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Twitter explored buying India’s ShareChat and turning Moj into a global TikTok rival

Twitter recently held talks to acquire Indian social media startup ShareChat as the company explored ways to expand its presence in the world’s second largest internet market and build a global rival to TikTok, three sources familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The American firm, which is already an investor in Bangalore-based ShareChat, offered to buy the Indian startup for $1.1 billion and had committed an additional investment of $900 million, two of the sources said.

The talks are no longer ongoing, two sources said, requesting anonymity as the matter is private. TechCrunch could not determine why the talks did not materialize into a deal.

Two sources said Twitter had expressed intention to take Moj, a short-form video app that ShareChat owns, to international markets and position it as a rival to Chinese app TikTok.

Twitter declined to comment and ShareChat did not respond to a request for comment.

India’s ban on TikTok last year prompted scores of local startups and international giants to try their hands at short-form video format.

Moj, with over 80 million users already, has emerged as one of the largest players in the category. Earlier this month, Snap inked a deal with ShareChat to integrate its Camera Kit into the Indian short video app. This is the first time Snap had formed a partnership of this kind with a firm in India.

With the buyout offer no longer being entertained, ShareChat has resumed talks with other investors for its new financing round. These investors include Google, Snap, the sources said.

TechCrunch reported in January that the Indian startup was talking to Google and Snap as well as some existing investors including Twitter to raise over $200 million. A potential acquisition by Twitter prolonged the investment talks.

ShareChat, which claims to have over 160 million users, offers its social network app in 15 Indian languages and has a large following in small Indian cities and towns, or what venture capitalist Sajith Pai of Blume Ventures refer as “India 2.” Very few players in the Indian startup ecosystem have a reach to this segment of this population, which thanks to users from even smaller towns and villages — called “India 3” — getting online has expanded in recent years.

In an interview with TechCrunch last year, Ankush Sachdeva, co-founder and chief executive of ShareChat, said the startup’s marquee app was growing “exponentially” and that users were spending, on an average, more than 30 minutes a day on the service.

Twitter, itself, has struggled to make inroads outside of bigger cities and towns in India. Its app reached about 75 million users in the country in the month of January, according to mobile insight firm AppAnnie, data of which an industry executive shared with TechCrunch. It inked a deal with news and social app Dailyhunt to bring Moments — curated tweets pertaining to news and other local events — to the Google-backed Indian app.

The American social network has broadened its product offering in the past year amid pressure from activist investors to accelerate growth.

Google-backed Dailyhunt and Josh’s parent firm raises over $100 million

VerSe Innovation, the parent firm of popular news and entertainment app Dailyhunt and short video app Josh, said on Monday it has raised over $100 million as part of a Series H financing round from Qatar Investment Authority and Glade Brook Capital Partners.

The announcement follows another $100 million+ investment the startup secured from Google, AlphaWave, and Microsoft in December last year. That tranche of investment, also part of Series H, had turned Dailyhunt into a unicorn (giving it a valuation of $1 billion or higher). The startup has to-date raised about $430 million.

Dailyhunt, co-run by Virendra Gupta and former Facebook India head Umang Bedi, is a popular news and entertainment app that serves more than 285 million users each day in 14 local languages in India. Its reach in India, the world’s second largest internet market, would explain why Twitter last month partnered with the Indian firm to bring Moments to Dailyhunt.

VerSe Innovation expanded to short form videos last year, with Josh, after New Delhi banned TikTok and created a theoretical void for snacking content in the country. Scores of large giants and startups — including MX Player and ShareChat — have attempted to try their hand at short form videos in the recent quarters.

Facebook launched Instagram Reels in India last year, and YouTube launched Shorts, which is already garnering over 3.5 billion daily views in India, it said last month. (With over 450 million users in India, YouTube is closing in on WhatsApp’s market lead in India.)

Josh appears to have emerged as one of the leading players: The startup says Josh has amassed over 85 million monthly active users — 40 million of whom check the app each day — and the app sees more than 1.5 billion video plays everyday.

