DAILYHUNT’S USER BASE TO REACH 250 MN BY JUNE 2019
Virendra Gupta, Founder & CEO of Dailyhunt, who was awarded the exchange4media Influencer of the Year award for his pioneering efforts to build a local language content platform on mobile, talks about the company’s aim to grow its user base to 250 million by June 2019
Home-grown news aggregator mobile app Dailyhunt could soon become the content platform that will challenge the duopoly of Facebook and Google in India. At the moment, 157 million people, or 30% of India’s Internet population, use Dailyhunt on a monthly basis. Here are excerpts from a conversation with Virendra Gupta, Founder & CEO of Dailyhunt:
Q] What was your vision for Dailyhunt when you launched the company and how has that vision evolved over the years? The core vision of Dailyhunt has remained the same throughout the life of the company. When we started, the core vision was to bridge the digital divide in Bharat. So our first offering was to give local language news to people on the mobile phone. As you know, India is primarily a local language market. So our main aim was to bring local language news content online and help people who come online for the first time on mobile. Over time as the market has evolved, so have we. We have a broader vision and mission now to become the local language platform which empowers a billion Indians to discover, consume and socialise content that enriches, informs and entertains them.
Q] You say that the mission now is to become a local language platform that empowers a billion Indians. What are the steps you have been taking to reach the billion Indians residing in Bharat? In 2012, no mobile phone could support a local language font; it could only support English. At that point of time we invented a platform which could render a local language font on a mobile phone. Now, over a period of time that has become a core proposition of a handset manufacturer and the mobile operating system. We have built on the local language offering, garnering content from 1,500 publishers, with 20,000 stringers on the platform. We have a strong Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) Stack that helps diverse people find content of their choice. We also have an app that serves autoplay videos in the language of the people. Moreover, we have partnerships with publishers who do not have online content; and we bring their offline local language content online.
Q] The entire digital industry is excited about the opportunities of vernacular languages. How are you harnessing the power of vernacular languages? Exactly, local language and vernacular are the new sexy words after the launch of Jio. We have a lot of local language users coming online thanks to Jio. We are the only app offering a unique feed experience of local language content - be it news, entertainment, lifestyle, cricket or health. Nobody has the width and breadth of local language content like we have with 1,500 verified publishers and 20,000 stringers. We take the responsibility to provide people with verified news and not propagate fake news. Thirdly, we are offering a unique opportunity for new content creators who want to create local language content to come on our platform and distribute and monetise their content. In addition, we are offering advertisers a platform to reach 150 million monthly active regional users. These are a few of the things we have done to make sure we are harnessing this market in a big way.
Q] Video is another ‘V’ aside from Vernacular that is exciting digital players. By 2020, 500 million users are expected to be consuming video content online. How is Dailyhunt leveraging video content? The last 18 months saw a huge surge in video consumption wherein people have stopped bothering about the bandwidth they consume. Our platform is in fact becoming more and more video-centric. Due to our introduction of video auto-play, our video consumption has gone up by 4X. We will soon be launching a unique experience of non-linear TV on our platform. It is going to be a first-of-its-kind in the world which will offer a hyper local experience to users in their language, personalised in the genre they want. Our core belief is that video is going to be the next big driver of consumption and usage on our platform.
Q] The duopoly of Facebook and Google attract as much as 80% of digital ad spends, leaving very little for platforms like Dailyhunt. How do you battle this duopoly? Our whole team is proud to build a product that is made in India and made for India. We love this David versus Goliath metaphor! We are addressing this on multiple levels. First, we are investing heavily in technology. We have a strong ML and AI engine that personalises content and ads. We have adtech of our own, including auction, bidding and personalisation. We have invested upfront in technology so that we can offer advertisers the same amount of CTRs and flow-through rates which Google and Facebook can offer. We are also opening our platform to small businesses with a self-serve option, using which for example, a small travel operator in Kochi can target people on a pincode basis. If you go into the history of Google and Facebook, you will see that their ad dollars shot up when their reach went beyond 200 million users. Today Dailyhunt is at 157 million MAUs; we will be about 250 million users by June 2019. As soon as we hit that mark, our ad monetisation will go to a different scale. Because then we become an intrinsic part of every media planner’s strategy. Besides, we have a unique regional audience which nobody has. This audience on a daily basis spends about 27 minutes on average on our platform.
Finally, content on our platform is brand safe. All our OGC and user-generated content is verified. These are all the ways in which we are building our advertising business and giving Google and Facebook a run for their money.
