Home / Business / The Ken raises $1.5M to grow its subscription journalism business in India

The Ken raises $1.5M to grow its subscription journalism business in India

The Ken, a subscription news startup from India, is moving through the gears after it raised $1.5 million in fresh funding to build out its media business.

We first profiled the company in March 2017 and now, nearly 18 months later, the startup has raised its Series A round led by Omidyar Networks, which has invested in new media companies such as Rappler in the Philippines. Other investors included Yuj Kutumb, the Family Foundation headed by Xander Group founder Sid Yog, and existing and new angel investors.

Rohin Dharmakumar, co-founder and CEO of The Ken, told TechCrunch that the company still has more than half of its $400,000 seed round in the bank, but it has raised this additional cash to go after new opportunities.

The Ken has made its mark by publishing one thoughtfully-reported long-form story each day. An annual subscription is priced at Rs 2750 (around $43) in India or $108 overseas, there are also options for quarterly and single-story access. Thus far it has covered technology startups, healthcare and business verticals but now it is aiming to expand that focus.

“We were a single product experience,” Dharmakumar said. “But this funding allows us to slowly transition The Ken to a media brand with a portfolio of products that gives our readers different things to connect to on different days.”

“We don’t want to replace newspapers, we want to complement them [and] be the deep read that you take alongside the newspaper,” Dharmakumar added, explaining that The Ken will never churn out “dozens” of stories each day.

“We do one story [per day] right now and we might go to two or three, but we’ll organize it so people can read different slices. Increasingly it’s our belief that we don’t want to bombard readers with too much stuff to read each day [because] we can’t do justice to our stories and readers can’t process the information,” he said.

Beyond expanding the scope of reporting, The Ken is looking to cover international topics for its India-based audience and it is also dabbling with different types of storytelling.

That’s already manifested in a weekend edition — which Dharmakumar said has a very different tone — but the startup is looking into audio storytelling, podcasts and other mediums that allow it to “stay true to our brand of journalism.” Video is, at this point, off the table although it could be used in conjunction with stories but not standalone.

Dharmakumar noted that The Ken may also experiment with events over the next twelve months, but he was quick to point out that the focus should be on bringing value to subscribers and not simply pulling in cash. Events are, of course, can be hugely lucrative for media companies — its a key revenue driver for TechCrunch among others, for example — but his concern is that it takes the company down a road it doesn’t want to be on.

“It’s easy to get sidetracked by events,” Dharmakumar said. “We didn’t start this business to do events.”

On the subject of revenue, however, The Ken appears to be doing well even though it isn’t divulging specific numbers at this point.

The company proudly announced it was cash flow positive in April 2018 and Dharmakumar revealed that revenue for its most recent quarter was doubled the previous quarter, and up 3X on the period one year previous. A key part of that seems to be group subscriptions. The Ken has developed a self-serve option that allows corporates to sign-up staff on their dime, while the launch of a discounted student price has also led major educational institutions, including Havard Business School India, to signing up students en masse.

“We’ve proved [the naysers] wrong and with a team of 15 people — we pay market salaries to all our journalists— we became cash flow positive,” Dharmakumar said. “We’re on the cusp of a significant uptick in subscribers. More and more people are discovering us and realizing ‘Hey this price isn’t so bad and the journalism they commit to delivering is good.’”

That team is spread across three offices and the headcount looks set to jump to 30 over the next few months with The Ken in full on hiring mode right now, its CEO said.

You can read more about The Ken’s new funding round on its website here — that post is free to view, of course.

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Ezra raises $4M to diagnose cancer with MRIs, not painful biopsies

