Verse Innovation, which owns the popular Newshunt news aggregator app, has raised Rs 100 crore in Series B funding from Sequoia Capital and its existing investors Matrix Partners India and Omidyar Network, and plans to expand its existing local language service.
The Newshunt app brings regional language content, both newspapers and books, from across the country on to one platform. It is now a key destination for local language mobile Internet users with over 14 million monthly active users and over 1.5 billion page views monthly. It has regional content in over 12 languages and it is the top news app in India across app stores.
“We are looking at more personalization and aggregation, increasing the number of publishers, creating more content (through digitalization) and we will also be looking at more ways of monetizing the whole business,” Virendra Gupta, Co-founder and CEO of Verse, told Yourstory, while discussing how the fresh funds will be used.
In a country where nine out of 10 literate people prefer to read in the local language (Census 2001 data) Newshunt’s focus on vernacular services is not just well placed, but also well timed.
“As India moves from a 100 million to 500 million smartphone user base, it is critical to bridge the gap by making available relevant content and apps for Indian language users. Newshunt is a clear category leader (in this space),” said Mohit Bhatnagar, Managing Director, Sequoia Capital.
According to a Deloitte study earlier this year, the vernacular print market is growing at 11% CAGR (versus 5% for English). India has a total of 82,237 newspapers according to the Registrar of Newspapers for India (RNI). This essentially points to the immense potential for an app such as Newshunt.
Newshunt currently monetizes its product through in-app advertising, revenue as distribution partners for existing e-commerce companies as well as through sale of e-books in local languages through its app, said Virendra. It offers news from over 100 news sources in 12 languages.
Verse also has another product called, iPayy. It was developed to solve a common problem faced by its users, who are typically prepaid mobile users. iPayy allows them to use their credit to pay for content, and ties up directly with telecom carriers for billing.
This also allows merchants and small business owners to offer their services/offerings to customers who could not earlier think of transacting online. iPayy now has 700 million subscribers across five major telecom companies in India, and is used by 300 digital goods merchants.
“The aim is to own the Indian language mobile internet (space),” Virendra told Yourstory. “Our immediate next steps are investment in building a world class platform product for Indian language user, bring onboard more publishers and partners, and invest in building the tools and team for monetization.”