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How Hindi social networking site ShabdaNagari acquired 20,000 users in India, USA, UAE and Canada in one year

Aparajita Choudhury
15th Apr 2016
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Imagine a platform where users can connect with like-minded people and share thoughts in the form of posts, blogs, and forum questions using the Hindi language as a medium? With 500 million Hindi-speaking people living world over, Amitesh Misra, Kaplnesh Gupta and Nikhil Tiwari realised generating content for Hindi Internet surfers would definitely be a viable business idea. So, the trio launched a social networking site in Hindi called ShabdaNagari last January.

They had at first contemplated launching a Hindi blogging platform. But they soon realised that social media would be a more familiar concept, given the popularity of Facebook and Twitter.

Shabdanagari Team
Shabdanagari Team

ShabdaNagari was showcased at the first-ever Indian Language Digital festival, Bhasha, on March 11 in New Delhi, supported by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, and exclusive language partner Reverie Language Technologies. 

In safe hands

ShabdaNagari is incubated at SIDBI Innovation & Incubation Centre, IIT Kanpur (SIIC-IIT Kanpur), which helped them with an initial loan to start operations. This January, ShabdaNagari raised Rs 1.2 crore from Kanpur Angels and other investors, as well.

Kanpur Angels, which has been closely associated with IIT Kanpur and other top colleges in Kanpur, had decided to set aside a corpus of Rs 10 crore to provide angel investment to some of the promising startups in the city and help them grow. ShabdaNagari was their first investment.

Before ShabdaNagari, Nikhil and Amitesh has worked on another venture called Sociota under the umbrella of IIT Kanpur. Sociota is a social media management, monitoring, scheduling and analysis tool that helps one manage Facebook and Twitter campaigns efficiently.

Amitesh is an alumnus of IIT Bombay and Nikhil is from Vishveshwarya Institute of Engineering & Technology, Ghaziabad.

The duo roped in Kaplnesh to take care of the marketing for ShabdaNagari. Kalpnesh (45) comes with over 20 years of experience in the field of marketing and advertising. Amitesh (33) works on business operation and Nikhil (27) on product development.

Initially, the concept of ShabdaNagari was taken to colleges and schools of Kanpur via multiple workshops. And that is how it started gaining popularity in the form of feedback on various parameters from students. Today, ShabdaNagari boasts of more than 20,000 registered users on its portal.

We have grown up with a mindset that Internet means English and we should learn English if we want to be connected in a digital world. Our vision is to establish that Internet or any online platform should speak to users in their language,” says Amitesh.
(L-R) Nikhil Tiwari, Amitesh Misra and Kalpnesh Gupta
(L-R) Nikhil Tiwari, Amitesh Misra and Kalpnesh Gupta

How to leverage the platform

A free platform, ShabdaNagari has come up with a handful of tools for users to post articles, pictures and videos in Hindi, and includes creating a user profile, follower/friend management and messaging/chatting. The platform allows users to type Hindi words in English, which automatically translates into Hindi. Its algorithm allows real-time transliteration and provides users with different Hindi input options.

In one year, the platform has seen more than 7.5 lakh visits with average session duration being more than five minutes per user. More than 80 percent of the traffic comes from Mumbai and Delhi and 10 percent from countries like USA, UAE and Canada. The ShabdaNagari Android app, which was launched last September, has witnessed 1500-2000 downloads.

In terms of user demographics, nearly 50 percent of our users are in the 18–24 years age bracket; young Indians who are perceived as English speakers. Twenty percent of our users are below 35 years of age, and the remaining are 35 and above,” says Amitesh.

ShabdaNagari has a team of 15 members- six developers, three designers and the rest in marketing and operations. Currently based out of SIIC-IIT Kanpur, it plans to set up offices in Mumbai, Bengaluru and Lucknow.

The target is to achieve a five-lakh user base in the next four to six months and 1.5 million by 2018. The new version of ShabdaNagari (which is scheduled to be launched next month) is likely to have advertisements, paid promotions and a marketplace for buying and selling Hindi books as revenue streams. Moreover, the new version will provide five options to input Hindi text, including two separate keyboards – Inscript and Remington.

We are also planning to offer Hindi input options in the form of APIs so that users can also use them for their own website. Going forward, we plan to provide digitised versions of vernacular books, in association with various government and educational institutes,” says Amitesh.

Digitised Hindi content- a huge opportunity

With 93 percent of the time spent on videos in Hindi and other regional languages, Indian consumers’ preference towards regional content has seen a continuous upsurge. According to Google India, online Hindi content consumption is growing at a rate of 94 percent year on year compared to the 19 percent for English content. Google has also announced that its mobile and web advertising network Google AdSense will support Hindi content now.

To address the needs of non-English speakers in India, startups have started providing solutions for both B2B and B2C customers. A few startups have even attracted the attention of investors. Reverie Technologies, a Bengaluru-based company that offers local-language technology solutions, raised $4 million in its Series-A funding from Aspada and Qualcomm Ventures. Formerly known as FirstTouch, Indus OS raised $5 million from Omidyar Network.

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