1 in 41 men will die of prostate cancer. But sticking a needle through your rectum into your prostate to screen for cancer brings along a ton of bacteria and terrible side effects like pain, infection, urinary trouble, and even erectile dysfunction. It turns out you can detect cancer with Magnetic Resonance Imaging…it’s just prohibitively expensive to do one-off MRIs and have radiologists analyze the scans. But by buying MRI slots in bulk and using artificial intelligence to scan them, a new medtech startup called Ezra wants to replace blood tests and biopsies with MRIs as the new standard of care. Today, Ezra launches v1 of its MRI prostate cancer screening subscription service in New York City. For $999 per year, patients get one MRI, access to medical staff and educational guides, and on-going support if the test finds they have cancer. For now, human radiologists still analyze the scans. However, Ezra is working to get FDA approval next year for its AI analysis that’s was initially found to be 90 percent as accurate as medical experts, and could turn Ezra into a lucrative and scalable medtech company. Comparing Radiologist and AI detection of cancer in MRI scans “One of the biggest problems in cancer is that there’s no accurate, fast, painless, way to scan for cancer anywhere in the body” says Ezra co-founder and CEO Emi Gal. He hopes that eventually, Ezra could offer full-body MRIs that make screening for all types of cancer easier to stomach so more cases can be caught early and more patients can survive. To build out its team and market to potential patients at risk for prostate cancer, Ezra is also announcing it’s raised a $4 million seed round led by Accomplice, the health-focused VC that funded PillPack before it was acquired by Amazon for nearly $1 billion. The firm was attracted by Ezra’s 50 percent gross margin on subscriptions that could get even higher at lower subscription prices once its AI is approved. “We’re not losing money every sale” Gal tells me. And while $999 might sound steep, he says a prostate MRI will cost you $1500 if you book it yourself. With 30 million men in the US alone at risk of prostate cancer, there’s urgent need for Ezra to fulfill its mission of “making MRI-based cancer screening affordable to everyone.” Ezra’s Super Hero Origin Gal has one of those startup founder super hero origin stories that gives him the grit necessary to see the problem through. “I developed hundreds of moles as a child that put me at very high risk of melanoma. Every year I’ve had to check for abnormalities and do a couple of biopsies” he candidly revealed. “I’ve been acutely aware of the importance of cancer screening since a young age.” Ezra co-founder and CeO Emi Gal After studying computer science and applied math in his home country of Romania, he built an adtech company at age 20 and sold it at 30. While working with terminally ill cancer patient charity Hospices Of Hope, he seized on the need for better cancer screenings and began his research about different methods. “The more scientists I spoke to, the more convinced I became to build a new screening modality” he recalls. Typically, prostate cancer screenings involve a blood test for prostate-specific antigen, with an needle-through-the-rectum biopsy done if PSA levels are elevated. But PSA levels can be inaccurate, triggering painful and unnecessary biopsies. Gal discovered a recent study by a leading urologist that looked at 500 patients with some diagnosed the traditional way, and some with an MRI that when cancer is detected is then used to guide a biopsy. The latter method identified 18 percent more cases of cancer while reducing unnecessary biopsies and the associated side effects by 27 percent, the study found. MRIs could work. So Ezra conducted its own investigation to see if AI could perform as well as a radiologist. It had three experts mark up a data set from the National Institute Of Health and trained its AI on the data set through the work of Gal’s co-founder Diego Canto, a PhD in deep learning applied to MRI. They found the AI was 90 accurate at agreeing with the experts on a new data set. Now an FDA regulatory expert on the team is trying to get the AI approved to assist radiologists to lower Ezra’s labor costs. Magnetic Resonance Innovation Rather than wait around, Ezra has partnered with the leading MRI facility network RadNet. It buys MRI time slots in bulk for a cheaper rate, starting with a location in Lenox Hill, Manhattan. Next year it will expand to more RadNet locations beyond New York City. If the AI gets approval, there’ll still be human medical experts involved. The AI eliminates the grunt work of doing measurements and annotating MRI scans so the human can focus on just making the cancer/not cancer call. And if the diagnosis sadly is positive, “What we don’t want to do is just drop a report on people that says ‘you likely have cancer’. We want to help with the treatment process and recommend the best urologists” Gal tells me. A study found AI to agree with medical experts on prostate cancer detection 90 percent of the time The combination of hard technology and the booming direct-to-consumer industry drew the $4 million round that also includes Founders Future, Credo Ventures, Seedcamp, Esther Dyson and a number of startup founders and angel investors like SoundCloud co-founder Alex Ljung. They see Ezra as differentiated from expensive overall health screening services like the $25,000 Human Longevity Inc. “Ezra’s uniqueness stands as much in the company’s investigational AI technology as it does in its innovative consumer-centric cancer screening model” says John Crues, M.D. RadNet’s Medical Director. But the biggest threat to Ezra is insurance. If it can’t convince insurers that MRIs that are expensive up front but could be more accurate with fewer complications are more capital efficient long-term than the biopsy status quo, it may have a very tough time getting people to pay $1000 out of pocket. It will also have to find the right balance of margins and affordability that insurers will tolerate. “We want to focus on building a data set that proves [MRIs] are more accurate, less painful, and faster than that the standard of care” Gal concludes. If it can institute MRIs as the new standard for prostate screenings, Ezra will be on its way to offering a single painless test that could spot cancer early enough that it can be beaten. Cancer will kill 9.6 million people this year. It doesn’t have to be that way.

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