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Desi play in social media comes alive !

In the small town of Khatauli, 30 km from Meerut, Sumit Jain watched his father sell paints and hardware from the family-owned retail store everyday. The first lessons of business management began here; he would rush back every weekend from IIT Roorkee, where he got admitted, to be at the shop. The idea of entrepreneurship had coloured his mind.
Now 25, Jain manages a new economy business, one that helps communicate, inform and manage things over the internet. He interned mostly with start-ups before co-founding CommonFloor along with IIT batchmate Lalit Mangal and friend Vikas Malpani.
CommonFloor is a social media platform for apartment owners, helping in local networking. Know what book your neighbour is reading; what he thinks of the swimming pool no one visits; of dog menace in the locality; is he open to car pooling?
There are 20,000 apartment communities on his platform from 95 Indian cities. About 500 businesses—starting from banks to car makers—are either advertising on the site or paying a fee to get recommended to consumers who need a product or service. There is “clear visibility” of raking in $100 million in topline over the next five years, Jain tells us confidently, sitting in his bungalow-like office in Indiranagar, a posh locality in Bangalore. He migrated to the city four years ago to pursue his entrepreneurial ambitions.
Far, far away from the big and busy world of Facebook and Orkut, Indian entrepreneurs have started to discover their own sweet spot in social media. There’s no point in aping a Facebook. A niche, vertical approach would be easier to handle and not pinch the purse too much. Over the last three years, a string of networking companies have mushroomed with a singular focus on areas such as education, parenting, lifestyle, gossip and music among others.
The venture capitalists (VCs) are loving it; a niche focus implies targeted advertising opportunities and in verticals like education, scalability is never an issue. And social networking is increasingly becoming a tool for businesses to connect better with customers.
Minglebox, which started as a campus networking site and morphed into an education platform, secured two rounds of funding worth $8 million from Trident, Sequoia Capital and Silicon Valley Bank. CommonFloor raised capital from Accel Partners, a firm that has also invested in Facebook.
Food turned lifestyle site Burrp managed an angel funding of $1,00,000 initially and was acquired by Infomedia 18 in April last year.
“The future definitely is in verticals. Nobody is building horizontal portals any longer,” Anand Jain, Burrp’s co-founder says. The site is clocking five million page views every month.
Consulting firm Browne & Mohan estimates the number of unique visitors to such sites growing 89% year-on-year. FY10 revenues of India based social media companies, it found, were at $1.6 million, up from $0.7 million in FY09. Revenues are seen growing to $4.2 million in FY13. The total revenues of India based players and international players such as Linkedin, Facebook and others operating in India, is estimated to be $3.4 million in FY10 and could touch $10.3 million in FY13.
Some experts find these projections rather conservative considering the growing number of internet users, most of them young. The Boston Consulting Group sees India’s number of internet users tripling to 237 million from the 81 million now by 2015.
However, international social media companies are likely to bag most of the user pie. “International firms are expected to witness higher revenue growth as they begin to customise the service and revenue mix. For example, LinkedIn has recently made a substantial change for job posting from Rs 9,000 for a single listing to more competitive Rs 1,200 for a single listing,” S Harmeet Kaur, associate consultant with Browne & Mohan says.
“Given the single revenue option pursued by many Indian companies, they need to rework and have a primary and secondary revenue model in place. The primary revenue model would have the traditional ad based revenue stream while the secondary model should focus more on the strategic tie ups,” she says.
Some firms have started to do just that. Minglebox, which fashions itself as the ‘Facebook of Education’, has banner ads, subscriptions, and sponsorships. The site caters to those between 15 and 27 years, or those who are in school to the young working who need to re-skill or up-skill. Users can create profile, take tests, compare performance with peers, check out colleges, network, share links, join groups. There are more than 5,000 college communities and the site is clocking one million unique visits a month. CEO of Minglebox Kavita Iyer says the firm’s topline is growing 10 times every year, albeit from a small base, and the company is close to breaking even. Business is being fuelled by the explosion of private education institutes in the country in the last five years. “There is a big need for these colleges to get students. We have created microsites for universities,” she says.
Another site that is looking at multiple monetisation opportunities is Parentree, founded by two mothers Gita Dayal and Shobha Durairajan and who in turn may have engaged an army of moms to develop its content. The site focuses on kids’ education, health, and emotional development and is full of user generated content, listing of schools and their reviews.
While specialised networking sites in India hold potential, some of them still need to develop the ‘sticky factor’ to retain customers and grow customer relationships—there is a lot to learn from Facebook’s success. “From a stickiness angle, the engagament model of Indian firms is weak,” says Harmeet Kaur of Browne & Mohan. “Social media savvy companies need to understand the offline behavioural patterns in which the online communities live and connect with each other in order to map well several distinct offline needs on to the online platform,” she adds.
Until that happens, most of the promising firms of today may remain forever small. Some companies, says Harmeet, are just making revenues of less than Rs 10 lakh a year. It may be difficult for them to be profitable given the high people and content creation costs.
by Goutam Das, Financial Express