Q] In what ways do you use AI and ML at Dailyhunt for personalisation and recommendations? The word personalisation has been bastardised by everyone in the industry. But let me tell you, personalisation is very hard to build. Personalisation is a very serious science and engineering problem, and I would say we are one of the best companies in India who are invested in a personalisation experience for feed in local languages. Let me give you a sneak preview into what our personalisation engine does. We process in real-time 100,000 articles every day. The machine is parsing all those articles in real-time into several categories by figuring out what the content is and matching that content to each user’s preference. We personalise content based on a content graph. We categorise every article based on 10,000 different features and personalise those features with the consumption pattern of the user in real-time, across 17 languages. Doing this has increased the time-spent on our platform and our CTRs have gone by 17-18%. We benefit greatly from our tech stack and the history of six years of data that we have from our users.
Q] How are you making your platform brand safe? Do you have any manual intervention to verify the content? Ours is not a User Generated Content (UGC) platform like YouTube. All the content that comes to our platform is uploaded by our team through a process that filters out bad content. Secondly, our machine learning algorithm captures signals on every article on which users give feedback. So if we have plenty of users providing feedback on an article stating that it is fake or improper, we suppress that article. We also continuously give feedback to our publishers on their content for them to learn and improve.
Q] Not only are you fighting the duopoly but also dozens of other news apps... We are news aggregators. We think of ourselves as a complementary channel to the people who already have news content on news apps. You can divide the market into multiple segments - those who are brand fanatics who may only download the news app of that brand, and a large segment that wants to read content from multiple sources and aggregators offer that value proposition. We do a couple of things to keep everyone in the ecosystem happy. Firstly, we attribute a Comscore to the traffic which comes from our publishers. Secondly, we are one of the few apps that monetise at a large scale and share revenue with our partners, in addition to a lot of data analytics, so that their newsrooms can improve.
Q] Every company has a next billion plan, what’s your next billion plan? Most people think that they can get the next billion users online by giving them racy content, but my belief is if you want to get the next billion users online, you have to first culturally understand those users. And once you do that, you need to build features and products around those users and consumer habits. That’s when people will come and stick with your platform. It is easy to get the next billion users and easier to lose them. We should not undermine the complexity of these users. They are aspirational and they have cultural values. So whatever you do, you need to be in sync with them to make sure they are engaging with your platform.
PRADEEP DWIVEDI CEO, Sakal Media Group
Virendra Gupta has always been at the cutting edge of leveraging technology for mass use of people in this country and now with Verse having acquired Dailyhunt and scaled it up substantially, it has become the go-to portal and app of choice for a large number of users in India who depend on regional content. In addition to building a fine organization, Viru has also built a worldclass team which is doing substantial work in the mobile internet space in India; a testimony to his leadership skills.
HIMANSHU GAUTAM Business Head – Digital, Amar Ujala Group
Virendra was very clear right from the start that whenever the Internet in India was going to happen, it would happen around languages. That’s the dream that he has lived while he created the company. I feel super thrilled to know that Dailyhunt has won the Influencer of the Year. My heartiest congratulations to Viru and the complete team at Dailyhunt. Our best wishes to the team from the Amar Ujala Group.
SHARAD SANGHI MD & CEO, Netmagic Solutions
I have known Viru for the past ten years. He is an extremely passionate and hardworking individual, besides being very down to earth and humble. I have seen Viru transform Dailyhunt from a value-added services application to India’s largest media platform. It has been an amazing and inspiring experience working with the motivated team from Dailyhunt led by Viru himself. I wish him all the best in his future endeavours. He has truly put India on the map.
SANJAY PRABHU Director, Asianet News Network & Director, Republic TV
I’ve known Virendra Gupta or ‘Viru’ as we call him right from the time he joined us as a trainee in BPL Mobile. I remember him being extremely hardworking, innovative and with a thirst to learn. I met him a couple of years ago after he had set up Dailyhunt, and I admire the fact that he has been able to single-handedly set up a large media tech company and been successful at that.
BG MAHESH Founder & MD, Oneindia
Dailyhunt under Viru’s leadership has become so big that all his competitors are actually envious of the heights it has reached. Whenever he has to express himself, he speaks exactly what is on his mind. That makes it very easy for people like us when we work with him, because we know exactly what his expectations are. We have been able to double our reach, which is no small feat.
PRASHANT CHACKO Head of Strategy & Head of Carrier Billing (ipayy), Verse Innovation Pvt Ltd
You rarely come across a guy who speaks his mind as clearly and as simply as Virendra does. He is the one person in this company who is most focused on consumer experience, and that also makes him our largest tester.