No English? No worry. Use social media in 10 Indian languages via ShareChat

ShareChat founders (from left) Farid Ahsan, Bhanu Singh and Ankush Sachdeva
“Meditation and yoga runs through my veins, but my lack of command over English prohibited me from sharing that gift with everyone,” says Paramjot Kaur, 43, a housewife in Punjab. “ShareChat has helped me provide daily tips in Punjabi and garner 4,000 followers in a year.”

 

The social media platform has raised $18.2 million funding in Series-B from Shun Wei Capital and Xiaomi Singapore. This follows $4 million in a Series-A round from Lightspeed India Partners, SAIF Partners, India Quotient and Venture Highway.

 

Concept

 

Founded by Ankush Sachdeva, Farid Ahsan and Bhanu Singh, the Bengaluru-based social media platform began as a content repository application for sharing on WhatsApp. Owing to the massive and “unbelievable” response for mostly light-hearted material, such as jokes, memes, celebrity updates and health tips, the IIT-Kanpur graduates launched the free Android application in October 2015.

 

Signing into the app is a two-step process. First, the user has to type in his or her name and number. Following which, he or she is required to select one language out of the 10 available — Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, Odia, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, and Kannada. Unlike Facebook and Instagram, English is not an option.

 

If one opts for Hindi, he or she will be taken to the feed generating content only in that language.If you are proficient with other vernaculars, you can follow users who have opted for them as their base language, and create, discover, and share content with each other.

 

The content includes news, general knowledge, political memes, viral videos, movie updates, beauty tips, regional poetry, devotional messages and other things.

 

Opportunity

 

With over eight million monthly active users in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Canada, the US and west Africa, and 20 million downloads on Google Play, ShareChat seems to be grabbing eyeballs. On an average, five million content pieces get shared daily from ShareChat, mostly finding its way to WhatsApp groups.

 

“Vernacular content consumption in India has witnessed a meteoric rise, growing from 42 million in 2011 to 234 million in 2016. These numbers are a great indication of a huge opportunity available for products focused on the vernacular audience,” says Sachdeva, the chief executive.

 

With Reliance Jio, internet penetration is increasing in tier-I and tier-II cities, and most people now own either a smartphone or a feature phone. Moreover, as Jio offers almost free unlimited data, rivals such as Airtel, Vodafone, and Idea, too, have slashed their rates. In turn, the data consumption of an average user has rocketed, with video streaming eating up a large part of it. As a result, Sharechat, which had two million users per month at the end of 2016, has quadrupled its user base.

 

Revenue

 

Three years into the social media industry, the company is “focusing on growing its user base, as of now”, and is yet to monetise.

 

Mayank Khanduja, from SAIF Partners, says: “ShareChat is geared to become a unique problem solver for the mass vernacular audience in India. Having closely worked with the team over some time, we are extremely pleased with their focus on using technology to connect these new internet users, and are pleased to partner in their next phase of growth.”

 

“Since the beginning of the start-up boom in India, we have been told by the wise that we have to learn from Facebook. Hope now they will say ‘learn from ShareChat’,” says Anand Lunia, another investor from India Quotient.

 

Challenges

 

As most people in India are trilingual, if not more, the company needs to enable them to choose multiple languages instead of one while signing up. This will amplify the content. Besides, users have complained on Google Play about facing 'bugs' while uploading videos and photos. “Several times, when I try uploading a video, the app hangs before finally enabling it,” says Rohan Munglur. “Moreover, it takes several attempts and consumes too much time to download a video.” The start-up faces a threat from established giants like Facebook and Pinterest because of these issues.

 

Ahead

 

The new round of investment will be used to strengthen the company’s machine learning effort. “We aim to use innovative technology to optimise social media content for this new set of Indian users. To solve day-to-day problems of consumers dealing with technology, our algorithms are efficiently designed to reduce language hassles and make the platform intuitive and convenient for all,” says Sachdeva.

 

ShareChat aims to reach 50 million monthly active users by the end of 2018.

FACT BOX

 

  • Inception: October  2015 
  • Area of business:  Social network
  •  Funding:  $18 million in Series-B round from Shunwei Capital, Xiaomi Singapore, Lightspeed India Partners, SAIF Partners, India Quotient & Venture Highway
  • User base: 8 million per month
  • Team strength: 50

Expert take: Keep evolving for success

 

Virendra Gupta, Founder, Dailyhunt
Local language market is a big opportunity. I love companies, which are providing for the needs of this market and impacting users. ShareChat is doing this in an innovative way and tapped into the content sharing phenomenon. India is on a growth path and users are becoming economically better and modern, and their tastes, as well as consumption habits, will evolve rapidly.

 

All of us in the ecosystem have to continuously do product improvements in line with that. What the first time users want now and what they would want tomorrow (and the gap between today and tomorrow is blurring very fast) could be the same or different and evolving with that will be the key to success.