News In Shorts, the startup behind an India-focused mobile news app, has raised a $20 million Series B round from existing investor Tiger Global.
The VC firm, which has backed a number of India’s top tech firms and this week led a $100 million raise for music service Saavn, led News In Shorts’ $4 million Series A in February. Now it’s returned to the table with a considerably larger raise to help the startup scale its service and grow its userbase.
News In Shorts, which publishes around 60 news bulletins of 60 words or less per day, had 100,000 downloads for iOS and Android when we checked in with the company in February. That figure is now up to 1.3 million, and co-founder Deepit Purkayastha told us that engagement has increased 18X over the same period. He declined to provide raw stats, but back in February News In Shorts claimed 40 percent of all registered users logged in each week, while daily users browsed an average of 50 stories each day.
“Those increases directly led to this new funding round from Tiger,” Purkayastha explained. “We believe that the service is quite good right now, but we can be the best if we can invest more into it.”
He added that this Series B capital will be used to develop the product — and in particular the Android app, since the Google-owned platform accounts for around 80 percent of mobile devices in India. The News In Shorts team is working on a number of new additions, including a personalization engine that helps users quickly find content that matches their interests, and a feature to allow users to express and share opinions on news via the service.
“News is divided into facts and opinions,” Purkayastha told TechCrunch in an interview. “We’re trying to make users actively participate in the opinion process.”
Initially opinions will roll out to a select number of users, but the plan is to allow all News In Shorts users to share their voices. The funding will also go towards hiring more editors to increase the number of news briefs each day, putting the service into more languages and potentially focusing on audiences outside of India. The latter may take place before the end of the year, Purkayastha revealed.
The service is still not making money, but there are plans to begin drawing revenue before the end of the year. Sponsored content is one element, while the founders are exploring possibilities based on a user’s location or topics of interest.
“We want to innovate on the format of ads itself,” said Purkayastha. “Ours will be much more native to the experience of the app, they won’t be traditional with pop-ups or banners that bother users.”
That introduction makes sense once News In Shorts is able to tailor personalized content to users, since that will bring some form of context to sponsored content. That said, it remains to be seen whether the paid content will detract from the purpose of the app — serving up news — despite Purkayastha’s assertion that all content on the app will informative to users, be it news, advertising or otherwise.
News apps have been in the headlines lately following the demise of Circa, the U.S. startup that practically pioneered the genre. Circa was squarely focused on serving the U.S. market while News In Shorts is focused on India, so the latter isn’t a direct replacement for the former.
Purkayastha chose not to comment directly on Circa’s plight, instead he said that News In Shorts is wholly focused on keeping things brief for its users, while it has its eye on monetization.
“We keep in mind that users should be consuming news in seconds, it should take five minutes to be up to date and it shouldn’t be overwhelming,” he said.
One major rival is Newshunt, the media startup that raised $40 million this year and is moving into digital content. But with Tiger Global — a backer of Uber rival Ola, e-commerce giant Flipkart, chat app Hike and many others in India — in its corner, News In Shorts is an interesting one to watch in a land where e-commerce and other capital intensive verticals tend to claim most of the startup limelight.