Mohalla Tech, the parent company of ShareChat and Moj, minted a cumulative of 913 million USD in 2021 across three funding rounds which gave it the unicorn status. The company was valued at 3.7 billion in its latest Series G funding round of 266 million USD (1). With that, the total secured funds for Mohalla Tech tally to over 1.177 billion USD across eight fundraising rounds so far.
The Bengaluru-based entity has two products, including an Indic social media platform ShareChat and a short video platform Moj. Both platforms claim to have more than 180 million and 160 million users. Its short-video platform Moj scores more than 4.5 billion daily views with an average user time spent of 34 minutes daily. Meanwhile, its social media platform ShareChat claims to have over 31 minutes daily average user time spent on the app.
Incepted in 2015 by Ankush Sachdeva, Farid Ahsan, and Bhanu Singh, the company aims to widen its suite of features and products in the short video and social media spaces that resonate well with Indians, especially Gen Zers and Millennials from Tier II and Tier III cities of India. Their idea is to build immersive social experiences for users.
According to a report from BusinessLine (2), the company will spend the secured investment to strengthen its strategic priorities to build a best-in-class AI feed, attract and incentivize a diverse base of creators, and build live and social commerce abilities.
“By the end of 2023, we want to have reached a goal of $100 million in annualized creative earnings thanks to our social and live commerce activities,” said the company in a statement.
“In one of the fastest-growing and dynamic internet markets worldwide, with over 600 million internet users, ShareChat is entrenched as the most prominent and engaging digital and social media platform,” stated Deepak Ravichandran, a General Partner at Alkeon Capital, one of existing investors of Mohalla Tech (3).
However, what made ShareChat and Moj so successful? Can we see them replacing major social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook from the Indian market? Keep on reading to know more.
The Foundation of Moj and ShareChat
Sachdeva set to work within hours after the Indian government banned the usage of TikTok and a slew of other Chinese apps on the grounds of “national security” last year. The co-founder and CEO of ShareChat rallied his staff to recreate the popular Chinese short video platform – TikTok. Long story short, Moj was available for download on the Play Store within 30 hours.
Today, Moj has become India’s leading short video platform with more than 160 million monthly active users. “There has been tremendous growth,” stated Sachdeva (3).
However, before finding success with Moj, the trio had built and experimented with multiple products, ultimately finding success with ShareChar.
In 2014, the trio used phone numbers that users shared on Facebook for Bollywood news and created ten WhatsApp groups with 100 members each, a maximum limit for a group on WhatsApp at that time. Members used to share movie trailers, celebrity gossip, and posters.
As per Sachdeva, they used to gather entertainment news through WhatsApp groups instead of Google, and most of them preferred to chat, read, and share information in local dialects.
They realized that many people didn’t want to share their numbers to join random WhatsApp groups. Instead, they were looking to consume, share, and browse regional content, which Google rarely indexes.
And that’s how ShareChat was born. They offered restricted content in an easy-to-share feed format in a language that people would select. Their focus on speed and feed algorithm allowed ShareChat to reach more than 60 million users within the first year of its inception.
And we believe that their idea of no English and focus on regional language with easy-to-consume information made ShareChat and Moj successful.
The Growth of Moj and ShareChat
ShareChat caters to users in more than 15 Indian languages and has a large user base in small Indians and Cities. Meanwhile, Moj has a massive following pan India, including metro cities (4).
On the other hand, social media platforms like SnapChat and Twitter struggle to win users beyond urban cities in India, the world’s second-largest Internet market. Of course, Meta commands the Indian social media space with WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook, with over 400 million users (5).
Earlier this year, reports also emerged about Google in talks to acquire Moj to compete with TikTok globally.
In February 2021, however, Snapchat made a deal with ShareChat to integrate its camera kit into the platform; the deal is noted because it was the first time Snapchat ever formed a partnership of such kind with a company in India (6).
“ShareChat is among the very few players in the Indian startup ecosystem who have reached the large following of the small town segment of the population,” stated Director and Venture Capitalist at Blume Ventures, Sajith Pai (7).
By April 2021, Mohalla Tech entered the unicorn club with a 2.1 billion USD valuation after securing 502 million USD funds from Lightspeed Ventures and Tiger Global (8). Its other investors include Elevation Capital, Twitter, and SnapChat.
“The unicorn tag primarily affects the external perception more. Internally, the only thing that has changed is the nature of the bets we are taking. At present, we are looking to go from over 350 million MAUs to a billion MAUs. And we can’t make it happen unless we think long-term, which needs a different mindset from a Series B or C company,” stated Sachdeva.
