“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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First Published: Mon, January 29 2018. 05:31 IST