By June 2019, we will give the duopoly a run for their money: Virendra Gupta, Dailyhunt

CEO and Founder, Virendra Gupta talks about competition, local language content, using AI and ML and taking on Google and Facebook

e4m by Venkata Susmita Biswas
Updated: Nov 20, 2018 8:55 AM
Virendra Gupta

Homegrown news aggregator Dailyhunt could soon become the content platform that will challenge the duopoly of Facebook and Google in India.

At the moment, 157 million people, or 30 per cent of India’s internet population, use Dailyhunt on a monthly basis. The company’s aim is to grow this number to 250 million by June 2019. It is when the platform reaches this 250 million mark that it will truly give the tech giants a “run for their money” said Virendra Gupta, Founder - CEO of Dailyhunt. 

He was awarded the exchange4media Influencer of the Year award on Friday for his pioneering efforts to build a local language content platform. Even before Google and other digital platforms began focussing on vernacular as the key driver of the internet in India, Dailyhunt had identified a need-gap and began work to create a robust platform for Bharat and made in India. 

Gupta says Dailyhunt has heavily invested in adtech to build a platform that benefits advertisers and even helps small businesses advertise online through a self-serve option. 

Aggregating content from 1,500 news publishers and 20,000 stringers, Dailyhunt uploads as many as 100,000 new articles everyday. These articles pass through a strong recommendation engine that serves the right kind of content to those who are looking for it on the platform. 

Gupta spoke to exchange4media detailing the inner workings of Dailyhunt and how he and his team are cracking the vernacular audiences, building a strong recommendation engine and more.

Watch the video here or read the edited excerpts below:


What was your vision for Dailyhunt when you launched the company and how has that vision evolved over the years?

The core vision of Dailyhunt has remained the same throughout the life of the company. When we started the core vision was to bridge the digital divide in Bharat. So our first offering was to give local language news to people on the mobile phone. 

As you know, India is primarily a local language market. So our main aim was to bring local language news content online and help people who come online for the first time on mobile. Over time as the market has evolved, so have we. We have a broader vision and mission now to become the local language platform which empowers a billion Indians to discover consume and socialise content that enriches, informs and entertains them. 

You say that the mission now to become a local language platform that empowers a billion Indians. What are the steps you have been taking to reach this billion Indians residing in Bharat?

In 2012, no mobile phone could support a local language font; it could only support English. At that point of time we invented a platform which could render a local language font on a mobile phone. Now over a period of time that has become a core proposition of a handset manufacturer and the mobile operating system. 

Now we have built on the local language offering. We have got content from 1,500 publishers, 20,000 stringers on the platform. We have a strong Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning Stack that helps diverse people find content of their choice. We have an app that serves auto-play videos in the language of the people. We also have partnerships  with publishers who do not have online content; we bring their offline local language content online. 

The entire digital industry is excited about the opportunities of Vernacular languages. How are you harnessing the power of vernacular languages?  

Exactly, local language and vernacular are the new sexy words after the launch of Jio. We have a lot of local language users coming online thanks to Jio. We are the only app offering a unique feed experience of local language content - be it news, entertainment, lifestyle, cricket, or health.  

Nobody has the width and breadth of local language content like we have with 1,500 verified publishers and 20,000 stringers. We take the responsibility to provide people with verified news and not propagate fake news. 

Thirdly, we are offering a unique opportunity for new content creators who want to create local language content to come on our platform and distribute and monetise their content. 

In addition, we are offering advertisers a platform to reach 150 million monthly active regional users. There are few of the things we have done to make sure we are harnessing this market in a big way.

Video is another V aside from Vernacular that is exciting digital players. By 2020, 500 million users are expected to be consuming video content online. How is Dailyhunt leveraging video content? 

The last 18 months saw a huge surge in video consumption where people have stopped bothering about the bandwidth they consume. Our platform is in fact becoming more and more video centric. We have introduced video auto-play and due to that our video consumption has gone up by 4X. 

