This Co-founder Ensured That His Regional Language Content App Survived the Storm

Ranjeet Pratap Singh's Pratilipi saw a spell when ShareChat and other Chinese apps crowded the market, pushing others out

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Blenders Pride Reserve Collection presented Entrepreneur India’s 35Under35 2020 list which included some leading names from the field of entrepreneurship and Ranjeet Pratap Singh made it to the coveted list. 

Ranjeet Pratap Singh, CEO and co-founder, Pratilipi

In mid-2018, when ShareChat—a Twitter-backed regional language social media app—was in the midst of raising $100 million from the who’s who of the investor community, venturing into this space seemed like the billion-dollar opportunity. Investors were rushing headlong to invest in Internet start-ups, which were targeting the next 200 million Internet users bought in by telecom operator Jio’s low data prices. At least a dozen start-ups got funded, which led to the fear of a bubble.

Pratilipi was among the plethora of regional content apps that were bubbling from almost every other alley of India’s start-up hub Bengaluru.

Founded in March 2015 under Nasadiya Tech Pvt. Ltd by Sankaranarayanan Devarajan, Rahul Ranjan, Sahradayi Modi, Prashant Gupta and Ranjeet Pratap Singh, Pratilipi lets aspiring writers publish their work in Hindi, Tamil, Telegu and Malayalam, among more than eight other regional languages on the platform.

“In the beginning, it was difficult to get writers on the platform because we did not have readers,” Singh said in an interview last year. “And the readers wouldn’t come because we did not have many good writers. It was like a chicken and egg situation,” he added.

The 32-year-old management graduate from Faculty of Management Studies in New Delhi can often be spotted sporting his white Pratilipi t-shirt.

Singh worked as an area sales manager with telecom operator Vodafone before starting Pratlipi. The start-up’s chief executive officer (CEO) describes himself as an avid reader who could not find many books in his mother tongue. Hence, Pratilipi was born.

Currently, the app has more than 160,000 writers and 8.5 million monthly active readers on the platform, according to Singh, up from 75,000 writers and 3.3 million readers, in January 2019.

In June 2019, the start-up raised about $15 million in Series B funding round led by Qiming Venture Partners. Along with Qiming Venture Partners, Morningside Venture and smartphone maker Xiaomi’s Shunwei Capital are among a dozen other Chinese venture capital firms, which have invested in multiple Indian start-up across sectors, in the last couple of years. 

Since then, the regional content apps have seen a decline in investments. For instance, Bengaluru-based short video-sharing app Clip (Transversal Tech Pvt. Ltd) raised $7 million in seed and Series A round from investors including Matrix Partners India, Shunwei Capital and India Quotient. But this promising start-up, wherein users posted TikTok-like videos, failed to raise another $25-30 million.

Many apps including China’s Kuwai, and social network app Roposo could not scale aggressively as deep-pocketed Bytedance entered the market with short video app Tik Tok, and ShareChat’s doppelganger Helo, among others. This pushed up the customer acquisition cost for apps that were yet to make any money.

Singh’s Pratilipi survived the whole consolidation phase because no other platform, with a large user base, was offering books in regional languages. There is still a question mark on monetisation but Singh is quite optimistic about the future. “Voice is something that I am optimistic about for the long-term future,” Singh told Entrepreneur India.

Pratilipi has launched its books in audio format. There is not much to say as the feature is recent and still needs some traction. At present, audio books are only available in Hindi. Singh plans to add a new language every month from last week of March.