Our use of social media has slowly but drastically changed over the years. As users we slowly shifted from sharing personal information, to news updates, and what have you. There are several reasons due to which our consumption of news has so drastically increased, including the advent of smartphones and applications from news publishers and mostly our fear of missing out (otherwise known as FOMO). While several players around the world have cashed in on this only a few have been able to tap the local language regions in India. One such company is Way2Online, a Hyderabad-based ‘media on mobile’ company.
Way2Online was launched in March 2014 and caters news in both English and regional languages and was re-branded in Dec 2015 as Way2Online app – a short news app. Raju Vanapala, the founder and CEO, was inspired to explore the opportunities available in the local language space forayed into the short news segment with the Way2Online app.
Speaking to Mr. Vanapala, he says, “Our previous product was sms and we were known by the name of way2sms. We had a great run between 2009-12, and were among the top 10 most visited sites in India. In 2014 we launched our sms app.”
Currently they collate and publish various local language news content on the app – be it video, audio or printed word – and want to be known as a ‘media on mobile’ company. The languages they offer on the app are Hindi, Bangla, Marathi, Gujarati, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and English. Raju says, “Our experienced editors scour through various news sites, TV channels, social media and print media to get relevant news abridged in 400 characters in a magazine style format.” He goes on to add, “It is our effort to make news selection comprehensive and wide-based, moving away from shadow of tradition bound sources of news, eg inclusion of blogs and RSS feeds as sources of news.”
While there are more and more people consuming news on their mobile phones, the smartphone penetration in India coupled with issues faced from service providers should be the obvious challenges. However, Way2Online says that India has about 300 million smartphone users – which is by no means a small number – and that makes India a key participant in the global smartphone wave with the 2nd largest base of smartphone users. The glitch they do face is that of the 300 million smartphone users in India, only 120 Million are 3G/4G subscribers. Hence, the real challenge here is not so much as a small smartphone base as it is the availability of the internet.
The recent spree of telecom providers competing to offer lower tariff rates alongside the government’s initiatives of creating a Digital India could propel a huge amount of new users on to the apps. “Also considering that these numbers would largely comprise people who want content in local languages, the opportunities for Way2Online as a provider of local language news, are tremendous”, says Raju. He believes that short news in the local language space is still a hitherto underexplored field and it gives them immense scope to be leaders in this arena, considering the early headstart they have. He adds, “In terms of challenges, how quickly and how deep the Internet becomes accessible, will influence our growth as well. Also, technology tweaking allows us to reach out to tier 2 and tier 3 cities, where bandwidth availability and top end smartphone penetration are issues.”
Way2Online aims to create an all-new news experience with a strong local focus and understanding of what dominates the news space each passing hour. In saying “all-new”, the emphasis is on a visually more appealing style of presentation with crisp news and relevant pictures, and also on making the news available across different formats of video, text and images.
Through this, Way2Online will expose regional consumers to various formats of news presentation. They want to become people’s one-stop shop to stay abreast with what is locally relevant, access entertainment with respect to what’s going viral and therefore be better informed by receiving better means of consuming their daily news. Mr. Vanapala points out, “Consequently not only are their horizons getting widened with the kind of videos, pictures they see and share on their smartphones, their expectations of the quality of news that they consume is also rising. It is impacting the choices they make not just on news consumption but in their daily life in general too.”
So what kind of content is consumed the most? According to Way2Online, news that affects people en masse directly seems to get more viewers, these include petrol price rise, Aadhaar card and demonetization which have been trending and highly consumed topics. In addition, users are majorly drawn to news that is “shocking/revealing”. The third kind of content consumed relates to nationalism and personal relationships.
Way2Online is trying to raise the bar when it comes to quality of presentation and timeliness of reporting an occurrence of importance. They intend to usher in an entire generation of users, especially first time internet users into the short news space by offering authentic, relevant news across various formats. In May-June this year, they crossed 2 Billion screenview views with an average of 90 views per user. “Way2Online will soon be the yardstick for comparison for other apps in the same segment. We also intend to become a product of daily consumption in the lives of our consumers,” founder, Raju Vanapala points out.
Raju Vanapala is a first-generation entrepreneur who is obsessive about innovations in the web and mobile space. His Way2Online app received 70% of traffic from local language readers in the short news segment. The app currently has 1.3crore downloads with more than more than a million users daily.
In 2003, he thought of starting a tech company as it would require relatively less financial and more intellectual capital. “Our basic reason for going in for web based sms services was that it did not need too high an investment and would make us get started with just a little bandwidth from operators,” he says.
Vanapala gradually got into enterprise messaging, gained a couple of clients and within two and a half years their revenue touched close to a crore and their operations became cash flow positive. “Wanting to move beyond and create bigger business, we cultivated more depth by tying up with operators and better technology,” he adds.
At the time, Yahoo mail was popular and e-mailing was free, thus, he thought of replicating this model for SMSes too and formed Way2SMS. Thus, in December of 2006 Way2SMS began and the monetisation was done through advertisements which they continue to do till now and have no inclinations to seek funding at present. Vanapala clarifies, “Realising that SMSs will soon become obsolete, we shifted the pivot of our business.”
Now, the Way2Online app has a pan India presence, and is popular across most tier 1, 2 and 3 cities. With news providers clamoring for space in the app segment, Way2Online believes that the quality of presentation is the essential factor that can determine who the market leaders are within the local language news segment. It hopes to become a force to be reckoned with in the near future – providing attractive, succinct, and authentic content to people from all walks of life in multiple native languages.