Silicon Valley venture fund Sequoia Capital's Indian unit has invested 1 billion rupees ($16.4 million) in Verse Innovation, a Bangalore-based startup that offers local-language news and e-books on mobile phones.
Previous investors, who also participated in the current round, include Matrix Management Corp.’s Indian unit, Matrix Partners India, which invests in early- and growth-stage consumer-focused startups, and Omidyar Network, the investment fund started by eBay Inc. founder Pierre Omidyar that makes both for-profit and philanthropic investments.
"As India moves from a 100 million to 500 million smartphone-user base it is critical to bridge the gap of making available relevant content and apps for Indian Language users,” Mohit Bhatnagar, managing director at Sequoia Capital India Advisors, said in a statement.
Verse’s flagship product is a phone app called NewsHunt, which has been downloaded by some 50 million users to access local-language news and e-books. The app is actively used by some 14 million people, the startup said in its statement announcing the funding on Monday.
NewsHunt, available on both Google's Android and Apple's iOS platforms, allows users to access local content in 12 Indian languages.
“The era of the real Indian mobile internet written and consumed in local language is just beginning,” said Verse’s CEO and co-founder Virendra Gupta, in the statement.
Users pay for downloads through a proprietary payment platform called iPayy, which is also being used by third-party developers for transactions involving very small sums of money, Verse said in the statement.
The startup aims to create a platform customized for Indian consumers by digitizing and distributing vernacular content, in close partnership with publishers, developers and gadget makers.
With the iPayy platform, which is currently used by 300 merchants, Verse has the potential to become a “digital goods” company, selling digital content to millions of customers, Bhatnagar said.
The payment platform also taps partnerships between Verse and India’s five major wireless operators -- who have access to 700 million mobile phone subscribers -- by generating a commission for Verse when users download content to their phones using a network provider's data plan.