Public App, On the Path to Becoming the Mecca of Hyper-Local Classifieds

From politicians, local authorities to celebrities, the location-based social networking app has got users hooked! Explore how.


It goes without saying that social media has become an inherent part of our lives, be it entertainment, information or business. Plethora of social media networking apps have popped up in the market, with only a handful, mostly big tech, ruling the roost. Everyone wants to grab a piece of the ever-growing internet-user base pie, especially India which is the world’s second-largest internet market.

However, as the market gets crowded with entry of new players, existing companies need to come up with new propositions while the ones contemplating to enter this market must put something exciting on the table to differentiate themselves.

One start-up in the latter category just prefixed ‘social networking app’ with a simple word – Local, rather Hyperlocal, and changed the ball game, grabbing a good chunk of that pie for a starter.

This brings us to the inception of homegrown location-based social network app – Public App – which allows users to share videos/content of scenarios taking place around them besides providing them real-time local updates, including events, classifieds etc.

This two-year-old start-up, which was launched by news aggregator and curator Inshorts, has amassed over 50 million users with more than a million videos created on a platform on a monthly basis. Some of the famous personalities, big brands, and politicians are on the app’s active users.

The Ideation

The three IIT dropouts Azhar Iqubal, Deepit Purkayastha and Anunay Arunav already had a glorious feather in their hats with the success of their first venture, Inshorts, and wanted to up the game digital game further.

Even with their first venture, the founders paid attention to the growing demand for short and simple content as the majority, especially youth, lost interest in reading newspapers and anything that requires time.

Once the idea of ‘60 word-news update’ got hit, the founders got thinking over connecting local communities with the same, and maybe more. This led to the inception of Public App in 2019.

The social networking platform connects people with its communities and authorities in their local languages. The aim is to, again, move away from bulky content and make simple news and information accessible to everyone in real-time in minimum time.

Within seven months, the app was able to garner 10 million downloads and capture Tier 1, 2 and 3 cities.

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The social networking platform connects people with its communities and authorities in their local languages.

The Vicinity Connect

The social networking app is multifunctional in nature. It allows users to share content, both entertainment and informative, in the form of videos and posts on varied topics.

The app builds an affiliation between people as they discuss common topics, raise questions, share concerns. This works extremely well for local authorities, which are able to connect with the users, as users themselves, and spread important information besides collecting feedback. Sounds like a ‘digital chaupal’.

This also brings us to citizen journalism, which is promoted by the platform which lets users, self-proclaimed citizen journalists – record and upload short clippings of newsworthy moments happening in their neighborhood and build a loyal following.

Hence, the app becomes a medium to bring things to notice and get the action rolling. Majority of the videos on the app are connected to local news related to crime, politics, protests, sanitation work, among others.

This takes the app beyond entertainment. With communities coming together, the app has become a platform for updates on local happenings, events, job opportunities. This turned the app into a famous hub of hyper local classifieds.

The user interface of Public is kept very simple and people find it extremely convenient to use. It is able to attract high quality audiences because of the non-intrusive advertisements, which leads to a good engagement on the platform. Also, the younger generation gets more captivated with updates in visual form in comparison to written content, and this is one of the primary aspects that was definitely working in Public’s favour.

Vernacular content is the next big thing and some of the major players are already cashing on the wave. This is another big USP of the app, which is available in several major Indian languages, including Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Telugu, Odia, Marathi etc. The app removes the single language (English) barrier and hence has managed to tap on the hyperlocal network.

Pushing ‘Vocal for Local’

The main theme of the app is hyperlocal connection. This could apply to anyone in the area, any business, any information and so on. One such opportunity is bringing together shopkeepers and customers. It is not new to do business on/via social media platforms, the app however focuses on local. Shopkeepers who have small or large businesses build a rapport with the consumers and connect with them through the app. It even helps the shopkeepers to hire local talent, close deals, fulfil other requirements and take business forward through the platform.

The traction of the connection with locals is so much that even big brands are coming forward to tap that ever-growing local user base. Companies are looking for mediums to keep in regular touch with locals as a part of product survey, sale and marketing. Their association with the app serves the purpose and provides them with valuable insights and so on. In his company blog, Iqubal writes that the start-up builds customised ad solutions for such brands to better engage with the audiences while keeping the user experience intact. Currently, advertisement is the biggest source of revenue for the start-up.

