India’s ban on Chinese apps left gaping holes across sectors that homegrown apps rushed to fill in.
Before it was banned, CamScanner was a popular document scanning app, with more than 100 million downloads in India despite storing sensitive user data abroad and malware concerns. Now, an Indian startup wants to build a similar product but with a promise not to abuse users’ data.
Launched in the middle of June 2020 by entrepreneurs Snehanshu Gandhi, Gaurav Shrishrimal and Tamanjit Singh Bindra, Kaagaz Scanner has had 1.1 million downloads. It saw 200,000 downloads in three days after the Chinese apps were banned.
“Chinese apps could still operate, but something needed to be done about the data abuse. For Kaagaz, the app, all its data is offline. Even when we launch online storage, our cloud servers will be only in India,” Shrishrimal told Moneycontrol over the phone from Mumbai where the company is based.
The timing of the launch proved fortuitous. On June 30, India banned 59 Chinese apps, including TikTok and CamScanner, two weeks after 20 of its soldiers were killed in a clash with China along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh.
Currently only on Android, Kaagaz Scanner averages about 15,000 downloads a day. The app works offline only, which means it stores no data online, on its cloud or anywhere else.
Around 60 percent of the growth is organic, without any marketing.
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A crowded space
On its initial promise, it has also raised an undisclosed amount in funding from First Cheque VC, an early-stage investor but despite this traction, challenges are aplenty.
For one, the market for digitising documents is huge. Not just startups, even technology giants such as Adobe and Microsoft, with its Lens product, have set sights on this market. These are companies with decades of experience in the digital work and productivity space and no shortage of cash.
A Google Play Store search throws up at least a dozen “free documents and PDF scanner” alternatives.
None of these apps charge users either. Even CamScanner, in its heyday, had a premium version for which users had to pay but the free version had enough users—350 million, according to a person aware of the matter. The paid version never became mainstream.
Kaagaz faces stiff competition and Shrishrimal knows it.
“We want to improve the product before launching the premium version. No one will pay for vanilla cloud storage. But I do think if we offer smart storage, people will pay for it. If you upload your documents they automatically get categorised and searchable. You are uploading so much data, the data should start working for you,” he said.
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The automatic sorting ties in neatly with Sorted AI, an app Shrishrimal and the other two founders’ launched a year before Kaagaz Scanner.
Sorted AI can automatically categorise documents, and read their dates, say insurance or passport renewal, and send reminders. This the founders believe gives them the edge.
“We do have competition from big companies but we have been building our artificial intelligence (AI) product for a year now. No one else has that,” Shrishrimal added.
For apps in general, downloads can be a vanity metric. The metric that determines revenue, advertising and even funding is retention—how many users come back to the app after downloading it.
Kaagaz has about 60,000 returning users a day, which is not bad for a startup in a niche sector.
Monetisation for apps, in general, has been a challenge in India, though that is changing gradually in areas such as gaming and education.
Getting millions to pay for a service they have been getting for free for years will not be easy. But Kaagaz Scanner’s success will also depend on whether it can differentiate from a crowded field of competitors and can make users stick.