Indian consumers check their mobile telephones at a free Wi-Fi Internet zone.   Photo: AFP/ Indranil Mukherjee
Indian consumers check their mobile phones in a free Wi-Fi zone. Photo: AFP / Indranil Mukherjee

India’s ban on Chinese-owned short-video app TikTok in response to China’s military actions has spawned a market for home-grown clones and some of them are now attracting big-ticket investments. Two of these apps, Josh and Roposo, have received funding from tech giants such as Google and Microsoft.

Josh is owned by a Bangalore-based startup VerSe Innovation and with the latest funding round of US$100 million, in which Google and Microsoft took part, the parent company has attained unicorn status – its valuation has crossed $1 billion, according to media reports. Falcon Edge Capital, a New York-based hedge fund, and existing investors Sofina Group and Lupa Systems also took part in the funding.

VerSe also owns Dailyhunt, a news and content platform which is available in many Indian languages. Falcon Edge Capital had earlier invested in Dailyhunt and its other prominent investments in the country include Ola – an app-based cab aggregator.

Roposo’s parent company Glance has raised $145 million from Google and existing investor Mithril Capital. Glance is a subsidiary of ad technology firm InMobi and it also runs a lock-screen content platform. With this financing round, the 18-month-old Glance has become the fastest company to reach unicorn status, Business Standard reports.

Roposo has emerged as India’s leading short-form video platform, with more than 33 million monthly active users spending an average of 20 minutes a day consuming content across multiple genres in more than 10 languages. This app has been downloaded more than 100 million times on the Google Play Store.

Glance founder and CEO Naveen Tiwari said, “We are absolutely thrilled to have Google as a strategic investor in Glance and Roposo. With two of the largest digital content platforms in the country, we have taken the lead in making the digital economy accessible for the next billion users in India and globally.”

Another short-video app Moj, owned by content-sharing platform ShareChat, had in September received $40 million from investors including Twitter Inc and Lightspeed Ventures. Other home grown clones like Chingari and Mitron are also attracting downloads and investor interest.

Indian and Chinese troops clashed on June 15 in Galwan Valley, resulting in the death of 20 Indian soldiers. In retaliation, the Indian government on June 29 banned TikTok, along with many other Chinese apps, citing national security concerns. The ByteDance-owned app was a dominant player in India’s short-video app space, and in June it had 167 million monthly active users out of an estimated total of 180 million users in the country.

Its sudden exit created a huge vacuum in the rapidly growing short-video sharing market, and dozens of home-grown startups rushed in to tap this huge opportunity.

According to consultancy firm RedSeer, the short video-sharing app market, in terms of the average number of monthly active users, grew nine-fold from 20 million in 2016 to 180 million in the first six months of 2020. The pace of growth is faster than that of social media, which grew to 300 million monthly users from 200 million, and YouTube whose monthly active users rose to 325 million from 150 million during the same period.