Pune Inc: Thinking ‘Lokal’, social media startup raises $15 million, 10 million users

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If you have access to the internet, you probably know the top global headlines. But, do you have an update on the vaccination timings in your locality, the price of vegetables in the neighbourhood market or if there will be a power cut near you? It is this sort of information that one can find in one of the fastest-growing applications in India, Lokal App.

A hyperlocal social media platform that started in 2018 and has spread across five states, Lokal has now arrived in Maharashtra, intending to raise 10 million users from 36 districts by the end of 2022. It recently raised $15 million and the founders, Jani Pasha and Vipul Chaudhary, were among Forbes 30 under 30 Asia 2020.

“Pune has grown up to be a larger city but we still feel that it will find a lot of use in our application. If you look at places like Pune, you find people living there for generations. What is happening in the area is very important for them. Lokal is focused on community updates, jobs, matrimony, real estate and classifieds. We have gone super deep, by which we mean that we have local businesses adopting our platform and using it as a place to advertise to their customers and get more business, says Jani Pasha.

A screenshot of Lokal app.

Before Maharashtra, Lokal had 10 million downloads from Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. Its revenue has increased tenfold year on year and is growing at a 30 per cent month-on-month basis. Pasha adds that enabling self-expression is one of their key strengths. “You will find billboards with people wishing each other on their birthdays, weddings, retirement or if someone is travelling to the US. With Lokal, we have created a platform where these users can express themselves. It is a community platform,” he says.

The product is geared towards tier-2 and tier-3 cities, a non-English-speaking market base, and aims to serve the purpose of local newspapers in enabling local discoveries. “Small businesses are uploading their job requirements and people of that town, who are applying for the job or trying to get placed, will access it. People who want to get married are posting, and finding partners. Since Marathi is one of the most spoken languages in India, we believe Maharashtra will contribute 25 per cent of revenue in the coming quarter,” says Pasha.

According to a study by Internet and Mobile Association of India and Nielsen, India has more than half a billion active internet users and enterprises such as Lokal are tapping this huge user base. “We are talking about the 500 million new-to-internet audiences that got access to the internet because of Jio and for whom English does not come very naturally. They are using the internet either for consuming content or chatting with their friends on WhatsApp. Not enough products are built to make them use the internet more meaningfully, either for information, transactions, commerce,” he says.

efore Maharashtra, Lokal had 10 million downloads from Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka. (Screenshot/Lokal app)

Even in Pune, users who use the internet, speak in their native language and are not comfortable in English, might not find the internet very useful. The Lokal App is a platform with location as an important entity to solve the problem of getting information about jobs, festive-season sales, prayer timings and donation drives.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Lokal’s user base has doubled as people logged in to find information about caseloads and shop timings, especially during lockdowns. “We were one of the platforms to give local information, especially during the second Covid wave, about where people could find beds, oxygen cylinders and medicines,” he says.

While the content is generated by the community users and stringers, who work for local newspapers, it is moderated by the platform to filter out fake news.

After Maharashtra, Lokal will be looking at Gujarat and West Bengal before travelling across India and, then, Southeast Asia.

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