“You should stop having to put in work to find information; Information should understand you and actually find you.” - Vikas Jha, CEO & Founder at Plash Digital labs.
Plash is a personalized news aggregator (app review) that delivers the latest news and information from multiple newspapers, blogs, and magazines. Simply put, it is the Indian Feedly or Flipboard bringing you curated content on your mobile with a regional twist.
Today Plash which has more than 30,000 registered users and more than 80 syndicated publishers (such as Living Media Group, New Indian Express, Deccan Herald, etc.) is providing quality Indian content in different languages.
With Indians spending more than 2.5 hours on mobile, the device is turning into a primary one for a nation reported amongst the fastest growing market for smartphones globally in the last quarter.
This massive penetration and increase in mobile phone activities by Indians has thrown up challenges such as producing exclusive content for mobile and also delivering content in regional language.
Reports have already shown that the need for regional content can boost the internet penetration in the country by 24%. The joint study done by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and IMRB International last month also revealed that 43 percent of the non-users of Internet in rural areas have said that they will adopt the medium if the content is provided in local languages.
While these facts have surfaced now, the inception of Plash goes back to 2010 when the app revolution was picking up globally. Vikas was then working for a VC fund in Amsterdam and this is when he identified the absence of mobile news aggregators that could provide quality Indian content in different languages.
“While a few such as News Hunt was there, the end user experience was significantly different from what I was used to. A lot could be done not only in terms of presentation of content, personalization of content but also on monetization,” adds Vikas, while sharing the story behind Plash over an email conversation.
The idea kept brewing with Vikas and over the time there was an influx of news aggregating apps.
In late 2012, Vikas was given an opportunity to work in India (setting up an early stage cleantech fund in India). Coming back to his roots, he decided to focus on the news aggregator platform for mobile device idea as a hobby along with his regular job. Besides he started hitting the startup circles in India and was fortunate to meet people who could help him turn his idea into a reality.
Vikas informs that it was Prateek Hakay, a common friend who introduced him to Vikram Dwarkanath and Pavan Madhukar. The four of them teamed up and after a few months of discussions and planning finally decided to take a plunge in December 2012, leading to the formation of Plash Digital Labs.
By March 2013, the startup raised around USD 100,000 from the VC community to meet their goals and by May 2013, the product development was already meeting deadlines. But then Prateek decided to quit for personal reasons.
Plash kept moving ahead and by November 2013, the startup launched its app on Google Store. Today along with Vikas, Vikram is the Chief Technical Officer who brings with him 13 years of experience in software MNCs and Pavan is the Chief Product Officer who had his own service company earlier providing consultancy to mobile app developers. Based out at Bangalore, the startup has 8 full time resources dedicated to development and maintenance of Plash Aggregation Platform.
Plash is a year and half old and as Vikas adds, Plash has focused on personalization of content and strengthening the regional content area, since its inception.
“At Plash, we believe that personalization is the future of content. The basic notion is that you should stop having to put in work to find information; Information should understand you and actually find you,” he informs while sharing his thoughts on how Plash is sticking its neck high up in the overcrowded market of mobile news aggregation apps.
With its customized RSS, interest-based feeds and themed magazines, Plash places importance on personalization first followed by discovery.
Besides Plash is also fueling the news reading experience by forming deep partnerships with leading media companies due to which content is directly available on the app for free (instead of showing just short excerpts and then a “web view” in a browser) in return for a share of advertising revenue.
“It is a great platform for smaller publishers, some of whom may not have a presence (or at least not a very good one) on mobile devices like tablets — and it allows them to reach readers they may not otherwise reach.”
Besides personalization of content, local language content has been the key focus for Plash since day one.
“Out of the total population of literates in India, less than 20 per cent have English language literacy as opposed to over seventy percent for regional languages. Therefore, the platform is useful in getting this content across to a wider audience,” he shares and his belief has been validated too as Plash has seen a tremendous response for content in Telugu, Tamil and Gujarati among others.
Today Plash has more than 23,000 people who have registered to one or more regional languages. Plash is now available in 11 languages, including English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati and Malayalam.
While Plash is not focusing on monetization at the moment, the personalization is helping it to develop a better ad delivery platform. Plash’s primary focus for now is helping publishers make money from their original content through advertising.
“We differ from other content providers in our advertising approach in the sense we have introduced a new form of publisher-friendly, design focused advertising. If you take a look at the ads in Plash, you will find full screen, beautiful, and engaging ads. We believe that the visual appeal of advertising that magazines have enjoyed, will translate to our platform as well,” he adds.
Vikas also has future plans of building additional revenue by launching premium content from publishers. In the near future, Plash plans to launch paywall gateways for premium magazine publishers to help publishers deliver premium content side-by-side with free web content. Users will have to subscribe to access the premium content.
Plash, which has recently launched a new version of Android app, plans to expand its reach on iOS and Windows Phone 8 app. Sharing some of the future plans Vikas informs that the startup plans to introduce a proprietary RSS search and Publisher Platform.
At the same time Plash wants to continue working on the personalization algorithms to make it more robust, add more regional content to the platform and work on the Publisher Platform.
“We are working on the predictive analytics dashboard for our publishing partners. It will help the publishers to optimize their content and grow their readership by giving them better insights into what people are reading and what topics are trending,” adds Vikas, while sharing plans to expand to the Middle East in the near future to be the first Arabic news aggregation platform.
Plash isn’t going to have a joy ride with bigger players in the market but the regional content factor certainly gives the startup an edge. The Indian startup ecosystem is already witnessing another global product being built and shipped from India, courtesy Plash.