Over the last few years, the Indian telecom company Jio has made internet access more affordable and available to new users across the country.
That’s why Lokal, an Android app that has been downloaded more than seven million times, is available in Tamil and Telugu, two of India’s most widely spoken languages. It already offered citizen journalism that users could share, but now it’s branching out into replicating other services that newspapers in India offer.
In particular, Pasha and co-founder Vipul Chaudhary are optimizing and monetizing shoutouts. People often pay for billboards, banners, and newspaper ads to announce milestones, greet visitors, and post jobs or matrimonial ads.
Pasha and Chaudhary first launched an app in 2016 that provided automated news feeds, thinking it could combat the misinformation problem in the country. But when no one was using it, they conducted some user research to figure out what people’s needs were. They found that lots of communities heavily relied on their local newspapers in their local languages for news they couldn’t get anywhere else.
In February, Lokal brought in $50,000 worth of ad revenue; in March, that amount increased to $60,000.
“Apart from the shoutouts, it’s about needs,” Pasha said. If a business posts a job opening in a newspaper, he said, the job might take 30 days to fill. On Lokal, “it’s happening in less than seven days.”
Pasha compared Lokal to something like NextDoor in the United States, in that the app not only connects neighbors but also uses a verification process to ensure that the people using it are who they say they are.
“Whoever is creating content has to give information about themselves, like their government ID, and also has to belong to that physical location, town, or district to create content about the town or district,” Pasha said. “We have a community manager who takes care of community moderation. The community can report any content that is objectionable and our community manager acts on it. We’re not Facebook that has millions of pieces of content created every day. The local town level gets between 200 and 250 content pieces a day, so it’s easy for us to respond and act on the content that gets reported.”
He also described it as “a hyperlocal Tinder,” because it cuts out the middleman (a matchmaker) as people start to look for spouses — again cutting down on the time between an ad being posted and meetings being set up.
Lokal is currently an Android-only application and available in 63 locations in four states in India. Over the next year, Pasha said he wants to bump that up to 150 locations, and be in 500 locations in the next two or three years.
“If there were no internet today, newspapers still would have been great large businesses because there is no other way for you to stay updated or get things done,” he said. “Once you have the superior experience getting going in a location, the revenue happens. The revenue is essentially the measure of value that you’re providing. The value is great, so people will pay.”