Why Hyderabad-based GIFSKEY is focusing on the Indian GIF market


With GIFs becoming a widespread means of expression, the GIFSKEY platform curates and offers India-based animated content that is searchable, retrievable, and relevant.

Startup: GIFSKEY

Founded: 2016; launched in October 2017

Founders: Manan Maheshwari, Mahesh Gogineni, and Varun M S

Where it is located: Hyderabad

The problem they solve: A search engine for curated local content of GIF images

Funding: Seed funded; $450,000

Be it Rahul Gandhi’s wink, Wonder Woman’s happy dance, or a love gnome knitting a heart, GIFs have become one of the most popular ways for people to communicate online. Reports in 2017 said 300 million people across the world shared a whopping 2 billion GIFs every day — a clear indicator of their popularity.

The lack of Indian GIFs online is what spurred three friends to come together and tap this space.

Manan Maheshwari, Mahesh Gogineni, and Varun M S - alumni of BITS-Pilani - graduated in 2007 and went on to work in the corporate world for seven years. In 2015, the trio built an on-demand beauty services firm that they sold to Quikr for a good sum in mid-2016. Quikr bought Zapluk for the technology platform that they had built. The money the three co-founders made gave them time to think about what next. And by October 2016, they had homed in on a platform for curated GIFs.

“There are millions of GIF images shared in India, but there are no curated sites for GIFs with Indian themes,” says Mahesh. “We are also building a vernacular language-based GIF content platform,” he adds

But first, what is a GIF? It is a Graphics Interchange Format, which supports animated and static images. Put simply, it is a data compression technique whose foundation goes back to the eighties. According to Techopedia, a GIF contains a “number of images or frames in a single file and is described by its own graphic control extension. The frames are presented in a specific order in order to convey animation. An animated GIF can loop endlessly or stop after a few sequences”.

GIFs uniquely blend emotions, pop culture references, and memes, and help say many things in a span of seconds.

Varun, Manan and Mahesh

The GIFSKEY journey

The trio went about creating a tech platform that could categorise a GIF into 30 buckets or themes that could serve Indian needs. They created a search engine that could find content relevant to local language. Content is sourced from third-party content creators before it is put up on their website. GIFSKEY also allows developers to access their libraries through open APIs and use content.

“GIFSKEY’s APIs make it easy for developers to incorporate this vast library right inside their apps to deliver highly interactive content that is proven to increase daily engagement across all types of apps: messaging, chat, dating, creation, community, and more,” Mahesh says.

The GIFSKEY API implements a REST-like interface. Connections can be made with any HTTP or HTTPS-enabled programming language. The founders add that the GIFSKEY API provides multiple file sizes and dimensions of every GIF to meet every client’s potential needs.

The trio spent all of 2017 building the platform and finally launched it in December 2017. They currently provide content in nine languages and have shared more than 200,000 GIFs and 40 million GIFs are consumed per month. GIFSKEY has raised close to $400,000 from Whiteboard Capital and a large VC.

The company says it is unique because its content is “searchable, retrievable, and offers relevance to all apps and consumers”. The platform focuses not only on movie content, but also on TV, sports, devotional, and other generic and trending content.

“We are a technology firm that allows better GIF discovery,” Mahesh says.

The future of GIFs

GIFs have become a form of micro entertainment across the world with users watching more than four million hours of GIFs on giphy.com every day.

In India, the market for GIFs is 1 billion impressions a month; in China, this figure goes up to 6 billion a month. In the US, Giphy and Gfycat are big companies operating in this space. Giphy raised $72 million in 2016 while Gfycat last raised around $10 million in September 2016. Even Google bought GIF platform Tenor - known to have 12 billion GIF searches a month - for an undisclosed sum in 2018. The company has also created a GIF keyboard. The average users, of all of these American GIF companies, add up to about 150 million users.

Existing GIF platforms do not focus on localised content and Indian languages. With so many regional movie industries and India-specific sporting events, users are looking for regional content searchable in regional languages. This is where GIFSKEY comes in. A market like India offers the potential of big business and the trio invested in this tech because of the “potential of GIF sharing”.

GIFSKEY focuses on making content searchable. Their backend intelligence and language engines enhance the quality and quantity of tags attached to each GIF, increasing the searchability of GIFs. Account image recognition, natural language processing and tags prediction algorithms are taken into account by the backend engines.

What comes next?

For GIFSKEY, it is important to scale up as the brand for India-based GIFs, using the APIs developers can provide their end customers – on various apps – to choose and make their own GIFs.

Refusing to disclose their revenue model, the founders say they are working on several models, one of them an advertising model – just like any search business. The other model is a revenue-sharing one with app businesses.

That said, the company is focusing on acquiring customers this year and will think of scaling, which will eventually lead it to an advertising or sponsor-led model where corporates can use GIFs for promotions. The costs for the company include paying the content creators and their three-member tech team. The team will expand as and when

In the end, GIFSKEY is a new-age content company catering to various individuals and companies.

V Ganapathy, CEO of Axilor Ventures, says: “Any consumer business requires scale. How data is used becomes very important to serve appropriate content.”



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