We are soon launching a unique experience of non-linear TV on our platform. It is going to be a first-of-its-kind in the world which will offer hyperlocal experience in their language personalised in the genre they want. 

Our core belief is that video is going to be the next big driver of consumption and usage on our platform.

The duopoly of Facebook and Google attract as much as 80% of the digital ad spend leaving very little for platforms like DailyHunt. How do you battle this duopoly?

Our whole team is proud to build a product that is made in India and made for India. We love this David vs Goliath metaphor! We are addressing this on multiple levels. 

First, we are investing heavily in technology. We have a strong ML and AI engine that personalises content and ads. We are have adtech of our own, including auction, bidding and personalisation. We have invested upfront in technology so that we can offer advertisers the same amount of CTRs and flowthrough rates which Google and Facebook can offer. We are also opening our platform to small business with a self-serve option using with a small travel operator in Kochi can target people on a Pincode basis.  

If you go into the history of Google and Facebook you will see that their ad dollars shot up when their reach went beyond 200 million users. Today Dailyhunt is at 157 million MAUs, we will be about 250 million users by June 2019. As soon as we hit that mark, our ad monetisation will go to a different scale. Because then we become an intrinsic part of every media planner’s strategy. 

We have a unique regional audience which nobody has. This audience on a daily basis spends about 27 minutes on average on our platform. Finally, content on our platform is brand safe. All our OGC and User-Generated-Content is verified. 

These are all the ways in which we are building our whole advertising business and giving Google and Facebook a run for their money. 

In what ways do you use AI and ML at Dailyhunt for personalisation and recommendations?

The word personalisation has been bastardized by everyone in the industry. But let me tell you, personalisation is very hard to build. Personalisation is a very serious science and engineering problem and I would say we are one of the best companies in India who are invested into a personalisation experience for feed in local languages.  

Let me give you a sneak preview into what our personalisation engine does. We process in real-time 100,000 articles everyday. The machine is parsing all those articles in real-time into several categories by figuring out what the content is and matches that content to a user’s preference.

We personalise content based on a content graph. We categorise every article based on 10,000 different features and personalise those features with the consumption pattern of the user in real-time across 17 languages.  

Doing this has increased the time-spent on our platform and our CTRs have gone by by 17-18 per cent. We benefit greatly from our tech stack and the history of six years of data that we have from our users. 

How are you making your platform brand safe? Do you have any manual intervention to verify the content?

Ours is not an User Generated Content platform unlike YouTube. All the content that comes to our platform is onboarded by our team through a process that filters out bad content. Secondly, our machine learning algorithm captures signals on every article on which users give feedback. So if we have plenty of users give feedback on an article saying it is fake or improper, we suppress that article. 

We also continuously give feedback to our publishers on their content for them to learn and improve.  

Not only are you fighting the duopoly but also dozens of other news apps...

We are news aggregators. We think of ourselves as a complementary channel to the people who already have news content on news apps. You can divide the market into multiple segments - those who are brand fanatics who may only download the news app of that brand, and a large segment that wants to read content from multiple sources and aggregators offer that value proposition. 

We do a couple of things to keep everyone in the ecosystem happy: we attribute a comScore to the traffic which comes from our publishers, secondly we are one of the few apps that monetise at a large scale and give revenue back to our partners and we share a lot of data analytics back to our partners so that their newsrooms can improve. 

Every company has a next billion plan, what’s your next billion plan? 

Most people think that they can get the next billion users online by giving them racy content but my belief is if you want to get the next billion users online you have to first culturally understand those users. 

Once you culturally understand those users you need to build features and products around those users and consumer habits. That’s when people will come and stick with your platform. 

It is easy to get the next billion users and easier to lose them. We should not undermine the complexity of these users. They are aspirational and they have cultural values. So whatever you do, you need to be in sync with them to make sure they are engaging with your platform.    

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