Bangalore-based Ver Se Innovation Pvt Ltd, owner of the mobile news aggregation platform NewsHunt among other mobile applications, has scooped up $18 million (around Rs 110 crore) in its Series B round of funding from Sequoia Capital, with participation from existing investors Matrix Partners India and Omidyar Network.
“Our aim is to own the Indian language mobile internet,” Ver Se founder & CEO Virendra Gupta told VCCircle. “The money raised will go towards NewsHunt. Our immediate next steps are to build a platform product for Indian language users and onboard more publishers & partners, in addition to investing in building tools and team for monetisation,” he added.
Last month, VCCircle had first reported that NewsHunt was in talks to raise fresh funding from global VC investors including Sequoia.
NewsHunt (earlier Eterno Infotech) was launched in 2009 by former Nokia employees Umesh Kulkarni and Chandrashekhar Sohoni. The company was later acquired by Ver Se in 2012.
Ver Se had earlier raised an undisclosed amount in funding from Matrix and Omidyar, besides Darby Overseas Investments, the private equity arm of Franklin Templeton Investments.
It has also reportedly acquired Dexetra, a Sequoia-backed mobile application firm.
NewsHunt was started as an application for feature phones and was later expanded to smartphones as well. The app is currently available on all leading mobile operating systems, including Android and iOS, among others. On Android alone, NewsHunt has registered over 10 million downloads.
NewsHunt has partnered with more than 100 news publishers across the country to provide news stories in 12 languages that include Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam and Marathi. It also provides news from Bangladesh and some African countries.
The firm claims it provides 1.5 billion news stories every month, and has catered to 50 million users since going live. NewsHunt also claims it has over 14 million monthly active users, who pay for downloads through NewsHunt’s proprietary payment platform iPayy that is now also being used by third party developers for micro-transactions.
Last year, it forayed into eBooks, and is currently working with around 150 regional and global language book publishers. In this segment, it competes with Flipboard on a global level. Other players operating in the news aggregation segment include NewsInShorts, which recently received an undisclosed amount in seed funding from Times Internet, besides Flipkart founders Sachin and Binny Bansal. Then there is US-based BuzzFeed, which recently netted $50 million in funding from Andreessen Horowitz, a $4 billion California-based VC firm.
“The emergence of NewsHunt has been exciting to witness as an early and largest investor in the company. NewsHunt is the leading local language mobile-only platform with a highly innovative, localised approach and business model. There is a significant opportunity ahead and we are privileged to have been associated with NewsHunt team over the past five years,” said Rishi Navani, co-founder and managing director of Matrix India.
"As India moves from a 100 million to 500 million smartphone userbase, it is critical to bridge the gap of making available relevant content and apps for Indian language users. NewsHunt is a clear category leader for regional news, books and apps, and with its unique iPayy micro payments capability, it is best placed to become the leading digital goods company to its millions of customers" said Mohit Bhatnagar, managing director, Sequoia Capital.
Founded in 2007, Ver Se develops mobile-based utilitarian value added services (VAS) for emerging markets. Its products include jobs, property, auto, mobile and education. The firm claims it reaches out to 390 million-plus mobile users through its multiple suites of utility services. iPayy, another product from Ver Se, is a mobile carrier-based billing solution, which provides easy-to-integrate software development kits (SDKs) and application programme interface (APIs) for partner merchants.
(Edited by Joby Puthuparampil Johnson)