In addition, ShareChat is also hiring talents outside of India since no one in India had previously built a feed ranking algorithm besides them, a move that will help them compete with global social media giants.
Today, the company has hired top AI engineers working remotely from the US, UK, and Russia who had previously worked with companies like Pinterest and Facebook, expanding their team to over 1,500 from 500 a year ago.
Milestones for 2022 and Beyond
While asserting their future growth plans, Sachdeva stated that the coronavirus pandemic led to many changes in content consumption and other metrics.
“We witnessed that when our users were forced to stay indoors amid the pandemic, their need to consume content and connect with others in the community increased many times. At that time, we responded by launching features and products that could serve our users better. It helped us grow faster and led us towards being a platform with AI-driven content delivery.”
He further described that their future goals are centered towards their USP features of AI personalization and feed ranking. By investing in AI and enriching creators and users with the overall content community, Moj and ShareChat hope to expand even more in the coming years and maintain their position in the industry.
“We have consistently worked towards redefining the consumption experience and content creation across both platforms Moj and ShareChat. We will continue to focus on building social media platforms of the future by leveraging exciting features, cutting-edge AI, and ideas that will make the overall experience more fulfilling,” he explained.
The company claims to have over 180 million strong monthly active users with over 31 minutes of average user time and over 63 million user-generated content shared over 2 billion times a month on ShareChat. Moj has grown to become the country’s largest short video platform, with over 160 million monthly active users and over 18 million artists producing over 75 million pieces of content every month, with more than 3 billion daily video views (9).
“The main innovation that will drive the future of ShareChat and Moj will be our content delivery powered by AI algorithms. We also want to build a robust content production community that can monetize their work on the platforms through a combination of adverts and commerce, which will be possible due to the scale of our products,” stated Sachdeva.
“The future depends on AI and ML, and we need premium talent for it since we have a unique flavor of problems with more than 15 Indic languages to solve. Our idea with ShareChat was to ensure that people were comfortable in their regional language. Today, our vision has evolved into creating a cohesive AI-powered content ecosystem to address the growing digital needs for India,” stated Bhanu (10).
According to Ahsan, we are starting the social media revolution in India, especially in Indic regions where the predominant communication language is not English. Today, most of the spend within the Indian ad space foes into electronic and print media whose targeting is sub-par to digital channels.
Ahsan believes that if Google and Facebook can capture 80 to 90 percent of the ad spend worldwide, there is a scope for a social media startup based in India to do the same for an under-penetrated market with diverse consumer tastes and languages.
“Even if a company makes 3 to 4 USD on average revenue per user at a size of 800 million to a billion users, which we hope to achieve by 2026, revenues might be in the billions,” said Ahsan.
Read Also: The Strategy Behind Youtube Acquiring Simsim
What’s ShareChat and Moj’s Growth Mean for Social Media Giants?
The co-founders of ShareChat and Moj firmly believe that the next big thing in social media, at a worldwide scale, can come from India, and they are working on it to make that revolution happen.
They believed that when it comes to unleashing creativity in India, most companies are barely scratching the surface.
So far, ShareChat and Moj have been extremely lucky for being in the right place at the right time. They benefited from the 4G revolution and increased smartphone penetration in India, allowing them to reach users even in the farthest corners of the country. They had another luck factor when TikTok was banned, which allowed them to launch Moj and secure the users left behind. All these factors and the significant growth witnessed in the pandemic made it possible for the company to scale the way it is today.
They also launched a virtual gifting feature that allows creators to capitalize their work and a self-serve ad platform like Google and Facebook to encourage SMEs to advertise digitally on their apps.
In June, the company also rewarded its employees with a 19.1 million USD worth share buyback.
The success of ShareChat indicates the new wave of social commerce emergence in India over the past few years.
While there are talks about the disruption of the internet with the rise of Web 3, we still live in Web 2, meaning all giant players, whether it is social media, news, or entertainment, still have a stronghold (13, 14).
Meaning, ShareChat may never reach the scale of Google in the immediate future, but we can see a consolidation of the big and small players.
Key players in the mix will come from all fronts, whether ShareChat, Facebook, or Google. There will be no one winner but a split of winners, including local and global players. In other words, while social media giants like Facebook will keep on dominating the global market, we may see strong competition against the rise of ShareChat in the local market.
We are not losing any hope; our best decades are yet to come after all. As our huge pool of young population continues to attract a global population, and rising income of Indians is set to make media more lucrative. We see more players at the forefront of the social media race, with ShareChat and Moj gaining the first local mover advantage.