Google Helps Birth Two Social Media Unicorns in Rapid Succession
Inflatable unicorns stand on display at the Noah technology conference in Berlin, Germany. (Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg)

Google Helps Birth Two Social Media Unicorns in Rapid Succession

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Google investments helped create India’s two youngest technology unicorns: a pair of startups that feed personalized news and entertainment to the world’s fastest-growing smartphone population.

Glance, which feeds news and sports scores to phone-lock screens, is said to have reached a valuation of more than $1 billion after completing a funding round led by Google. And VerSe Innovation Pvt, the studio behind the popular Dailyhunt news site and TikTok-like Josh app, said it passed that threshold after winning more than $100 million from Alphabet Inc.’s search giant and Microsoft Corp.

Google and its American internet peers are steadily amping up their investment in India, latching onto the only other country with a billion-plus population after getting shut out of China. From Amazon.com Inc. to Facebook Inc., they’re hoping to get in on the ground floor of what they envision as a smartphone and online commerce boom that could eventually create a market to rival the world’s No. 2 economy.

The online search leader has struck an alliance with Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd. to invest $4.5 billion and cooperate on technology initiatives including the development of affordable mobile phones. But they’re also teaming with smaller outfits to target more local audiences.

“In the last two years alone, 100 million new internet users have come online from rural India,” Google Vice President Caesar Sengupta wrote in a blog post Tuesday, announcing its investment in VerSe. “But many of these internet users continue to have trouble finding content to read or services they can use confidently, in their own language.”

Of the two, Bangalore-headquartered Glance Digital Experience Pvt is the more nascent outfit. It’s the second unicorn to emerge from the group that created InMobi, a cloud marketing platform that became India’s earliest tech startup to reach the milestone. That group was founded by 43-year-old Naveen Tewari, alumnus of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology and the holder of an MBA from Harvard Business School. On Tuesday, his 18-month-old firm announced it had scored $145 of investment from Google and billionaire Peter Thiel’s Mithril Capital.

Glance currently has 115 million daily active users who average 25 minutes on the app each day. The app operates only in the Android ecosystem and has partnered with leading device makers including Samsung Electronics Co., Xiaomi Corp., Oppo and Vivo.

Team Up

By partnering with Google, the company plans to take its product to the rest of Asia and launch in the U.S. -- where it will team up with carriers -- and South America in 2021, Tewari said. Glance is currently focused on acquiring users and has just begun experimenting with advertising-based monetization models, according to Tewari.

Google also joined Microsoft and Alphawave in a financing round for VerSe, whose Dailyhunt is already a landing spot for more than 300 million users in a choice of 14 local languages. Sofina Group and Lupa Systems also took part.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Sequoia Capital India are among VerSe’s other investors. VerSe says it plans to scale up Josh, broaden its content creator ecosystem and develop artificial intelligence and machine-learning technology to help it capture an ever wider audience. It will also explore potential moves beyond its home borders in other international markets that exhibit a need for vernacular content.

Josh is tailored to its home nation and available in a variety of local languages, touting it’s “Made in India” at a time when its rival TikTok and dozens of other China-made apps have been banned over privacy and national security concerns. The app has quickly accrued an audience of 77 million monthly active users and now accounts for over 1.5 billion video plays per day, according to a company statement.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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