Mobile app firm News in Shorts raises seed fund from Times Internet

BANGALORE: News in Shorts, a mobile app firm that gives out top news stories in 60-word bite-sized portions, has raised seed investment from Times Internet and a group of entrepreneurs, including Flipkart cofounders Sachin Bansal and BinnyBSE -5.00 % Bansal.

The investment—the amount has not been disclosed—will be used mainly to expand its content and technology teams.

Launched last September, the Delhi-based company was part of the fourth batch of Times Internet’s accelerator T Labs. Times Internet is part of the Times Group, which publishes The Economic Times.

Aimed at time-starved users, News in Shorts curates top stories and provides a short summary of each news item. “We want to enable our users to consume top news quickly whenever they have time, maybe during a coffee break or a short metro ride,” said Azhar Iqubal, 21, cofounder of the company. Iqubal and his cofounders Deepit Purkayastha and Anunay Pandey, both 22, started work on the concept while in the eight semester of their engineering programme.

Iqubal and Pandey dropped out of IIT-Delhi and Purkayastha, a school friend of Iqubal, quit his course at IIT-Kharagpur to launch the firm.

The app has now clocked up over 30,000 users. One such user is Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal. “I am a user of the product and it saves a lot of my time everyday. News in Shorts has the opportunity to redefine the future of news consumption via mobile,” said Bansal. The Flipkart founders were joined by serial entrepreneurs—Ankush Nijhawan, Gaurav Bhatnagar and Manish Dhingra—and Times Internet.

It was the mobile opportunity that attracted Times Internet too. “We are very keen on mobile as a medium, along with that micro-content consumption has seen a rise,” said Abhishek Gupta, who leads the TLabs initiative at Times Internet.

Globally, a number of companies are banking on the consumer’s need for curated and personalised content. US-based provides top news in 300 characters through a mobile app. Flipboard, Paper and Digg are some of the other online and app-based news curators.

Bangalore-based Newshunt, a mobile app that allows users to read regional language newspapers on their mobile devices, has seen about 35 million downloads and receives over one billion page views a month.

Like other app companies News in Shorts is also focusing on increasing its user base. “Once we have a strong user base we can focus on revenue generation streams like advertisements and paid content,” said News in Shorts cofounder


Aditya Birla Group to soon launch project to back e-commerce industry

MUMBAI: India’s fledgling e-commerce industry may get a new backer in billionaire Kumar Mangalam Birla.

The $40-billion Aditya Birla Group will soon launch a project to identify opportunities in e-commerce as rising disposable incomes, rapid adoption of smart phones and a large population of young consumers has given rise to enormous potential for online business. Prashant Gupta, who heads the chairman’s office, has been made leader of a new project to prepare the groundwork for the metals to telecom group’s foray into e-commerce.

Gupta was chosen for the project due to his 12-year stint at McKinsey & Co., which helped him gain deep insight into the long-term potential of various businesses, according to two people close to the development.

Ever since joining the group in 2010 as president, this graduate of the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, has assisted KM Birla in strategic planning and monitoring the diversified businesses.

“His mandate is to study the whole e-commerce space and evaluate the business potential. Based on his finding, the group will decide whether to take the plunge,” said one of the persons cited above.

In 2007, the diversified business conglomerate moved then CFO Sumant Sinha to lead the push into organised retail. Sinha was instrumental in taking over Hyderabad-based supermarket chain Trinethra and building up the retail business.

Aditya Birla Group’s move to get into ecommerce signals the appetite that India’s cash-rich, traditional business groups have for sunrise businesses at a time when local e-commerce ventures such as Flipkart script success stories, forcing global giants such as Amazon to step up their presence in India.

A recent study by McKinsey said India was on the brink of an Internet boom and it is estimated will have between 330 million and 370 million people going online by 2015.

India’s e-commerce market was worth $13 billion in 2013, with online travel booking accounting for more than 70% of consumer transactions. Online sales of retail goods amounted to $1.6 billion in the past year, according to research and advisory firm Forrester, and some industry experts expect this market to explode to $76 billion by 2021.

“Entry of big business conglomerates such as the Aditya Birla Group in this space will lend much more credibility to business being conducted through ecommerce, and therefore, the e-commerce universe is likely to become more encouraging for consumers,”said Ajoy Lodha, partner at Singhi Advisors — a Mumbai-based investment bank.

“So far the majority of the benefits of the exponential growth in valuations of the businesses like Snapdeal, Flipkart and has been taken by foreign investors,”he said. “Sometimes it leaves people wondering why Indian investors are not supporting the growth of e-commerce based businesses models.”

After building massive capacity and boosting revenue in traditional commodities businesses, the Aditya Birla Group turned to consumer-facing sectors such as telecom and retail in the late 1990s. The group made a big-bang entry into the retail sector by launching its own brand More in 2008 after entrepreneurs like Kishore Biyani built businesses such as Big Bazaar that changed the shopping habits of urban consumers.

The group spotted an opportunity in solar power in 2009 and turned this into a business proposition in 2011. Essel Mining has recently expanded into coal