A woman who was forced to give birth on the street; a young man beaten up by the police in a vegetable market; a pair of thieves furtively making off with a bike in the dead of the night; a cell phone snatcher who tried his tricks with a policewoman. In a newspaper, these events would have made a brief appearance in the corner of a page usually buried somewhere between political coverage and sports news. On short video app Public, however, each news story—shot, edited, and uploaded either by a local who knows the area or a stringer—has thousands of views.

Launched in 2019 by news aggregator app Inshorts, Public encourages users to record and share what goes on around them. In March, the app drew a sizable funding round of Rs 300 crore ($41 million), with Inshorts’ 2019 valuation of $120 million more than doubling to $250 million to $250 million Economic Times Public App raises $41 million, valuation doubles to $250 million Read more .

The investment round was also led by heavyweights, such as A91 Partners, SIG Global, and the former face of Tiger Global Tiger Global The Ken Why Tiger Global is (once again) India’s most important VC Read more in India, Lee Fixel. In fact, Fixel’s new $1.3 billion fund Addition opened its Indian account in October 2020 with a $35 million funding round in Inshorts.

On the surface, the attention seems warranted. Public’s biggest draw is its accessibility—it is available in 11 of India’s major regional languages, including Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, and Malayalam.

The regional language market is ripe for the picking. A 2017 report by accounting firm KPMG and Google forecast forecast KPMG Indian Languages: Defining India's internet Read more a market of 526 million Indian language internet users by 2021, stemming from a surge in tier-2 cities and the Indian hinterland in general. Public claims to have 50 million-plus active users, acquiring over five million new users each month. Users spend around 20-30 minutes per day on the app, according to a press release sent by the company.

Dig a little deeper, though, and things don’t quite add up.

Public had a strong start, reaching 10 million active users in the first six months since its launch. By June 2020, its user base touched touched Yourstory App Fridays Social video app by Inshorts team makes hyperlocal information Public knowledge Read more 30 million.

AUTHOR

Bhumika Khatri

Bhumika covers e-commerce, consumer internet, and everything startup for The Ken in Delhi. In her previous stint at Inc42, she spent two and a half years writing about a breadth of startups and topics. A commerce graduate, Bhumika completed her postgraduate in journalism from the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media, Bengaluru. You can reach her at Bhumika@the-ken.com

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