Sharmin Ali is a professional with a truly impressive track record. During her time with the analytical company Mu Sigma, based in Banglore, India, and headquartered in Chicago, she worked closely with such recognizable names as Pfizer, Walmart, and Microsoft. After five years of being bounced around the US and achieving significant success, it occurred to her that she was still lacking that crucial factor of personal fulfillment. “I realized that I was just helping the rich get richer, and I wasn’t adding too much value to my life”, she told us during our interview. So, just as many of the great innovators of our time have done when they grew restless, she made the bold decision to quit and start her own company. Upon her return to India, she decided to break into the relatively new digital media sector.
Together with her team, she produced various pieces of video content, primarily posting on major content hosting platforms like YouTube and Vimeo. During this period, she wrote well over seventy scripts. Still, she found that her company was hitting a bit of a snag in that they were just too ahead of their time: The internet revolution had not yet fully caught on in India, as it had elsewhere. After three and a half years of hard work, she sold the copyright to her scripts to a major production house and looked forward to the next endeavor.
But what form would that take?
After spending so much time creating content (as well as writing two books), Ali was struck with the realization that the biggest challenge facing content creators around the globe was not the actual creation process. Instead, it came down to ensuring that their creations could resonate as intended with their target audience. That epiphany provided her with a vision of her next big idea, a scalable, technology-driven approach to helping content marketers make material that would stick with people on an empathetic level.
Thus, Instoried was born.
Instoried: Its Mission and How It Works
One of the biggest hurdles companies and content writers face is managing to present a consistent brand narrative within their work. This is where Instoried comes in, providing a staggering array of helpful features. The web app functions not unlike Grammarly, allowing its subscribers to identify the tone of a given piece as it is typed in real-time, clarifying it as either positive, negative, or neutral. The service also helps users identify the critical element of emotional tone within their work, breaking this down into five key factors as they are dynamically generated by the tool: Joy, anger, FOMO (or, Fear Of Missing Out), sadness, and surprise. It cannot be overstated how vital emotionality is in creating impactful content. It shows what Ali refers to as the “empathy quotient” of a given piece. She says, “We are all human beings, and we are driven by empathy, driven by emotions, especially during tough times like a pandemic.”
Instoried provides live smart-recommendations on specific words to help its customers connect better with their audience, but it doesn’t stop there. The program also provides a grammar checker to cut down on editing time, a “plagiarism checker” to ensure that the user’s content is entirely original, and complete SEO optimization. The AI-driven program will also automatically create a smart headline and caption tailored to the intended reader based on the tone and emotional language of the piece to maximize clickability. Soon, it will even be available as a browser plugin, giving customers access to all of these features without the need to go and log in to the app itself. As summarized by Ali, Instoried is “All of these things, end to end for your content creation, content evaluation, all of it on one platform. So a standalone product. That is what the tool is.”
Instoried was designed first and foremost to simplify and streamline the guesswork involved in content creation, cutting down on time and costs to allow its customers to quickly and easily find the unique voice of their brand– one that will be heard clearly by their audience. “Most of the content creation is so manual, so intuition driven,” says Ali, “So our idea was, how do we completely shift it to a standalone product so that we don’t have to use multiple products? You will get everything on just one platform.”
Scalability and Forward Momentum
So far, people have been responding positively to its core message and functionality. The feedback has been “phenomenal,” according to its founder. Instoried is currently being used by forty-plus companies, with its users averaging a twenty percent increase in click rates. While most of these companies have been based in India and Southeast Asia, Ali has her sights set firmly on the US, looking now to build a team here and spread Instoried’s client base. “My job is right now to set up a base here and do whatever it takes to get the numbers and the growth correct. Because the next one year is extremely crucial for us.”
Instoried got its start roughly one year before the global pandemic and started selling during it. While other companies struggled, Instoried instead saw rapid and significant growth. As the process of selling products shifted more heavily toward e-commerce, they found their niche in helping others sell better by creating more engaging and impactful content. The platform has impressed investors too. Last October, Instoried raised $8M in funding from Pritt Investment Partners and 9Unicorns with participation from Expert DOJO, Mumbai Angels, Venture Catalysts Angel Fund, and SOSV.
In her estimation, the scalability and success of Instoried can’t be attributed to her alone. When asked what advice she would give to other SaaS founders on the subject of scaling, she said, “My feedback would be to have a stupendous team in-house, especially the early team. The leadership team is what will actually set the grounds for the larger extended team to follow. And if your leadership team doesn’t believe in what your vision is as a founder, then I think you’re going to fail for sure.”
She emphasizes the importance of getting continuous feedback from one’s customer base. Part of what made her and her team so successful was their commitment to gathering product interviews and feedback testimonials from their client base and making necessary adjusts. “[The] customer is king,” she says. “If your customer doesn’t like it, and if you have to go make those edits in your product, I think you should definitely do it. That’s what we did, and that is what has got us the numbers that we have…So I think the only advice is to follow your customer. I think your product will automatically fall in place instead of thinking that maybe this will work or that won’t work.”
The Role of AI in Content Creation
As many in the industry are already aware, AI and automation are rapidly becoming more widespread when it comes to content generation, with some companies even offering programs that will write pieces entirely on their own. For Ali’s part, she isn’t afraid of an eventual takeover of the industry by machines. “I honestly don’t believe that AI can ever replace human beings because nothing can replace what the human mind can do,” she says. She and her team aren’t out to eliminate the human factor in content creation but rather to make writers and marketers more efficient in the work they do.