For many Indians coming online for the first time, WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, is their first social media experience, or YouTube, which comes pre-installed on Android phones and of course is owned by Google.
These platforms are first and foremost designed for English speakers, which is a problem because English speakers make up less than 15% of India’s population.
But with the rise in internet and smartphone penetration in the country, there has recently been a wave of entrepreneurs who see a massive opportunity in building social media platforms specifically for Indian language speakers who are relatively new to the internet.
And so that’s what we’re going to be talking about in this article. Social Media Start-Ups for Native Indian Languages
The top 10 Indian social media start-ups that are building for India, the non-English speaking majority of India.
10 Social Media Start-Ups for Native Indian Languages (Non-English Speakers)
Starting things off at #10, we have Bengaluru-based live audio and video discussion platform, Leher.
So live audio platforms rose to fame after an American app called Clubhouse was launched and became hugely popular in 2020.
But Vikas Malpani and Atul Jaju actually launched their app back in 2018.
Like Clubhouse, the platform allows you to host live audio discussions with people who share the same interests as you.
And listeners have the opportunity to join in, but unlike Clubhouse which is an audio-only app, Leher also supports live video discussion and also allows you to record and replay those discussions.
Now, despite the fact that Leher was arguably ahead of its time in 2018, growth has been slow.
And this may be partially attributable to the fact that the start-up hasn’t raised any outside capital.
But this bootstrapped model makes it all the more impressive that so far, Leher has more than 150,000 (1.5 lakh) users.
9. Lokal App
Next up at #9, we have Bengaluru-based hyperlocal news sharing platform Lokal.
The idea for this platform came to Jani Pasha and Vipul Chaudhary after they shut down their previous venture, TheSoup, which was an AI-powered news platform that aggregated trustworthy stories.
While building TheSoup, they noticed that local news, especially news from small towns and villages, was difficult to access quickly online.
This insight led them to found Lokal in 2018.
And as a proof of concept, they started by catering to Telugu speakers in Jani’s hometown of Kodad in Telangana. From there, the platform took off.
They currently have 7 million (70 lakh) people using Lokal, and they’re also breaking the myth that monetization is impossible in tier 3, 4, and 5 cities by generating 45 lakh rupees ($60,000) in just the month of March of 2021 through online classifieds.
They’ve also raised 3.2 million dollars (₹24 crore) from a number of prominent investors (Y Combinator, Google for Startups, 3one4 Capital, Soma Capital).
8. Pocket FM
Moving on to #8 now have Gurugram-based Indian language audio streaming platform Pocket FM.
Launched in 2018 by Nishanth S, Prateek Dixit, and Rohan Nayak, Pocket FM had a hard time in the beginning, because the local language audio streaming category was almost non-existent at the time.
Instead of chasing after listeners, they decided to focus on the audio itself, by partnering with content creators and repackaging their content into audio form.
This strategy resulted in them only getting 10,000 downloads in the first 18 months.
But they decided to keep at it, adding more than 10,000 audio books, podcasts, and radio shows in seven Indian languages.
And as the saying goes, if you build it, they will come.
Today, Pocket FM has more than 20 million (2 crore) users, and has even started generating revenue with a premium version of their product with 100,000 (1 lakh) paying subscribers.
To date, Pocket FM has raised 6.2 million dollars (₹46 crore) from their investors (Tencent Cloud, Lightspeed India, BCCL).
7. BulBul TV
Coming in at #7 we have Gurugram-based online video shopping platform BulBul TV.
Founded in 2018, by Atit Jain, Sanjay Yadav, and Sachin Bhatia who also co-founded TrulyMadly & MakeMyTrip, BulBul is a platform where social media influencers can sell products to their followers.
Normally, when you buy something online, you’ve gotta trust written reviews from people that you don’t actually know.
But with BulBul, these are people that you’re already following, they’re speaking your local language, and they’re explaining the product in detail and answering any questions that you have about it, live.
Now, live commerce has already exploded over in China, and a lot of people are predicting that India is going to be the next big market.
BulBul already has 5 million (50 lakh) users, and is doing 15 crore rupees ($2 million) in gross merchandise value. In 2020, they also raised 8.7 million dollars (₹65 crore) from their investors (Info Edge, Sequoia Capital India, Leo Capital).
Next up at #6 we have New Delhi-based online dating platform TrulyMadly.
The start-up was founded in 2013 by Hitesh Dhingra, Rahul Kumar and Sachin Bhatia who we mentioned earlier.
Dating has always been a bit controversial here in India, which is one of the reasons why despite raising 5.7 million dollars (₹38.6 crore) in 2015, the company wasn’t able to grow.
Things got worse in 2018 when the start-up’s founders jumped ship and started their own ventures.
This should have been the end of TrulyMadly.
But with nothing to lose and everything to gain, one the company’s founding members, Snehil Khanor, took on the task of resurrecting the start up.
He built a new team from scratch, and pivoted towards marriage and finding long-term partners.
Thanks to his efforts, TrulyMadly saw its revenue increase by 4X in the financial year of 2021, and the platform now has 8.5 million (85 lakh) users.
