Most app developers have an origin story that they're quick to share when asked about their big idea. Sometimes the stories can be hard to believe, but at other times they're quite relatable. Stuck on the road in 40-km commutes from his home in West Delhi's Pitampura to his office in Gurgaon, Pulkit Sharma found himself growing sick of FM radio. Listening to the same handful of pop songs on repeat could make anyone rage, but what alternatives are there?
Indian law prohibits news broadcasts on private radio channels, and this gave Sharma and his friend Dhruv Shandilya an idea - why not make an app that lets people listen to short news bulletins?
That is how Khabri was born. Khabri is an Android app that lets you download and listen to short news clips recorded by a professional voiceover artiste. Apps such as Yahoo News Digest, or inShorts, summarise news in text form, and Khabri is their audio counterpart. Why stick to audio? Sharma says that after spending the entire day staring at a screen in the office, he is in no mood to read news on his smartphone.
"No [private] radio channel can broadcast news in India. That's a legal issue we have," Sharma says. "The only option left is AIR (All India Radio), which only broadcasts news at fixed times like 6pm or 9pm and that too they have a set bulletin of 5 - 10 stories and you can't decide which news you want to listen to," he adds.
To address that gap, Khabri's editors curate the most important news reports through the day and summarise it. Their voice over artiste then records the bulletin and this is then compressed, before 'airing'. The size of each news clip is just 200-300Kb, according to Sharma. "Because it's only vocals we're able to reduce size without reducing the quality," he says, stressing on the importance of running efficiently in a country plagued by slow Internet access, and low data caps.
The market for an audio news app is in the nascent stage, if it exists at all. However, that doesn't faze Khabri co-founder Dhruv Shandilya. "If the risk is high, return will be higher provided we take calculated risks," Shandilya says. "When we started with Khabri we planned that we should have at least 12 months' worth of funds with us. Till now we've not crossed the budget," he adds. Shandilya says they decided to remain bootstrapped until the app gains traction. At the time of writing Khabri was just shy of 800 downloads on Google Play. Shandilya says the team will seek funding once they have 3,000 to 5,000 people using the app.
Khabri's news clips are a lot like those of AIR - sombre and to-the-point. So much so that some might say it sounds boring. Sharma says the team didn't want to experiment with the tone of the voice over initially. "We're working with another VO artiste. She can add more cheer and energy into it [the bulletin]," Sharma says. He also points out that they needed the sombre tone for serious news and that they plan to have different voice over artistes for different sections of news. At the same time, the app is going to stay focused on new bulletins, according tot he company. That's because the founders feel that unlike the US and UK, India doesn't have a culture of talk radio, and podcasts are only just beginning to emerge.
That's also why Khabri launched as a standalone app, and not as a podcast you could download using a wide variety of apps. Sharma feels having an app allows them to offer people a high quality user experience. "No podcast channel gives short stories of 20 to 30 seconds," he says. "We wanted to offer certain features like integrating the experience with the car audio system, and adding all news stories to your playlist via a single tap. We had to build an app around that," Sharma adds.
As of now, Shandilya says, the focus is on tying up with media agencies to boost the content on the app. Its plan for monetisation includes native advertising and sponsorships. Both Sharma and Shandilya know that they're far from the point where Khabri starts generating revenues. Whether the app survives past the co-founders' one year budget remains to be seen. Its founders hope that the proverbial first-mover advantage will help the app survive its tough early days.