Desi app developers see a ‘great’ opportunity

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In May, Ankit Prasad, Founder and CEO, Bobble AI, a start-up that makes soft keyboards for smartphones, launched a Malayalam version of its keyboard. This was around the same time that PM Narendra Modi called for Atmanirbhar Bharat. Within 45 days, the keyboard has 1 million downloads and Bengali and Marathi versions of the app have also been launched.

Naveen Tewari, Founder and CEO of InMobi Group-owned short video app Roposo, is seeing a deluge in downloads in the last 6 weeks. The number of users has grown 10-fold and our total downloads is 65 million, second only to TikTok, he said.

The call for Atmanirbhar Bharat and the standoff with China, which has now resulted in the government banning Chinese apps, have opened the gates for Indian apps such as ShareChat, Roposo, Bobble AI, Public and others.

Tewari likens the move to the ‘Red Sea’ moment for Made in India start-ups, which are overlooking a user base of 130 crore. “The government has paved the way for the fourth tech ecosystem in the world to come to the forefront,” he said, referring to US, China and Russia as the other 3 ecosystems.

Traditionally, tech citadels are built with such ecosystems and by banning Chinese apps, the government is trying to open a window for Indian start-ups. Chinese companies are flush with capital and financial muscle is one of the levers they use to get into the global markets. Tewari is of the view that aggressive use of capital for expansion is a thing of the past.

At an advantage

In the post-Covid era, as capital flows start to slow down, Indian start-ups seem to have some advantage. “Content and social media are businesses which grow organically. The advent of Chinese content platforms spending billions of dollars in marketing created an unfair playing field for Indian content/social start-ups,” said Berges Y Malu, Director – Public Policy, ShareChat. ShareChat is a social media platform with 100 million registered users and over 60 million monthly active users.

So, can Indian start-ups fill the vacuum created by the ban on 59 Chinese apps? “We have talent, resources and this is a great opportunity for Indian app makers to launch products that have global potential,” said Azhar Iqubal, Founder and CEO of the homegrown social app Public, which has garnered 50 million users within a year of its launch. Agrees Tewari. “The space created by 58 start-ups can be filled in a few weeks but filling the gap created by TikTok will take time,” he said.

Others like Prasad pointed out that start-ups need financial help, in addition to ease of doing business if they are to succeed. “More than banning Chinese apps, controlling anti-competitive practices of large tech companies and creating a start-up friendly business environment will help the ecosystem,” he said.

Growth opportunity

According to Rohith Bhat, Chief Executive Officer of Udupi-based 99Games, a gaming company, the ban on Chinese apps offers a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs to grow.

He told BusinessLine that Indian entrepreneurs can now quickly start small with apps similar to the Chinese ones.

His company has a gaming platform called GameGully. He said it is similar to an app called Hago, which was banned on June 29.

Asked if there is an increase in the number of downloads, he said it is hardly a few hours after the ban has been announced, and they are still analysing it. However, he said some of the Indian competitors to TikTok are getting a lot of attention now.

Dikshith Rai, Chief Executive Officer of Mangaluru-based Codecraft Technologies (a software and app development company), said that it is the right time for entrepreneurs to promote their apps similar to the banned ones.

He said starting a new app from scratch might be tricky unless the idea has a clear USP (unique selling proposition). “If you are trying to replicate the same thing, it may not be sustainable,” he said.

Asked if Chinese investments will be affected, Rai said there might be some short-term impact. However, India is a hot market and no investor can ignore it, he added.

(With inputs from AJ Vinayak in Mangaluru)

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