Seedfund Advisors, an early-stage venture capital fund started in 2006 by Pravin Gandhi, Bharti Jacob and Mahesh Murthy, has picked up a significant minority stake in Innoz, a provider of mobile search engine services.
Speaking with Iamwire about their partnership with Seedfund, Deepak Ravindran, Co-founder & CEO of Innoz, said “We’re happy to partner with Seedfund and benefit from their mentoring and guidance.” While neither companies have disclosed the amount of funding, according to insiders the deal has been closed at between Rs.2-15 crores and marks the first round of VC funding raised by Innoz. The company had earlier received angel funding from separate parties.
While many companies focus on India’s 100 million internet users and 80 million mobile internet users, Innoz focused on the much larger market of about 500 million mobile users who don’t have net access. Innoz’s product, the mobile search engine on the short code 55444 has now crossed the 1 million SMS searches a day mark with its partnerships on Airtel, Vodafone , Aircel, Tata Docomo and Idea.
The company aims to do on the mobile feature phone what Google has done on desktops. Innoz currently serves over 35 million queries a month from Indian users, growing at around 1,000% a year and is far and away the largest search engine on mobile feature phones in India.
Speaking about Innoz’s product, Deepak said, “We want to build Innoz into an offering that brings the benefit of internet connectivity to the hundreds of millions of Indians who don’t have it. Already, about 70% of our queries are fromTier 2, Tier 3 and Tier 4 cities – and this indicates we’re serving a deep, as yet unmet need.”
Any mobile user on Airtel, Vodafone and Aircel can send an SMS at 55444 to get their queries answered across a multitude of verticals like encyclopedia, dictionary, cricket scores, local search, movie reviews, train timings and more. There are over 600 million unique mobile users in India and a large proportion of them do not have access to internet on their phones.
The company was founded in 2008 by Deepak, Abhinav, Ashwin and Hisam at their college campus in Kerala. Innoz is a RED Herring Global 100 & Asia 100 Winner and is also ranked in the Top 10 companies India by NASSCOM EMERGE 50. Innoz was incubated by iAccelerator at IIM-Ahmedabad and has earlier received angel funding from Freeman Murray, MobME, Technopark and other technopreneurs at different stages of its growth.
Innoz has offices in Bangalore, Bombay and New Delhi, and is profitable. With the additional funding, the company plans to further improve its product and strengthen its technology base to support the increase in demand and traffic. It also plans to use the funds to create a unique identity for “55444” as the best place to find information on mobile.
The company makes a perfect fit in Seedfund’s mandate to help “create the new India” and invest in and mentor entrepreneurs and businesses based in India who are primarily aiming to service the enormous and growing Indian market.
Speaking with Iamwire on their investment in Innoz, Mahesh Murthy, Managing Partner of Seedfund Advisors, said “The beauty of 55444’smodel is that every single search is paid for, monetization is instant, and loyalty is growing. It may seem counter-intuitive, but we feel there’s a huge opportunity in offering information and services to the feature phone market which has over half a billion users in India alone, and more in other parts of the world.”
Seedfund Advisors has so far has raised two funds with the first fund making investments in 12 companies and the second fund closing 10 investments. The company has operations in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore and invests between Rs.1-25 Crores per company. The company has invested in CarWale, Redbus, Vaatsalya, Heckly, EduSports and Fetise, among others.