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We're growing our focus on AI extensively, hiring not only in India, but in the UK, US and other geographies too: Ajit Varghese, ShareChat
Ajit Varghese, Chief Commercial Officer, ShareChat & MojShareChat
Ajit Varghese, Chief Commercial Office of ShareChat and Moj talks about their growth roadmap
ad-tech

We're growing our focus on AI extensively, hiring not only in India, but in the UK, US and other geographies too: Ajit Varghese, ShareChat

Ajit Varghese, Chief Commercial Office of ShareChat and Moj talks about their growth roadmap
  • India is a country of many smaller countries and the global social media platforms couldn't cater to the needs of people who were more comfortable conversing in regional languages.
  • ShareChat came into existence to fill this gap.
  • Since then, the platform has grown its presence and with the recent merger of its short video platform Moj with MX TakaTak, it caters to 100 million creators and has over 300 million Monthly Active Users (MAU).
  • We speak to Ajit Varghese, Chief Commercial Officer, ShareChat and Moj about the platforms' journey so far, the advertising solutions its giving to brands and its strategies to woo more creators as well as users onto its platform for its next phase of growth.
Back in 2015 when the only social media platforms in India were the global players, Ankush Sachdeva, Bhanu Pratap Singh and Farid Ahsan had identified the need for a player that would cater to the huge population comfortable with conversing in their native languages online. This need gave birth to ShareChat, which currently boasts over 180 million monthly active users, a number that is steadily growing. In 2020, when the Indian government banned popular short-video platform TikTok, ShareChat once again identified the opportunity and launched its short-video platform Moj. In February this year, ShareChat announced a strategic merger with TakaTak, a move aimed at creating the largest short video platform for Indians. At the time of the merger, a release said the combined entity will have 100 million creators, over 300 million Monthly Active Users (MAU), and nearly 250 billion monthly video views.

With more and more of India coming online, and the next wave of consumers expected to come in from smaller cities and rural areas, ShareChat aims to become the ‘torchbearer for Bharat’.

We recently spoke to Ajit Varghese, Chief Commercial Officer, ShareChat and Moj about the platforms' journey so far, the advertising solutions its giving to brands and its strategies to woo more creators as well as users onto its platform for its next phase of growth.

Excerpts:

Q) Walk us through ShareChat's journey so far. What kind of growth have you witnessed in the past 2 years?
Back in 2015, there was no Indian social media platform for the diverse population of our country, there were only global social media players in India providing content predominantly in English. The content appetite of Indic language internet users was not satiated, they continued to be hungry for content in their native languages, they wanted to discover/share content and express themselves in an ecosystem that they could connect culturally. There was a content vacuum in the language first space and ShareChat was created in order to address that need.

ShareChat was the first Indian social media platform to understand the need for Indic language content among the language-first internet users. ShareChat is leading India's multi-lingual social media revolution with 180 million monthly active users and growing. Over the last years, the daily average user time spent on the platform has also increased from 24 minutes to 31 minutes.

Q) With the rise of internet penetration and better smartphones has opened up access to Bharat for platforms and brands. What kind of growth have you seen coming in from smaller cities/towns? How are they using your platform to not just express themselves but also turning into influencers who can take brands to these Tier III & IV towns?
With growing internet penetration, access to smartphones and the covid imposed lockdown, in the last two years the Indian users and creator community has been embracing social media, to express their creativity from the comforts of their homes while also monetizing their reach and content. Brands are increasingly understanding the potential of Bharat audiences (Internet users who prefer to consume content in Indic languages) and reaching smaller towns with their product propositions. SMBs are utilizing ShareChat’s Self-Serve advertising platform to micro-target and connect with their target audience through personalized multilingual advertisements.

ShareChat with its language-first offering has opened the social media landscape to Bharat users. ShareChat’s Audio Chatroom, audio-based live conversation-led social networking or hangout destination, has also given users another avenue to connect with different people, voice their opinions and also monetize through virtual gifting.

We have seen a plethora of creators, who belong to different regions of the country, using the platform to express themselves and showcase their talents across popular genres like lip-syncing, comedy, entertainment and more recently in sports, arts, writing, etc. as well.

Q) What kind of solutions are you presenting to brands to use your platform effectively to reach out to your target audience?
ShareChat, with its growing reach and understanding of the Indic language community of India, is a unique platform with the ability to deliver access coupled with deep engagement to brands and advertisers. Our intention is to support brands in micro-targeting and connecting with relevant audiences across different languages and regions in India.

In 2021, we launched ShareChat Ads — a self-serving ads platform to enable SMBs to connect with their target audience through personalized multilingual advertisements. So far, over 1000 SMBs have posted highly targeted advertisements on ShareChat and the platform has witnessed a 6X increase in the number of campaigns in less than a year.

Our expertise in brand engagement has already developed immense confidence from the marketers’ community and every consumer-focused brand is partnering with us to gain a strategic advantage beyond English-speaking internet audiences, in their native language.

With increasing opportunities and demand we have been able to deliver ad solutions in industries like e-commerce, consumer durables, FMCG, telecom, fashion, jewelry, home decor gaming, automotive and many more verticals. We are expanding our partnerships within these sectors and will continue to bolster our advertising efforts in the coming future.

Q) How are you creating differentiation, especially in the short format videos segment with your offerings to advertisers?
Brands and advertisers have found an effective way to reach their target audiences in a seamless and entertaining way through Moj. Moj is today India’s number one short video platform with the highest monthly active users. The platform is expanding the ways in which brands, content creators, and consumers can engage with each other while enhancing their social experience on the platform. We have developed various tools that help brands optimize visibility and engagement by reaching out to the right audience for their product/proposition.

