Indus OS, a forked version of Google’s Android operating system, has raised $5 million in its Series A round of funding to reach its ambitious target of one billion users in emerging markets.
The funding round was led by Omidyar Network, the “philanthropic” venture capital firm started by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam. The company intends to use the newly raised money to invest in technology, recruit new talent and expand into international markets.
Earlier, it had raised angel funding from Rohit Bansal, Kunal Bahl, Pranay Chulet, Naveen Tewari, Amit Gupta, Hari Padmanabhan and Mayank Singhal.
Indus OS, which was previously known as FirstTouch, was founded by three IIT graduates Rakesh Deshmukh, Akash Dongre and Sudhir B. Indus OS currently works on 12 regional languages: Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Telugu, Assamese and Urdu.
The company’s vision is to build an end-to-end ecosystem that would bridge the digital divide and get the emerging markets on the information highway, language being the key.
It is working to bring out more languages and has also tied up with Department of Electronic and Information Technology (DeitY), which is supposed to look after the text-to-speech development part.
The company is targeting the rural population of India and they came into this market prepared. In the initial three years, the company did extensive research on consumer attitudes, mobile devices and possible technology solutions. It partnered with Micromax, which revamped its software on selected devices last year.
It is trying to bridge the gap between the modern smartphone and the gamut of customization options available. Along with its own real-time translation tool, the company has also launched its own app store named App Bazaar which has more than 15,000 apps.
Talking to TechCrunch, Rakesh Deshmukh, CEO of Indus OS, said,
We’re figuring out what we need to do to provide people with their first internet device. The language options are very limited [and] there’s no company developing solutions for these consumers. It’s a big market and big problem.
People don’t know how to operate a smartphone and have very limited understanding of technology. We want a simple interface to help people shift from a feature phone to a smartphone easily. We found, for example, that many are more comfortable with hard keys, and color-coding such as green and red for calls.
The company is also going international and expanded to Bangladesh last year. It is planning to reach other international markets by the end of this year.
It is also going to increase its team of 70 people to around 200, with one project on the horizon being an Android ROM, which could be installed on other Android devices to enable the company to grow its userbase beyond entry-level phones.