Now the startup says it is exploring expansion into more categories and like with Dailyhunt and Josh, cater users in smaller cities and towns and eventually replicate this model in international markets.

India’s internet economy is expected to be worth $639 billion by 2030, analysts at Citi wrote in a report to clients late last month. The coronavirus pandemic accelerated digital adoption and users’ appetite to transact online, a report from analysts at UBS said last week.

India leads with Tier 2 cities comparable to Tier 1. Biggest catch up opportunity in Philippines and Vietnam (UBS)

“Josh represents a confluence of India’s top 200+ best creators, the 10 biggest music labels, 15+ million UGC creators, best in class content creation tools, the hottest entertainment formats, and formidable user demographics. Josh has been consistently rated as the leading Indian short-video app in India on the Play store,” the startup said in a statement.

The startup said it will deploy the fresh capital to broaden its local languages content offering, and expand its creators ecosystem and AI and ML tech stacks.

Lightspeed raises $275 million fund for India

Lightspeed India Partners on Tuesday announced it has closed $275 million from LPs for its third fund as the top American venture firm looks to ramp up its investments in the world’s second-largest internet market.

The new fund, its biggest for India, will enable Lightspeed India Partners to make early stage bets on more than two dozen startups in the region, said Hemant Mohapatra, a partner at the firm, in an interview with TechCrunch.

The announcement comes as the firm, which began investing in India in 2007, has made two high-profile partial exits in the past year from budget-lodging startup Oyo and edtech giant Byju’s that together delivered cash returns of more than $900 million.

Some of its other major bets including backing business-to-business marketplace Udaan, which was valued at more than $2.75 billion last year, local social media platform ShareChat, which is in advanced stages of discussions to raise capital at more than $1 billion valuation, and SaaS startups DarwinBox, Yellow Messenger, and OkCredit.

The firm, which has six partners in the region, closed its first dedicated fund for India, of $135 million, in 2015. In 2018, it closed its second fund for the region, which was $175 million in size. But the venture firm has invested more than $750 million to date.

The Indian arm, which typically invests at early stages of a startup, continues to work with its global mothership for writing bigger checks to support some portfolio startups at later phases. (More than 80% of its investments have been committed to firms at Seed or Series A stages in India.)

“That’s one of the strongest points of differentiation we have. There are not many venture firms that have such a global presence. Our synergy with the global fund will continue,” said Mohapatra. (Lightspeed also has a big presence in China. Last year, its China arm announced a $560 million fund.)

Lightspeed partners in India. From left: Bejul Somaia, Akshay Bhushan, Harsha Kumar, Dev Khare, Vaibhav Agrawal, and Hemant Mohapatra. (Photo credit: Lightspeed)

Lightspeed, which earlier this year closed a $4 billion fund globally, is one of the handful of American venture firms that aggressively scouts for deals in India. Sequoia, its global peer, announced two venture funds, of $1.35 billion in size, last month for India and Southeast Asia. 11 of its early-stage bets have grown to become unicorns in the last 14 years in this region.

Mohapatra said the Indian startup ecosystem has matured in recent years, demonstrating high-scale growth and delivering big outcomes. It’s also seeing more exits than ever before. Earlier this month, Byju’s acquired WhiteHat Jr., an 18-month-old startup that teaches coding to children, for $300 million in an all-cash deal.

Indian startups raised more than $14.5 billion last year — a record for the local community. The coronavirus has decelerated the funding spree in India, like in any other market.

Mohapatra said a fraction of the firm’s portfolio startups has been disrupted by the virus, but noted that most startups are marching ahead unfazed and some have accelerated in recent months.

“Lightspeed believes this is when the best entrepreneurs and companies of the future will emerge. Strong founders are utilizing the tailwinds of India’s digital ecosystem growth to build out a new future and Lightspeed is strongly committed to backing these founders,” the firm said in a statement.