Sequoia Capital backs Indian content platform

The US firm led the mobile value-added-services firm’s second round of funding

US-based venture firm Sequoia Capital’s Indian unit has led a second round of funding in Verse Innovation, a start-up based in Banaglore that provides local-language news and e-books via mobile phones.

Verse raised Rs. 100 crore ($16.4 million) in a financing that may have valued the start-up at almost $150 million.

Existing investors Matrix Partners India and Omidyar Network are also thought to have participated in the funding, according to local news reports.

Founded in 2007 by Virendra Gupta, Verse initially focused on mobile classified services such as job alerts, before acquiring local-language mobile platform NewsHunt in 2012.

The NewsHunt application has already achieved more than 50 million installs, has 14 million monthly active users and more than 1.5 billion monthly page views. The start-up plans to expand the application’s active user base to as many as 200 million per month in the next year.

As well as aggregating content from more than 100 newspapers, magazines and other publications in more than a dozen languages, NewsHunt offers eBooks, four million of which have been downloaded in the past six months.

“As India moves from a 100 million to a 500 million smartphone user base, it is critical to bridge the gap of making accessible relevant content material and apps for Indian language customers,” Mohit Bhatnagar, managing director at Sequoia Capital India Advisors, said in a statement.

Verse has also created iPayy, a proprietary payment platform which is being harnessed by third-party developers for micro-transactions.

“The era of the real Indian mobile Internet written and consumed in local language is just beginning,” Gupta said. “Our vision is to create a made-for-India platform and work closely with publishers, developers, OEMs and other ecosystem partners to digitise, distribute and monetise the consumption of local language.”