American tech giant Google is reportedly looking to scoop up Indian social media startup ShareChat that has emerged as one of the biggest TikTok alternatives in India which is TikTok’s largest overseas market outside the U.S.
The Mountain View, California-headquartered company is in advanced talks with the six-year-old Bengaluru-based firm to buy it out for USD 1.03 billion, local media ETNow reported, citing sources.
Google has been raising its ante in the world’s second-most-populous country.
In July, the company launched a USD 10 billion fund in India for equity investments, partnerships, and ecosystem investments. The same month, it wrote a USD 4.5 billion check for Reliance Jio, the ambitious digital venture by Mukesh Ambani, Asia’s wealthiest person. Now Google seems to be willing to put in a billion-dollar check for ShareChat, which was reportedly valued at about USD 650 million in September.
However, some industry veterans expect that Google may only join ShareChat’s cap table as an investor, alongside its existing backers including Lightspeed Venture Partners, Twitter, and Elevation Capital, instead of acquiring it.
ShareChat as the largest regional social media startup in the country is likely to aid Google in its quest to tap the next 500 million users from lower-tier Indian cities, collectively known as Bharat. According to a recent report by ShareChat, 53% of users prefer to use social media in regional languages and 78% of users from Bharat prefer to engage in social media activities like watching, uploading, and creating content during their leisure time.
After India banned TikTok in late June citing cybersecurity concerns, ShareChat launched a short video app called Moj within 30 hours in an aim to take over the Chinese giant’s 200 million-plus user base in the South Asian nation. Since then, Moj has garnered over 80 million monthly active users, which makes it a category leader in the segment that currently has dozens of short video apps including Roposo, Reels, Triller, Mitron, Chingari, and Trell, striving to woo new users and retain the existing ones.
ShareChat claims to have 160 million active users on its main social networking app. With Moj in its kitty, the startup now has a total of 240 million monthly active users across its platforms.
ShareChat benefitted from the global pandemic which accelerated the adoption of digital platforms as millions of Indians remained grounded for the better part of the year and the Chinese app ban by the Indian government that unlocked the untapped opportunity for homegrown apps.
In August, the startup was reported to be in talks with Microsoft and Google to raise USD 150-200 million in fresh funds to expand its then month-old short video app Moj to make it the next TikTok. ShareChat was also discussing a new USD 200 million round with its existing investors. A month later, it raised USD 40 million in a pre-Series E round from a clutch of new and existing investors to further product development, grow its creator ecosystem, and establish partnerships with music labels for its new platform Moj.
ShareChat started in 2015 as a content sharing platform from where users could post local content on WhatsApp. After three different pivots and numerous iterations, co-founders Ankush Sachdeva, Bhanu Singh, and Farid Ahsan have reached the current version–a regional language platform where users can share content, consume videos, see the trending topics, and chat with other users, among other things.
It is available in 15 local languages but does not have an English version. This essentially means the company is specifically targeting content creators and content consumers in smaller cities and towns. However, with Moj, it doesn’t want to limit its usage to smaller towns. Other than 15 local languages to choose from, Moj also has English as an option for users in the metro and tier 1 cities.
Earlier this month, ShareChat set up a research and development facility in Silicon Valley to build new-age AI-based products and solutions for ShareChat and Moj including deep learning, camera technology, and recommendation engine. The company said it would hire talent internationally to enhance its content creation and distribution platform for the Indian market.