Brands have opportunities to go viral on Moj by creating high-quality content that hooks viewers’ attention and engages them. Besides space for organic content, Moj also offers brands synergies to run hash-tag challenges, influencer campaigns, leverage features and technology upgrades like the innovative Moj lenses and filters, and partner with content creators to increase their reach amongst their target consumers effectively.

The influencer/content creator community that we are seeing today is just the tip of the iceberg. This network is going to grow and get more diversified. The standard marketing/branding practices that we have seen in the last decade have paved the way for the larger change that is about to come.

Micro/nano influencers who connect more deeply with consumers, going forward will be a part of each brand’s branding strategy. This is primarily because brands through these influencers’ strong relatability and relationships will be able to leverage a deeper connection with their audiences and reach out to them in their language of choice in a cost-effective manner.

Q) What kind of growth has your advertising revenue witnessed?
We’ve been able to organically not only scale our platform and attract users but also build our monetization efforts at a fast pace. We have witnessed healthy growth since we opened our platform for brand integrations.

Today, ShareChat is leading the social media revolution with brands focusing on regional outreach. Our regional strength in Tier II, III and IV cities, coupled with our ad solutions, is opening new marketing avenues for marketers who want to connect with language first audiences.

While we have recently opened Moj for brand integration, we have received immense interest from brands across categories, like FMCG, consumer services, entertainment, beverages, e-commerce, gaming, edu-tech among others. We offer advertisers to run hash-tag challenges, influencer campaigns, leverage features and technology upgrades like the innovative Moj lenses created in collaboration with Snap Inc. and partner with content creators to increase their reach amongst their target consumers effectively. We have announced a slew of collaborations with known platforms like Femina Miss India 2022 and India’s Got Talent to hold virtual auditions and wild card entries on Moj and give our creator community an opportunity to be a part of these renowned talent shows.

Last year, we had launched large-scale properties on our platform like Moj Superstar Hunt, Glow up with Moj, Moj Next Punjabi Superstar to name a few. Moj Superstar Hunt in the last season saw 43 billion plus plays and more than 7 lakh creators’ participation, this was led by super judge Remo D’Souza. These campaigns will soon be opened for brand integrations, and we have witnessed a growing interest from brands to collaborate with these properties.

Q) How are you also giving opportunities to your creators to make money by creating content on the platform? How many creators do you have on the platform currently, what kind of growth has this number witnessed?
ShareChat has a 32+ million creator community and Moj has a 50+ million creator community. The two most important features that we have introduced for our creator community to monetize our virtual gifting and live and video commerce.

We have enabled virtual gifting in the ShareChat audio chatroom product that allows our creators to monetize their creative talents via the voice-based chatroom feature. While speaking to their community and showcasing their talent, the ShareChat creator community can monetize by receiving virtual gifts from their audiences.

On the short video front, we recently partnered with Flipkart to enable live and video commerce. Besides making e-commerce accessible to millions of first-time users, this collaboration also incentivizes content creators in the Moj ecosystem by enabling new commerce-led revenue streams to deepen the socio-economic impact.

Q) India already has a lot of social and short form video platforms. How are you bringing new users onto your platform and ensuring stickiness?
Social media and short videos are a booming sector with lot of potential. Growth in these sectors also comes with a few challenges, need for powerful AI and recommendation engine to serve the right content to the right audience; serving, storing and managing content on cloud and a lot of smaller organisations can’t sustain this and most importantly the talent pool needed to make social media and short video investment successful is hard to come by in India.

The content recommendation engine of platforms is going to be the driver of who wins this race. So, the focus here is to build platforms that are world class and can deliver content to each and every user according to their interests.

We are growing our focus on artificial intelligence extensively and hiring not only in India, but onboarding talent in the UK, US and other geographies. Apart from that we are opening up our platforms to various partnerships and programmes that not only helps creators enhance their content but monetise their reach on the platform as well.

Q) Where will the next phase of growth for Moj and ShareChat come from? What kind of target have you set for the platforms?
ShareChat has already emerged as the preferred online destination for Bharat with its 180 million monthly active users and even Moj is leading the market with the highest monthly active users amongst Indian short video apps. Our immediate priority is to make the user experience more personalized, elevate content quality by nurturing the creator community and build monetization models that benefit brands, creators, and our user community simultaneously.

Q) What kind of potential do the regional markets in India have? How excited are brands to reach out to this market?
The Indian digital space is on a high growth trajectory with more than approx 800 mn internet users. Today, we are closer than ever to the reality that 1 billion Indians will be online soon. This growth in internet users is also fueling the growth of Indic language users online. While it may seem that this trend is only visible in rural India, almost 50% of urban active internet users are also Indic language users. Bharat audience is no longer just about being labeled as ‘potential audience’ or ‘untapped potential.’ It is the current growth frontier and can be tapped in many different ways. When creating campaigns, it's critical for brands to consider the target audience's preferences.

Many established brands have already started effectively using this opportunity and are working very closely with us and many are joining hands every month. We have seen that there are certain myths around this user in the minds of many marketers which we are trying to bust. In the beginning of this year we released ‘ Bharat - the Neo India’ report to tackle some of these issues and educate brands and marketers about how the Bharat user is affluent and digitally savvy, once the brands understand this then they are excited to come on board.

Q) What are the broader challenges for the overall ecosystem?
The social media and short video ecosystem has seen a boom. Competition is strong and users have a plethora of options. The only companies that will survive in the segment are those that have built a solid retention engine, which means they have a large percentage of users regularly using the app. Constant innovation and product advancement are and will be the keys to ensuring users and creators remain committed to the apps. Highly nuanced recommendation engines will play a key role in serving a customized content feed to users. Hiring AI talents and building these networks is a prominent challenge that most social media companies are trying to overcome.