A growing number of startups are adopting a new motto that’s rooted in the vernacular — ‘Going local’. Incorporating regional languages into their apps and platforms is helping them drive adoption and expand their customer base.
Unicorns such as Byju’s, Policybazaar, InMobi, Zomato, and Oyo now support anywhere between two and 12 regional languages
Providing content in local languages has become a vital strategy for Byju’s because over 75% of the users on its education platform are from places other than the top 10 cities. “We have realised that even kids who attend English medium schools prefer to watch our videos in Hindi for a better understanding of the subject. Adoption has gone up 4X since we launched in Hindi,” says co-founder Divya Gokulnath.
Byju’s says it has registered 35 million downloads overall and has 2.2 million paid subscribers. On average, a student spends 64 minutes on the mobile application. “Sometimes students watch how to solve calculus or Pythagoras’ theorem first in English, then in Hindi. We realised that this comes from their comfort and ease with their mother tongue,” says Divya.
Byju’s has launched its Hindi programme in 1,700 towns and is working on introducing content in Tamil, Malayalam, Telegu, Kannada, Marathi, and Gujarati by year end. For this expansion, it has roped in film stars like Mahesh Babu and Mohanlal. “We want to have a better connection. Kids in tier-2 and tier-3 cities have huge aspirations and we are hoping that the vernacular initiative becomes their bridge to learn better, get good scores and land jobs,” says Divya.
For Policybazaar, which sells 5 million policies worth Rs 3,000 crore in premium a year, native tongues are also a key driver of growth. “At different touch points, we support 10 languages — Hindi, Tamil, Bengali, Telegu, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Punjabi, Gujarati, and Odia. It’s very easy to track conversion — interest in two-wheeler insurance went up three times after we started selling (policies) in Hindi,” says Jayant Chauhan, chief product officer, policybazaar.com.
A bigger audience
According to the company, 85% of its 11,000-plus employees are call centre staff who know more than one local language. About 60 per cent of the 10 million active users on the platform are from non-metro cities and towns.
“The huge interest from non-metros told us how underserviced these markets were. We realised we needed to invest in the right content,” says Chauhan. “In insurance, one has to be careful — you don’t want to missell because of an improper translation. For instance, we don’t tamper with words like “claims”, “copay”, “break-in” or “renewal”. All we try to do is weed out the insurance jargon, so customers can understand what is being offered.”
Policybazaar is working on WhatsApp support in native tongues and is also teaching them to its chatbot.
Google India has noted the rise of the non-English internet user base in its latest report on search trends. Nine out of 10 new internet users in the country are likely to be regional language speakers. In 2018, there was a threefold growth in Hindi content alone. By 2021, regional language users are expected to form nearly 75% of India’s internet user base.
One can get a glimpse of the massive draw towards the vernacular in Share-Chat’s growth: the local language social network has around 35 million active monthly users, who interact in 14 languages.
With 350 million smartphone users and 400 million internet users in India, advertising tech startup In-Mobi believes that investing in the vernacular space will pay rich dividends. “Most users on our platform are bilingual. When it comes to consumption of vernacular content, it’s as high as 80%, as against 25% in English. Also, about 60% of our audience is from tier-2 and tier-3 cities,” says Naveen Tewari, founder and CEO of InMobi, which has incorporated Hindi, Tamil, and Telegu.
The startup plans to support nine Indian languages by year end. InMobi is also creating content in Bahasa Indonesia to attract Indonesian users.
Lost in translation
Other unicorns, like Zomato and Oyo, are also developing multilingual capability for foreign markets. However, there have been challenges. When Zomato expanded to Turkey, Brazil, and Indonesia, it realised it would have to return to the drawing board and rethink many of its strategies. The Zomato team had to work on sentence construction as it does not scale well across languages. Even simple translations for words like “comment” proved to be tricky. The platform’s comments section translated well into Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian, but not in Polish, Czech, and Slovakian.
“Our local teams told us that we couldn’t simply replace “comments” with the plural “komentáre; we had to handle each of these cases individually. This involved a little bit of tinkering on the engineering front, and we had to make sure we covered all of the instances,” the Zomato engineering team says in a blog.