The two internet language apps we speak to today carpet bomb us with data. The one that jumps out for context is that only 9.87% Indians use English as their first, second or third language. That we have not been able to verify, however, the other data segway into today’s entrepreneurship journey is, according to a KPMG report, only 1% of content on the web is in an Indian language. The rest, is in English. Or French. Or Spanish.
Sandeep Nulkar and Nitin Raj Gupta saw the opportunity peeping from behind the elitist dominance of the English language on the internet.
Vernac Language Solutions and Mall 91, both cater to the needs of non-English speaking Indians. Let’s meet the lingo merchants.
Vernac Language Technology offers a solution to corporates who wish to convert their data into Indian languages. Says Sandeep Nulkar, founder, “About 90% of Indians cannot access the internet simply because it is not in their language. According to one study, 9.87% Indians use English as their first, second or third language.”
The situation would have remained neglected even though practically every Indian has a mobile phone and internet access.
Says Nulkar, “Almost every Indian speaks more than one language. If every such Indian uses even a fraction of her/his free time to edit tech-translated data, this challenge can be easily met in much less time and money.”
Nulkar has crated an app that puts out small amount of data translated into an Indian language by a machine. People who have opted to edit such material will receive the notification and depending on their availability, they can very quickly check the material, make corrections and send it back. “You could be traveling in the bus on your way to work or you could be a grandma sitting at home who can make the changes as needed,” he says. And the cost, too, fits the translation bill. Says Nulkar,“Our own algorithm breaks up and translates say a blog into 300 to 400 segments which is done by machine translation and our own ML algos. These segments bits are put up on the app for post editing. A single post will take about four-five minutes of editing.”
After they send it back, it is sent to a reviewer who will rate the editing. Nulkar got in touch with various groups, such as the Army Welfare Association, college students and retired personnel to get on board as post editors.
“There is a demand for everything from people who don’t speak English. So, anyone who has anything to sell to India is our customer. Currently we have two companies, one makes babycare products and the other is an online financial services company. We are the only ones who offer this type of service,” says Nulkar.
Nulkar has invested Rs 1 crore. “What we have created is very useful to the market, but we want to wait for the right moment before we go in for funding,” he says.
“In eight months’ time we have gone from PoC to MVP, to now, booked orders for 40 million words,” he adds.
“We want to be one of the largest employers of gig workers where young, old, women with issues, have an opportunity to earn. We offer a solution where none exists,” says Nulkar.
Nitin Raj Gupta, who is from UP, knew that people in small towns had no experience with shopping apps. Says he, “They are more comfortable going into a shop and asking Guptaji, “safed shirt dikhaiye”. To get them onto a shopping app we had to cross a few hurdles. They were not making any transaction because there was the issue of trust; they could not trust an app; then, there was the interface issue that had to be tailored to their needs. Most used Whatsapp, or were familiar with it. What was needed was an app that would mimic the offline ‘Guptaji’ to make them comfortable.”
Gupta used automation to translate into Indian languages, but had them tweaked by humans. He also did some research before he officially launched his app. “We got in touch with 200 people in Aligarh and gave them Rs 500 to shop using our app. We got some very useful feedback. The last mile of any online transaction is the address and making the payment online. Most people drop off at this stage because the address in villages do not necessarily have a house number. So, we added the post office number.”
Since people were familiar with WhatsApp Gupta added buttons in blue that would give them a sense of familiarity. A chatbot to take questions and answers like the “Gupatji in the shop”. A ‘live’ two-hourly anchor who gave them info on various products and offers available on the app. After 25 iterations, in November 2018, Mall 91 was ready.
“We bootstrapped since we thought it best to build the product before we go to investors. Many entrepreneurs take the money first and then struggle with the product. We didn’t want to do that. We put in Rs 50 lakh so far,” says Gupta.
“We used social media and viral campaigns to get people to download the app. Once we got that from 5,000 in Nov 2018 to 1.5 million, now the suppliers followedWe primarily target six-seven aspirational products like selfie sticks, mobile accessories, fashion accessories, and apparels which are copies of Bollywood. We now have about 800 sellers on board. We take a commission on every sale from the seller,” says Gupta.
Gupta does not wish to reveal sales numbers. Most of his users are from UP, Bihar and Rajasthan. In the South, his users are from Karnataka and Kerela.
Gupta aims to launch Marathi, Punjabi and Bengali versions this year. “I want our company to be the largest Indian languages internet company of India,” he says.
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-Translating 1% of the 30 trillion words into the 22 official Indian languages means a 100 billion words.
-5,000 blogs of 1 crore words translated at 20,000 words a day by 10 translators will take 500 days and cost nothing less than Rs 1.75 crore.
-Vernac Language Solutions: Crowdsourcing and on our app it is possible to do this in six months at one third the cost.
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