The popularity and credibility of the brand is reflected in its associations with companies like Amazon, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), HDFC etc.

A stylised image of the founder --Azhar Iqbal.

Building Credibility

With the right purpose and time, the app has been able to build credibility among users. Besides big brands, political leaders, journalists, police officers and government officials have signed up to connect with communities around them in the most efficient manner possible. This aspect is highlighted significantly during the lockdowns.

Officials were seen interacting with users regarding policies, restrictions while authorities remained in constant touch to extend help and provide info related to groceries stores, hospitals, quarantine arrangements in the surroundings.

This builds on the credibility of the app every day which in turn gives the users an assurance that the information they are getting from this platform is legitimate.

Innovate, Improve and Retain

Public currently has 50 million users with an average daily time spent of 20 to 30 minutes.

In March 2021, the start-up raised $41 million from A91 Partners, shooting its valuation to $250 million. This funding came mere six months after it secured $35 million led by Lee Fixel’s new investment firm Addition, along with SIG and Tanglin Venture Partners. The funds have been deployed towards scaling up of tech infrastructure, content offerings and employee base to speed up the growth and continue improving on retention and engagement, says Iqubal, who also mentions the need to focus on sustainable growth and target to obtain right users instead of mass users.

Public App stands in completion with other homegrown brands like MX Taka Tak, Moj (ShareChat), ZINGR, Josh (Dailyhunt) etc in the hyperlocal social media space, keeping the big tech like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook aside.

However, the aspect of connecting locals with authorities besides the amalgamation of entertainment, news, classifieds, information and everything that spells ‘community’ makes the app appealing in comparison. The other platforms are either focused on pure entertainment or trying to balance both in an unorganised way. In a way, the product offering of all stands different.

For instance, Sharechat also allows users to upload and share videos, images, and GIFs on the platform to create a social following and has a gamut of content categories such as humor, self-help, religion, among others. On the other hand, MX Taka Tak loses out on news, information and updates aspect and is solely focused on entertainment.

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The main theme of the app is hyperlocal connection. This could apply to anyone in the area, any business, any information and so on.

One Man’s Loss is Another Man’s Gain!

The ban of Chinese app Tik Tok in June 2020 changed the fate of a lot of Indian apps, one of them being Public. A monumental growth was observed in these apps as users shifted base following the ban. Public App saw a huge surge in users and crashed on the shifting waves.

The founder believes that the ban wasn’t the sole reason behind its success since they were confident that they would have had a successful run irrespective of the ban of TikTok. This confidence is backed up by the growing demand for vernacular content or media apps in the country. As per a report by Google India, 9 out of 10 new internet users in the country are consuming online content in Indian languages. Big brands to smaller businesses, everyone has begun incorporating vernacular aspects into their digital solutions to tap into regional communities, expand customer base and explore opportunities that arise from it. New user base would mean removal of barriers for product/service adoption which could be done by adopting local language strategy.

Iqubal believes that even if the ban of TikTok is lifted, it won’t cause any harm to the growth of the platform. The users seem to be satisfied with the services they are being provided with. The increase in the number of users will continue because of the sense of proximity it provides to them and the users who are willing to enjoy the services will be a part of the platform regardless of any factor, he writes in his blog.

International ‘Public’

The next big target is to connect people from certain communities of India and then eventually take over the global space.

Besides, since the platform is largely known for the quality of personalization that it possesses, the founders are working on customised advertisement solutions for brands for them to build stronger connections with the audience.

The app also plans to bring an in-built video creation tool which would make it easier for its users to create videos with the help of their mobile phones. The new live streaming feature will also be one of the highlights of this platform.

It is intriguing to witness that the platform has been constructed in a manner that certain sections of users turned out to be influencers by providing relevant information related to general knowledge, local news, etc. It would be interesting to see how the founders replicate the business model in other countries as what might work at a particular land, might fail in another. Having said that, vernacular and community is omnipresent and unexplored.

Harshini Srivastava
Harshini Srivastava
Harshini is an intern with Dutch Uncles, she is a citizen journalist with a strong background in economics and public policy. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from CHRIST.

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