The growth of regional language users on the internet has been tremendous.
“I directed them to a few apps but they weren’t comfortable with any,” says Agarwal. So she started a few customised chapters, which soon turned into a Facebook page with over 45,000 followers. And before long, it grew into a venture called MultiBhashi, a mobile platform that helped users learn English from 10 regional languages and vice versa. The app has seen over 95,000 downloads.
World’s 10 biggest smartphone companies
World’s 10 biggest smartphone companies
Lenovo (includes Motorola)
The growth of regional language users on the internet has been tremendous. A recent report by KPMG India and Google found that Indian language internet users have grown from 42 million in 2011 to 234 million in 2016, a number much higher than the 175 million English internet users in India in 2016. This spurt has helped entrepreneurs like Agarwal.
Lower data & smartphone costs
Indus OS, a mobile operating system targeted at Indians and which provides everything from the interface to app store in 12 Indian languages, works with eight Indian mobile brands including Micromax and Karbonn. Founder Rakesh Deshmukh says when they first tied up with Micromax in 2015, they were told that there would be a long term partnership only if 50,000 units were sold in a month. But in just 17 days of launch, 85,000 devices were sold. Today, Indus OS has 8 million users, and 77% of customers come from tier 2-3 cities.
Several factors have accelerated the pace in recent times – lower cost of smartphones and data, the rise of Jio, and the government’s focus on digital. Aadhaar, eKYC, and the UPI layers of India Stack too are helping startups, says Bala Girisaballa, Microsoft Accelerator’s residence-in-chief.
“We are starting to see a lot more activity (in local languages),” he says. The accelerator’s latest batch has two AI-based startups – Liv.Ai, and MegDap, which help convert local speech into text and translate one language to another.
The government’s push for digital – in particular its dot Bharat domain registration scheme in 2014 – is what helped Ajay Data, founder of Jaipurbased Data Xgen, to come up with the idea of offering email domains in Indian languages.People can use the solution to send emails from addresses created in Indian language scripts to Gmail, Outlook, and others, as also communicate in those scripts. The company has part nered with the Rajasthan Government to provide a free email service in Hindi to all citizens.
Plenty of challenges still
Data Xgen has over 2 lakh users. But Data says he is finding it hard to scale due to challenges in integration with mainstream social media and e-commerce channels, which don’t accept linguistic email address es as valid logins.
Agarwal’s MultiBhashi is yet to find a viable revenue model for its consumer solution, partly because most users are from tier 2-3 cities and are unwilling to pay for the app. Agarwal, who is part of Axilor’s latest accelerator batch, is trying to overcome this by targetting enterprises. She is doing pilots with a few companies to help their employees learn other languages.
The enterprise route is one that others have tried with success. Reverie Language Technologies, founded in 2009, provides language localisation for technology platforms right from the interface to the keyboard. It has 30 enterprise customers, including government bodies, internet companies and original equipment manufacturers. It has worked with the central government for its online commodities trading platform and the Karnataka government for digitising land records, says founder Arvind Pani
Investors are warming up to this space, especially with the success of local language content ventures like Dailyhunt and InShorts. Virendra Gupta’s Dailyhunt, an Indian language news aggregator, is the most funded in this space with $84 million. With a reach of 50 million monthly active users, Gupta says advertisements are a big opportunity. “Both financial and non-financial investors are interested in companies like ours as we are catering to the mass market,” Gupta says.
Asutosh Updahyay, head of programmes at Axilor, says a lot of players have emerged in the local language space. “You will have to rely on strategies that can effectively manage the app store ratings, discounts, get the right engineering, and build products which are engaging. There will be some amount of consolidation,” he says.