Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings has led a funding round for NewsDog, an India-focused news aggregator app which some observers believe has the potential to grow into a scale comparable to China’s hugely popular Toutiao news app.
The mobile-based news app in India announced on May 22 a US$50 million Series C round led by Tencent, which operates the WeChat messaging platform among various other online platforms.
Other investors which participated in the latest funding for NewsDog included Chinese VCs Danhua Capital and Legend Capital as well as Chinese mobile app firm DotC United.
Launched in 2016, NewsDog collates articles in English and 10 regional Indian languages. The company claims a user base of more than 50 million people.
It recently established a “WeMedia” platform that augments its content aggregation by allowing users to submit stories, with now over 30,000 writers contributing content, according to India’s Economic Times newspaper.
NewsDog is said to have been topping the Google Play store news category since 2016 in India, where Android is the dominant operating system, staying ahead of competitors that include Dailyhunt and UC News.
Dailyhunt is an entity backed by China’s Toutiao-owner Bytedance, while UC News is a service from Alibaba-owned UC Web.
NewsDog has 43 million installs and its downloads grew 76 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2018, according to analytics firm Sensor Tower’s findings.
The news app, developed by a Hong Kong-based company Hacker Interstellar Inc, was founded by two Chinese entrepreneurs — Forrest Chen Yukun and Ma Yi.
CEO Chen is a computer science graduate from Tsinghua University, while Ma holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University and had previously worked at Baidu and Goldman Sachs, according to TechCrunch.
Similar to what Toutiao offers in China, NewsDog said it has used machine learning to help produce an experience that is customized to users.
The startup plans to boost its content offerings with the fresh capital.
“Polyculture and multiple languages make content matching an incredibly hard problem. So far, we have made good initial progress but content business is like an endless journey. There is no finish line, you have to just keep running,” Chen said in a statement.
According to the company, the funds raised will be used to focus on adding more languages and deepening its content library, aiming to reach 100 million users as its next milestone.
With a huge population and rapidly growing internet access, India has become attractive to Chinese Internet behemoths that want to move overseas.
While Alibaba entered the country early to buy stakes in local startups like Paytm, Tencent has backed Indian e-commerce platform Flipkart, ride-hailing company Ola, messenger app Hike, healthcare platform Practo and music streaming site Gaana, TechCrunch noted.
NewsDog is Tecent’s first bet on India’s news ecosystem.
The Shenzhen-headquartered company is also reportedly scouring for early-stage bets in India, targeting startups like social networking platform ShareChat and consumer lending venture Kissht, where it can invest US$5 to $15 million, Economic Times reported in April.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 24
Translation by Ben Ng with additional reporting
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