Startup Saturday: Here’s an app, Vokal, which gives users access to information in local languages
One of the things you learn as a veteran entrepreneur is how to put your ear to the ground and point your nose in the direction of opportunities. Aprameya Radhakrishnan who co-founded Taxi For Sure that was sold to Ola and Mayank Bidwataka who co-founded Red Bus understood one thing very clearly. That the internet was founded by an English speaking man and was meant for an English speaking populace. But India is different.
“More than 90% of Indians do not know English. This was a huge need gap in the market which was staring at us,” says Radhakrishnan “
The duo understood that many people are interested in knowing more, but are looking for the information in local languages.They developed an app and called it Vokal.
“The way the app works is easy. One has to download the app, fill out basic information about the language preferred and your areas of interest, your phone number and then click the ask button. And you will get an answer. Sounds easy, but it required the building of a data bank,” said Aprameya.
He said they approached people who had expertise in a particular field and were interested in helping non English speaking
When asked as to how Vokal is different from Google that has a translation service?
Says Bidwataka, “First of all no one asks Google the kind of questions that people ask in their local languages. Secondly the translation service is only to English. There is nothing that will let you translate from English to Oriya or Tamil. And the translation to English is also broken and out of context. So, that does not serve the needs of regional language users.”
The raison d’etre for any business is the bottom line. So far Vokal is not making any money. They received funding of $6.5 million in a Series A round led by Kalaari Capital, Shunwei Capital, 500 Startups in September 2018, with participation from existing investors Accel India and Blume Ventures. “This we used to build our team that focusses on technology and community,” he said.
When asked about how they will make money, he said, “ We aim to offer our users the opportunity of getting answers directly from an expert. The other is the typical way where certain businesses may be interested in owning certain keywords for a fee.” Vokal is currently growing at 30 to 50 percent every month.
While global platforms have been able to serve the needs of English internet users to a large extent, there is a big market for India- specific platforms to cater to the needs of non-English Indian internet users. Language plays an important role, but other factors such as relevance of content and community building, which drive users to adopt the platform, are equally important.
Contrary to how the content has been monetized so far - largely through advertising - the duo believe monetising through micro-payments will open up much larger revenue pools.
On why he invested in Vokal, Dakshit Vora of Kalari Capital said, “ Seeking help from trusted circle of people is core to India’s society, and Vokal is trying to replicate this in the digital world. More than 95% of the questions asked get answered within 30 minutes, which is a testimony to a strong community that Vokal has built.