Indic language customised smartphone OS maker Firstouch in talks to raise $10M

Mumbai-based MoFirst Solutions Pvt Ltd, the company behind Firstouch brand of smartphones which comes strapped with Indic language customised operating system on an Android base, is in talks with five venture capital investors to raise $10 million in Series A funding, a top company executive told VCCircle.

"We are in talks with global PE funds that are focused in India as well as with venture capitalists that want to invest in technology and rural education,” said Rakesh Deshmukh, founder of the company.

Firstouch was founded in 2008 by three IIT Mumbai graduates Deshmukh, Akash Dongre and Sudhir Bangarambandi. The firm is looking to create an operating system that would cater to Indians who don't count English as their first, second or even third language of communication.

The company plans to use the money that would be raised in Series A, for setting up marketing distribution, building sourcing capability, technology and for launching smartphones with other regional languages.

Firstouch claims to have launched world's first regional smartphone which can translate and transliterate Indian regional languages text to English and vice-versa.

In May this year, it launched its first smartphone in Gujarati language and started selling it through 270 stores. It has opened six service centres in Saurashtra and Kutch regions of Gujarat.

Firstouch is a customised Android ROM specially made for Indian language smartphone users. The firm claims unlike other smartphone makers who support local language interface on the handsets, it has customised the operating system to further meet the requirement of a regional language user. It says the handsets with local language interface of other handset makers are unable to accommodate Indian alphabets and matras together.

Firstouch says it has developed a swipe technology, which allows consumers to translate and transliterate Indian languages text to English and vice versa just with a single swipe. It has also developed a 48-key predictive vernacular keyboard which is designed to easily type Indian matras and characters with features like auto-complete and word suggestions among others.

The firm gets the handsets manufactured from its sourcing partner and is essentially a tech firm loading its customised operating system on devices in India.

The company raised its angel round of funding in December last year from a Dubai-based angel investor Hari Padmanabhan. Padmanabhan, an IIT Kanpur and IIM Calcutta alumnus, had previously served as deputy managing director of 3i Infotech. He joined 3i Infotech after the firm acquired a Dubai-based company Insyst Technplogies, which was started by him in 1986. He is currently running Encore Group, which is into early stage investments.

"Many distributors are already in advance talks with us for the regional smartphones. Since, Hindi is the largest speaking regional language comprising of 41.03 per cent, we had decided to launch the Hindi language phone after the launch of Gujarati language one,” Deshmukh added.

Firtouch has plans to launch smartphones in Marathi, Tamil, Telegu, Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam, Punjabi, Oriya and rest of the regional languages by March 2015. It will launch 10 models of Firstouch Regional Smartphone in price bracket Rs 3,500 to Rs 12,500 in the next one year.

Talking about the revenue model of the company Vaibhav Shastri, director of sales, Firstouch, said, “We will work on two models for revenue. First one is traditional wherein our revenue will link with units sold in market and second model is the revenue that will be generated by selling vernacular content through the phone's localised vernacular app store - App Bazaar.”

App Bazaar is the company's regional app store featuring regional apps across various categories. The company has integrated operator billing gateway so that App Bazaar users are not depended on credit card purchase.

(Edited by Joby Puthuparampil Johnson)

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