Why desi apps are getting popular

A host of start-ups have set up shop in regional languages — for a Bharat that’s much bigger than India

Vishal Koul

After a long day at work, 38-year-old Jainam Shukla would often look for ways to unwind — meet friends at the street corner, mindlessly browse social media or just stay bored at home! His wife Poonam and eight-year-old daughter Shikha would be busy watching television, but the shows did not interest him. As a security guard at a private company in Sinhasa, a small town in Indore district, he could not afford a Netflix or Hotstar subscription. 

But over the past two months, Shukla has found a new entertainment — a gaming app called Hello Play. On it, he plays carrom and snakes and ladders, and the app interacts in his native language, Hindi. Needless to say, he is hooked. 

There are millions like Shukla and, to cater to this crowd, many start-ups have come up with platforms that ‘speak’ in regional languages. There are video news platforms such as Awaaz India and Dailyhunt, information portal Vokal, social media platforms ShareChat and Khidki, and language-as-a-service (LaaS) firm Reverie. It doesn’t end there. The list is long and impressive.

Gunning for growth

What’s more impressive is that these start-ups have already caught the interest of several private equity and venture capital firms (See: Surge in interest). According to Nandan Venkatachalam, investment manager at Axilor Ventures, there are four trends playing out — “Integrating dialects, increase in regional commerce, local/regional advertising and usage of deep tech for content curation.” 

These are riding on the unbelievable increase in internet usage. A recent RedSeer study titled Vernacular is NOW, not the future notes that the number of internet users in the country has touched 530 million, at a run rate of 65 million per year over the past two years. An incredible leap from adding just 8 million users per year from 2000-2009. By 2023, we are expected to have 850 million logged in. “The number of monetisable users, based on consumption power, is expec


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