,” he says.
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(This story appears in the 10 February, 2023 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)