In India, users who know or speak English have access to Internet products for almost everything. Either they are looking for a new job, a news app to keep oneself updated, or shorting a new house without stepping outside your house. You just must name it and you will get an app as an aid.
But there are very limited apps for non-English speaking populations to make their lives easier. Besides the use of the internet for entertainment purposes, there is a lack of quality internet products beyond the metros.
Realizing the limitation of internet products in rural areas of India, the hyperlocal content startup, Lokal, was launched by Jani Pasha and Vipul Choudhary during the summer of 2018. Lokal is Bangalore based startup and disseminates local news, classifieds, matrimonial ads, and job listings, as well as provides other important information in Telugu and Tamil languages to the mobile users of Tier-II and Tier-III towns and villages of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu.
Lokal has made a cut at Y Combinator’s Demo Day in 2019 and is a product of a parent company Behtar Technology. Its revenue has raised $3 million in funding from a pool of investors — 3one4, Y Combinator, RB Investments, SOMA Capital, and India Quotient. Twitch Co-founder Kevin Lin, Xiaomi Indonesia Head Alvin Tse, South Korea-based Starling Ventures, US-based media-tech company XRM Media, and tech investment firm I2BF Global Ventures were also part of the funding round.
Finding solutions to the problems
Jani, 27, is an alumnus of IIT Kharagpur and has also worked with Tata Steel. In 2016, she was working at the used car marketplace Zoomo India as a Senior Product Manager.
Vipul, 28, is an IIT Bombay graduate. He was working as a Senior Engineer at Qualcomm and building an OBD diagnostic tool. He was also trying to sell the product to Zoomo, it was then they both met each other through a mutual friend. When the project did not turn up, Jani and Vipul relished working together and finally, they decided to start-up.
At that time, Donald Trump was elected as the US President, and echo chambers were the talk of the town. This influenced both to work on building a news aggregator platform TheSoup.
Jani explained the failure of The Soup, “We thought fake news was a problem that needs to be solved and started building a platform that would provide news in the form of a timeline. We built the product for four to five months without even consulting with the users to understand what they wanted, how they consumed news, and where they got their news from.”
They both have analyzed that most users in Tier II and Tier III cities were still dependent on newspapers unlike news apps and TV channels. This is mainly because newspapers contain more local news, so they hire stringers to source these stories. However, they were irregular with limited pages. This is when both tried to build a platform that negotiates these challenges while focusing on providing hyperlocal news.
They began with a Whatsapp group by February 2018 to disseminate local news sourced from a stringer in Kodad, a village in Telangana. Jani said, “That one WhatsApp group quickly became one of the many, as more people kept joining us.” Then, lokal was founded in April 2018 and its android app was launched on 24th May 2018.
Since there was no penetration of iOS among its target audience, so Lokal did not come out with an iOS app. In the beginning, there were many knots that team had to face while scaling up the business. Now, it has iterated and developed a playbook that permits launching the platform in new districts within 7 days’ time.
Presently, there are more than 10p employees in the team of Lokal and its app has been installed 6mn times, with a user base of 4.5 million users from across 25-plus districts in the three states.
Understanding the process
Lokal has a network of 250 on-ground reporters, stringers, and on-ground sales teams. Firstly, these reporters gather data for local news, job openings, classifieds, and then put them on the app. Lokal features a regular inflow of user-generated content that is posted on the app once it makes its way through the moderation team.
Hence, Lokal offers hyperlocal news on topics like agriculture, politics, daily information on essentials like food and petrol prices.
Furthermore, it also offers classifieds from local businesses and individual sellers, job openings such as positions of delivery executives, government jobs, and many more. Various content around life-skills that include finance, education, farming, and health tips are also available.
Initially, Lokal advertises itself on different social media platforms to get users. Now, they have most of the organic users’ acquisition and through word of mouth.
The revenue of Lokal relies on businesses, classifieds, matrimony, and job ads. Jani further explained, “We provide opportunities to brands based out of metro cities, looking to venture into Tier II and III towns with their products and solutions. Besides, we also provide content-led branding.”
In fact, Lokal has helped abroad based firms by providing in-depth stories of rural India. For instance, a Germany-based client the venture got helped from the stories around Indian farmers on the Lokal app and finally set the desired business goals in towns and villages across Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
Vipul said, “Traditional clients, who have always advertised on newspapers as a medium, now have an opportunity to reach audiences faster, and understand their needs better through in-depth customer analysis, and create better offerings based on proprietary audience research.”
Swiggy, Amazon, MedCords, and Groww are among those clients with which Lokal has worked directly. It has also posted ads for companies such as Kotak Bank, Axis Bank, and Zomato, via intermediaries such as BetterPlace and BuyHatke. In such a pandemic situation, Lokal is providing telemedicine service with DocsApp at Re 1 and listing jobs compiled by Edgistify for Reliance Industries.
Making Lokal to vocal
Lokal provides regional language stories beyond the Indian metro cities that include the likes of ShareChat, TikTok, Dailyhunt, and Vokal.
In India with 1.3 million population, there are only 125 million English speaking users as per BBC report. Although the non-English speaking market size is huge, so there is an opportunity to grab by players to co-exist.
Head of Investment at 3one4 Capital, Anurag Ramdasan, said, “At a time when content consumption is seeing dramatic growth, and the platforms for consuming real-time information are still to be unified, Lokal has delivered high-quality contextual content to users. It has enabled the discovery of deeply relevant information via an adaptive multilingual interface.”
During Lockdown, around 600 people across three states got access to food and water by sharing news on Lokal app. In this regard, Jani recalled an incident that a story has published about the need for open-heart surgery on the app that supported saving the life of a 4-month-old baby.
Lokal has planned to move forward and reach to maximum districts across India. Jani informed, “Lokal has massive reach in some districts where we have been able to reach close to 60 percent smartphone penetration.”