Azhar Iqubal, a 28-year-old first-generation Indian entrepreneur, has created a real news buzz among the Gen Z & millennials of India with his company Inshorts’ app. The IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) dropout started his entrepreneurial journey with his classmates in 2013 to create a product that would have a mass appeal, especially to the young generation in the Indian Market.
Today, Inshorts is India’s highest-rated and leading English news app, with more than 10 million active users. Inshorts became operationally profitable within 5 years of starting and is trusted by over 500 brands for award-winning marketing campaigns and content partnerships. After the tremendous success of Inshorts, Azhar founded the Public app in 2019, a location-based social network. Public App is now India’s largest location-based social network, with over 50 million active users and over 1 million videos being created every month. The app is available in all major Indian languages. It recently secured $35 million in funding to
Azhar is a proud recipient of several prestigious industry awards and recognition, most recent being the Business World Young Entrepreneur Award. He has earlier been felicitated with The Most Enterprising Brands, Leaders of Asia Award, Business World 40 under 40, Fortune India 40 under 40, Forbes India 30 under 30, and Forbes Asia 30 under 30. Azhar hails from the Indian state of Bihar and is fond of driving and traveling. He loves to go on road trips with his friends.
In an exclusive interview with AsiaTechDaily, Azhar shares his journey of entrepreneurial success.
1. Briefly tell our readers about yourself, your entrepreneurial journey, and the motivation behind it.
I started my entrepreneurial journey in 2013 along with my Indian Institute of Technology’s classmates Anunay Pandey and Deepit Purkayastha. We observed that Millennials were increasingly distancing themselves from the concept of reading news and the major hindrance was the long and bulky nature of the content and lack of reading time. Realising the issue, we decided to create a Facebook page called News in Shorts which focused on giving the readers quick summaries of news stories within the limit of 60 words. Today, Inshorts is India’s highest-rated and #1 English news app with more than 10 million active users.
After the success of Inshorts, we founded Public App in 2019 based on the idea to connect local communities of India through a digital platform. It is a platform for people to connect with their locality through verified updates from politicians, authorities, content creators, influencers, and media houses. Within one year of the launch, Public App became India’s largest location-based social network with more than 50 million active users.
2. What is your product about?
Our vision is to make news and information accessible to everyone in real-time, which our users can consume on the go investing a minimum of their time. We started with Inshorts, a news application, which curates the most significant daily news of the day in just 60 words. The idea of Inshorts is to re-connect the generation with the habit of reading news. Knowing that this generation is always on the go, we make sure that the user stays updated.
In 2019 we launched Public, which is a social networking platform that connects the public of Bharat that resides within India with its communities and authorities in their local languages. It is the fastest-growing Indian social app with more than 50 million active users. The app aims to help the public stay updated about their localities and reach the deepest pockets of the country.
3. How much money have you raised in total so far? What was the recent funding round?
Inshorts has raised a total of $64 million till now with the most recent secure being $35 million in funding from Addition, SIG Global, and Tanglin Venture Partners in September 2020 to bolster our expansion plans in India.
4. What is your future plans both in terms of funding and growth?
We are well-capitalized and do not require immediate capital. However, we are always happy to partner with good investors to support us in the journey. We expect to achieve over 100 percent growth this year and aim to be the world’s largest location-based social network in the future.
5. How have you attracted users, and with what strategy have you grown your company from the start to now?
We realized mobile phones’ universality at an early stage and targeted the smartphone generation with mobile-focused solutions that essentially solved their daily content needs. Our resources are directed towards organic growth strategies, which includes constant product innovations, content improvement, and user retention.
6. Which has been the best marketing software tool for the growth of your startup, and why?
We have been using Google Analytics since we had one download to date when we have over 10 million users on our platform- Inshorts. It has supported the growth journey of both our Apps – Inshorts and Public in marketing analytics, performance measurement, decision making, and other tasks.
7. What do most start-ups get wrong about marketing in general?
Startups need to focus on sustainable growth and target to obtain the right users instead of mass users for their business. We at Inshorts take the retention of our users at the highest priority. According to App Annie data, Inshorts users are active for the highest number of days in a month among the top 10 apps in the News & Magazines category on Android phones.
8. What are your plans for global expansion?
Inshorts is a pioneer in the short format content space and has successfully attained a key position in the Indian market. We plan to expand geographically by entering the global market and have users from across the globe. We envision a world where people stay informed about their surroundings spending minimum time.
9. What are the most common mistakes companies make with global expansion?
As our focus has been on expansion in India and catering to the growing needs of the largest democracy in the world, we will not be able to add much value here. However, as per our limited understanding, the global expansion requires identifying the gap, adapting the product to a newer market to cater to a newer audience and solving for their needs while being considerate about the cultural background.
10. How did your company handle COVID-19 related exigencies?
2020 was a tough year for everyone, and businesses suffered globally. During these trying times, there was a drastic shift in paradigm in regards to digital content – people looked out for credible sources of information. Our App Inshorts became one of the 3 Apps that was suggested by the Play Store for reliable updates on COVID-19. Inshorts became the hub for all important and reliable news that people needed to stay informed.
Public App saw substantial growth during this time with people trusting the app for all verified local updates in real-time like all the essential details – groceries stores, hospitals, their timings, quarantine arrangements in their surroundings.
11. What are the most common mistakes founders make when they start a company?
Not finding the right product for the market to fit-in.
12. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? What advice do you have for someone interested in doing similar things like yours or in a similar direction?
While building a new business, it is crucial to understand the scale of the problem. Since our own life experiences very much bias us, we become very excited to start a business to solve one of the problems that we deem to be big. However, we must identify the scale of the problem before starting up. More often than not, a problem we feel to be very big is not a problem faced by the masses. Therefore, my message to the budding entrepreneurs will be to assess the scale of the problem before taking the plunge.