Pune’s SMSONE gets techcrunched: Mirco-local news to make Silicon Valley Jealous

Pune-based company SMSONE (see previous PuneTech coverage) has just been covered by TechCrunch, one of the most influential and widely read tech blogs in the world (as a result of an introduction by PuneTech).

Sarah Lacy, editor-at-large at TechCrunch was in India for about a month in November, and she was in Pune for a day, hosted by Abinash Tripathy. During her Pune visit, PuneTech introduced her to a bunch of local companies, and SMSONE was one of them.

Excerpts from her article:

But every once in a while I find a company that hits the trifecta: It’s addressing a big problem locally, it’s something I don’t think is offered in the US, and…. I want it. And when a product in undeveloped, chaotic, messy India can make someone in Silicon Valley feel jealous, you know that entrepreneur has come up with something good.

I’m talking about SMSONE Media, a company I met in Pune about a week ago. Like most of the impressive companies I saw in India, it’s aimed squarely at the base of the pyramid and is using basic SMS to deliver services to people some of India’s most unconnected areas. It was started by Ravi Ghate, who proudly points out that none of his core team graduated from high school, much less attended an IIT or IIM. (Typically not something you brag about in India.)

Later, the article quotes Ravi Ghate, CEO of SMSONE, on their future plans:

Right now Ghate’s operation is in 400 communities, reaching roughly 400,000 readers. He just got an investment from the government of Bangalore to boost that reach to five million readers in the next four months.

Ghate is clear that the money will be used strictly to reach more people. The company already breaks even and Ghate makes enough to pay his basic living expenses. He doesn’t care about fancy cars or clothes. It wasn’t too long ago that he was one of those disadvantaged kids, selling flags and berries on the side of the road and being told to go away. He still regularly travels between villages by bus and stays in $5/a night hotels

FYI: There’s one detail that her article gets wrong. The article says:

The economics work out like this: Out of a 1000 rupee ad sale, 300 of it goes to the reporter, and Ghate pays him an additional 50 rupees for each news story. That adds up to a nice income for a village kid

Actually, of the Rs. 1000 that an ad earns, Rs. 300 is kept by SMSONE and the rest goes to the reporter. But other than this inaccuracy, the article does a great job of capturing the essence of SMSONE.

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