India’s first social network in regional languages ShareChat raises funding led by SAIF PartnersTarush Bhalla
Bengaluru-based ShareChat today announced it has raised $1.25 million as a part of their Series A funding. This round was led by SAIF Partners, contributing $1 million, and existing investor India Quotient, contributing as much as $25,000.
According to the founders, the funding was raised last October and is announced only now. The firm has deployed the funding to build out their technology architecture. Prior to this funding round, the company had raised close to $100,000 from India Quotient last February.
ShareChat, a social media platform in local languages, was founded in October 2015 by three IIT Kanpur alumni ‑ Farid Ahsan, Bhanu Singh and Ankush Sachdeva.
The idea struck the trio when they had launched a debate app taking the discussion to a Facebook group. Within an hour, the founders claimed to have collected close to 30,000 phone numbers just through comments.
Local Languages - the next big thing?
Thus, seeing the potential, the founders started their research on the space. On asking Farid as to why the sector is gaining so much attention, he says,
According to research firms there are 350 million smartphone users in the country, of which an odd 100-120 million users are fluent with English. The others would prefer their vernacular language over English as a preferred mode of communication. This left us with a huge market size to foray into. Further, reports also suggest that by 2018, India will have close to 850 million smartphone users, which will give birth to an even larger vernacular market.
Outlining the future of digital content consumption in India, research major Ernst and Young claims that 45 percent of online users consume regional language content.
With the availability of low-cost smart phones, low rates of data plans and development of smart cities in rural areas, this number is expected to only increase. Further, the report highlights that the preference of the Indian consumers towards regional language content is constantly on the upswing, with 93 percent of the time spent on videos either in Hindi or other regional languages.
Getting the one million
Leveraging the power of WhatsApp, the trio released ShareChat as a tool for discovering and sharing content on WhatsApp. To get their initial traction, the firm growth hacked by creating several WhatsApp groups where ShareChat content would be shared.
Each share had a small link that would lead the user to the Google Play Store. This led to the conversion of the WhatsApp audiences into downloads. The firm had close to 60,000-70,000 WhatsApp groups then.
According to Farid, between October to December 2015, the firm had 100,000 installs, with almost 50,000 unique content pieces being shared in these groups every day. Further, based on the feedback from the Google Play Store and looking at people share content, the firm opened the platform for users to create their own content.
The firm claims to have received 1.3 million installs for its app, of which 950,000 are from the Google Play Store and the rest 25 percent (350,000 installs) is through APK shares (direct sharing of the app from one user’s phone to the other).
Of the 1.3 million installs, there are 500,000 active users who share close to six million content pieces on a monthly basis. Moreover, 10,000-12,000 are the unique content pieces created by users almost every day.
Farid says that the platform supports close to 50-55 different content formats, right from jokes, videos, to health tips, stories and newspapers. It is present in four local languages ‑ Malayalam, Marathi, Hindi and Telugu. The firm also plans to launch the app in Gujarati by the end of this month.
ShareChat is available only for Android users. This is because Google searches is not intuitive for regional languages. The firm has also put the recent investments in building out their technology architecture, so that the app works smoothly even in areas with poor network.
Speaking on the revenue front, Farid says, the firm is not focussed on making revenues as of now. He adds,
Just like other social network journeys, our focus right now is on getting the engagement and audience sorted first. We are looking to reach at least 25-50 million users before we start experimenting with different revenue streams. The simplest way for us to get revenues is through sponsored posts, advertisements, as well as services and micropayments.
By August, the firm plans to be in six other regional languages, including Punjabi, Tamil, Oriya and Bengali amongst others.
Like typical social networks, the firm is also planning to introduce a chat element to help users interact with each other. They are also looking to foray into newer forms of content like games, subscriptions and introducing services through chat. ShareChat is looking to expand into either South East Asia or Africa by July next year.
The firm gets majority of its traffic from Gujarat, Western Maharashtra, Eastern UP and the Middle East for the Malayalam content.
Highlighting typical social media problems, how does ShareChat ensure to stay clean of inappropriate content. To this Farid says that the content circulated is monitored by the firm’s local languages team. Further, there are porn-filtering algorithms. ShareChat plans on picking users who can act as content moderators.
The firm was also a part of the six startups that were selected for the second batch of Google Launchpad Accelerator programme from India.
With local languages considered as the new king, there are a host of startups which are rising in this space. Like ShareChat, there is Matrubharti, which is a self-publishing platform for authors and an app for readers to download ebooks in local Indian languages. They are present in five languages with a readership across 42 countries.
There is Pratilipi, which is touted to be the fastest growing self-publishing and reading platform for Indian language literature. In less than 18 months of its existence, it already has over 2,700 Indian language authors in six languages, with their content been read over 3.5 million times.
There is also Planet GoGo, a lock-screen app for content discovery in local languages; Shabdanagari, India’s first social networking site in Hindi; and SWEN amongst others solving the content discovery problem.
Tarush is driven towards delivering unbiased and accurate reportage while engaging with as many mediums as possible to narrate a fresh perspective. Working for the past few years in the digital space with YourStory, he has covered the Indian technology ecosystem extensively, focusing on new age Fintech companies, while building strong connects within the industry.