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We Provide Our Users With Informative Content Through Short Videos: Azhar Iqubal, Founder & CEO, Public
In an interview with BW Businessworld, Founder and CEO of Public, Azhar Iqubal talked about the changing landscape of content consumption in India.
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What is ‘Public’ App? And how did the concept of building such an application/platform come about?
Our app, Public, is the fastest growing Indian social app with 50 million+ users. It allows its users to record and share happenings around them, enabling real-time local updates. The app is currently available in 6 Indian languages viz. Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu.
The idea behind launching the app was not to offer just another video-sharing platform, but the one that can make a difference and help people stay informed. We have users in the biggest of metros to the remotest of cities, and Public app serves a completely different purpose for them, than entertainment-focused apps – that is, to create and consume informative video content. Several of our users at local and national levels are creating content related to current affairs, politics, local updates, interesting facts and general knowledge, keeping citizens informed and updated. For this reason, Vocal for Local fits very seamlessly in our brand messaging, since we have been developed entirely by Indians, for Indians.
Please tell us about the team behind the Public app.
We believe that it is crucial to identify the right skill set of people for a venture to be successful. We ensure that the people who work with us have the same entrepreneurial spirit as the founding team and work with the same energy to set higher benchmarks every time. We celebrate collaboration and offer our employees their own personal freedom and space to render justice to their work.
How has COVID19 induced lockdown increased your traction?
We all have seen the impact of the pandemic and during these difficult times of COVID-19, people across India used the App to stay connected to their community and view and share all important and verified updates in real time like how to use essential services like groceries stores, hospitals, their timings, quarantine arrangements in their surroundings. This was the phase when our user-base doubled from 15 million to 30 million in just 1 month, time-spend jumped by 50%. We are growing sustainably after that and currently have more than 50Mn+ users.
Digital Transformation is accelerating due to the lockdown, what kind of traction are you seeing from tier-2 and tier-3 cities?
Extended isolation due to lockdown and social distancing have made people rely on digital mediums for information and people are now spending more time on their mobile phones and laptops. People want to stay connected with their communities as well as stay informed about the world. As the Public app serves a purpose to create and consume informative video content, people across India are increasingly using the app. Infact, our users, at both local and national level, are fast emerging as influencers on the platform by creating a wide variety of content across current affairs, politics, local updates, interesting facts and general knowledge. More than 5000 influencers are now present on the platform who range from top politicians to local authorities and budding influencers who are actively making content on the platform and using the app's massive user base to gain widespread recognition for their work and talent. To name a few, Indian Youth Congress, Hema Malini, Bhopinder S Hooda, Ranveer Brar and Sadhguru have their official accounts on Public app. The most important thing we focus on is that the content being posted on the platform is credible and not misleading.
What are you doing in terms of getting more users to generate content on your platform?
When we started working to create Public app, we wanted to create a platform that is easy and convenient to use for one and all. Our user interface continues to be that. Currently we are developing an in-built video creation tool which will make it easier for people to create good quality professional content on mobile devices. The tool will have advanced features for users to customize and make attractive videos.
What is the USP of Public App?
Public as the name stands for, is for the public to get connected to everyone in the locality. It brings commoners and authorities closer through a mobile platform that facilitates their communication through video sharing. It is the only platform that provides verified and authoritative local information to citizens in their vernacular languages from the local authorities, politicians, news reporters and influencers.
What kind of competition do you see in your segment?
As per reports by Google, about 90% of India’s new Internet users consume content in local languages. Internet growth will be primarily leading in three verticals – voice, vernacular, and video – the report adds. Given this context, the scope of video apps in India is immense. The Public app forms a video led platform that allows users to connect with others in their local language. It is fast becoming one of the preferred mediums of people across India. However, our app serves a completely different purpose as compared
to any other video sharing app. We provide our users with informative content through short videos. Post the launch of Public app in April 2019, the platform has seen an exponential growth trajectory since then. Within six months of launch, it became one of the fastest-growing Indian social app and ranked #1 on Play store for local updates. We want to continue this endeavour of working on a purpose of helping people stay connected through real time, verified updates.
As Public is a social platform where users stay updated with informative content, it’s major competitor is Twitter. By the end of 2020, we are targeting 100mn+ users which will create a very strong social loop, making it difficult for a competitor or a new entrant to break into.
Do you have government and news agencies on board to lend credibility?
Yes, more than 1000 politicians, administrative officials and local (district) government authorities like police personnel and medical officers, across the states of Rajasthan, Bihar, Jharkhand, UP and MP have joined the app to reach out to people and curb any kind of misinformation around coronavirus. Authorities and leaders are using the app to combat fake news and rumours that are being spread around COVID19 and to hear grievances of people to ensure everyone’s safety. Additionally, major political parties and associations at national and regional level such as BJP, National Students Union of India, Janata Dal united, Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party, Madhya Pradesh Youth Congress, among others, have also been using this app to connect with communities.
What new features are you planning to bring in the future?
We are consistently working to make Public the go-to platform for our users. There are many new features in the offing such as:
● Live - Currently, there are no digital platforms where local authorities can address their communities through live streaming. Through our live video feature, verified accounts will be allowed to go live and interact with their community. Users will get the notifications on their mobile device when the account will go live.
● Poll - Polls play an important role in getting the public’s voice heard and understanding shifts in public opinion over relevant issues. Commoners on the App can run polls on their community issues. Further, they can also raise the issue with the relevant authorities on the app by sharing the verified poll results with them.
● Video creation tool - We are developing an in-built video creation tool which will make it easier for people to create good quality professional content on mobile
devices. The tool will have advanced features for users to customize and make attractive videos.
What is the status of funding and expansion plans?
We are currently available in 16 states and 6 Indian languages and our aim is to have 100 million+ users by year-end and be available in all Indian languages. The company has invested 10Mn USD so far in this project and plans to pump ~100Mn USD more over the next 3 years and plan to achieve 100% YoY growth.