Moving on to #5 now, we have Bengaluru-based community-building platform Kutumb.
Founded in 2020 by Abhishek Kejriwal, Naveen Dewangan, and Vipul Allawadhi, Kutumb solves a very specific problem that a ton of Indian people have faced, WhatsApp group size limits.
You can only have 256 people in any given WhatsApp group.
Kutumb, on the other hand, has a community size cap of 10 million (1 crore) users, which is why it is often compared to Reddit.
But unlike Reddit, Kutumb embraces the ease of use and familiarity of WhatsApp.
|Designed Around Indian Languages||Designed primarily around English.|
|Mobile-Focused User Interface, Easy for New Netizens to Use.||Desktop-focused User Interface, challenging for new netizens to use.|
|10 Million User Community Size||>100 Million User Sub-Reddits|
And it’s also intentionally designed around Indian languages.
This high level of accessibility and gentle learning curve have enabled Kutumb to grow their platform to 10 million (1 crore) users in less than a year.
And this incredible growth has drawn in plenty of outside investment.
So far, Kutumb has raised 27.5 million dollars (₹205 crore) at a valuation of somewhere between 150 million dollars (₹1,117 crore) and 170 million dollars (₹1,304 crore)
(Tiger Global, Sequoia Capital, DST Global).
4. Bombinate Technologies (Koo and Vokal)
Coming in at #4 now we have Bengaluru-based Bombinate Technologies, which was started by Aprameya Radhakrishnan and Mayank Bidawatka in 2018 with the launch of Vokal, an Indian language knowledge-sharing platform that many have referred to as the Indian language version of Quora.
Then, after the success of Vokal, Bombinate technologies launched another platform, Koo, which is a microblogging platform that again, many people have referred to as the Indian language version of Twitter.
Koo has gone on to win the Government of India’s AatmaNirbhar App Innovation Challenge, and has seen its popularity skyrocket amidst the government’s continuous clashes with Twitter.
Then, when Twitter was banned in Nigeria, Koo swooped in and filled the gap that it left behind.
These kinds of strategic moves, along with Bombinate Technologies’ repeated success, have definitely caught the attention of investors (Kaalari Capital, 3one4 Capital, Blume Ventures) who so far have pumped 44.6 million dollars (₹333.9 crore) into the start up.
Next up at #3 we have Bengaluru-based professional networking platform for blue-collar workers, Apna.
Back in 2019, Nirmit Parikh realised that a platform like LinkedIn was great for India’s white collar workers, many of whom speak English, but it wasn’t really serving the needs of the country’s blue collar workers, and yet, the latter significantly outnumber the former, which made Nirmit feel like he had identified an opportunity, and quite possibly, a goldmine.
Today Apna supports networking, upskilling, and job hunting, and is also available in 14 different Indian languages.
In two years, the platform has onboarded more than 10 million (1 crore) users, and now the start-up is working to add features like a resume builder and career counselling.
To pursue these additions, Apna has raised 93.5 million dollars (₹695 crore) from their investors, and has seen their valuation jump 5X to 570 million dollars (₹4,234 crore) in the last 3 months.
Moving on to #2 now we have Bengaluru-based social e-commerce unicorn Meesho.
This company’s journey began in the middle of 2015 when Vidit Aatrey and Sanjeev Barnwal launched FashNear, a location-based fashion discovery platform that failed after just a couple of months.
But the start-up’s founders realised something important through that failure.
Local fashion retailers were using Facebook and WhatsApp to sell their products to nearby customers, and this was a suboptimal solution.
These retailers didn’t have an online storefront, they couldn’t easily collect payments, and they had to source products and handle logistics all on their own.
All of these insights led them to create Meesho at the tailend of 2015, to great success.
Today, the platform enables 13 million (1.3 crore) micro-entrepreneurs, 90% of whom are women, to sell clothes among other things, online.
So far, Meesho has raised 515 million dollars (₹3,826 crore) at a valuation of 2.1 billion dollars (₹15,648 crore)
(Facebook, Softbank, Shunwei Capital).
1. Mohalla Tech (Moj and Sharechat)
And finally, coming in at #1, we have Bengaluru-based Mohalla Tech.
This start-up’s origins can be traced back to a single Facebook post.
Ankush Sachdeva, Bhanu Singh, and Farid Ahsan were scrolling through Facebook when they saw a post asking people to join a WhatsApp group to discuss cricketer Sachin Tendulkar.
And to their surprise, more than 80,000 people had commented their phone numbers, but of course, with WhatsApp’s group size limit there was a supply and demand problem that Mohalla Tech decided to fix with the launch of ShareChat in 2015.
They built this short video sharing app in just 30 hours, and a year after its launch, it’s being used by more than 120 million (12 crore) monthly active users.
This kind of start-up is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for investors, who have poured 825 million dollars (₹6,155 crore) into the start up at a 2.1 billion valuation (₹15,648 crore)
(Tiger Global, Lightspeed Ventures Partners, Xiaomi, Shunwei Capital, Snap Inc., Twitter).
Alright, those were our picks for the top 10 Indian social media start-ups that are building for India!