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Will 2021 be the year of super apps?

This year saw many startups broaden their service bouquet and large players march into the superapp battlezone. While on one side there is Paytm and PhonePe, on the other there are players such as Amazon and WhatsApp. And to make matters more interesting, Reliance and Tata have thrown their hats into the ring. So, 2021 could mark the beginning of a fight for the largest share of the pie.

December 17, 2020 / 01:20 PM IST

2020 was a year for startups to prove their resilience, survive a pandemic and aim to emerge stronger at the end of it. So, the question now is, will the big daddies of the startup ecosystem actually emerge as super apps in 2021? Industry insiders say they have no other option — given the level of competition that players such as Amazon, Google and Facebook bring in, home-grown startups have no other option but to broaden their service base.

Here is a look at how the following apps are trying to become super apps and replicate the success of WeChat, Grab or GoJek in India.

Paytm: Digital payments major Paytm is on a journey to become a complete financial services player. It has three major offerings, the parent banking app, Paytm, followed by Paytm Mall the ecommerce platform and Paytm Money the investment platform. Due to regulatory restrictions, Paytm has had to create separate apps, but its founder Vijay Shekhar Sharma wants to build a financial services super app and 2021 could see the effort bearing fruit.

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Paytm Money, which started 2020 with the exit of its first CEO Pravin Jadhav, has launched multiple products in the second half of the year and is on its way to create a complete investment portfolio, from mutual funds to stocks to ETFs. Also, Sharma could see Paytm’s Insurance offering going live in 2021, thereby completing the circle of financial services.

PhonePe: Bengaluru-based digital payments platform PhonePe is going the partnership way to achieve its super app dream. PhonePe works in an app-in-app model, where they allow users to access a host of services without actually needing to download different apps. In this way PhonePe offers cab booking, entertainment, travel and flight booking and many others.


Further, the Flipkart owned company has not only stepped into allied services but also expanded its fintech portfolio. It has insurance, gold investments, mutual funds and many others. Unlike Paytm, PhonePe has built all this through a partnership model.

Reliance Jio: It’s still early, but telecom major Jio is all set with its super app dream and could disrupt the startup ecosystem in a big way. It started with cheap data and attractive tariffs and now is looking to get consumers to use the data across its own platforms.

Jio has set foot into financial services through the Jio Payments Bank, into hyperlocal deliveries and ecommerce through Jio Mart, and is set to partner with Facebook and WhatsApp to create a social commerce experience involving small merchants and consumers. 2021 could see all these services kicking off in a major way. It will be a litmus test for the corporate giant — will the apps get sticky users for these services?

The Global Players

WhatsApp: From instant messaging to business interactions and now payments, WhatsApp is on its way to expand its scope of offerings in India. India head Abhijit Bose has pointed out that by the yearend WhatsApp will also launch insurance products to be sold on the platform. WhatsApp wants to become the WeChat equivalent in India, where consumers can do much more than just sending messages to each other. Now, with payments and chat together, WhatsApp can also become like Venmo, which is a person to person payment platform in the United States.

If everything had gone right, by 2020, WhatsApp should have already gone live with its entire product suite, but given the regulatory and legal challenges the Facebook owned company faced, the market expects it to emerge as the super app with the entire product range in 2021.

Amazon: Perhaps the one player that is already there is Amazon. What started with ecommerce has now moved to all forms of payments, wallet as well as UPI. Further, Amazon is also becoming a booking platform for things such as gas, flight and even train ticket bookings. After starting with grocery delivery, it is now testing food delivery in Bengaluru too. Amazon has the appetite and the ability to pump in millions of dollars into the India business to emerge as the super app of choice in 2021.


The next year is certain to be an interesting one for the Indian startup ecosystem. It will see players that have a strong core offering expand into uncharted service territories. Now, the question is who will succeed in this game? India might have a 500 million smartphone base, but the question is if these startups can go beyond the 100 to 150 million consumer base in urban areas and large towns.

Digitisation is truly taking shape in semi urban India; can these companies accelerate the speed of that? Will consumers use one app for all their requirements or keep hopping from one to the other for their different needs? These are questions that could get answered in 2021.

DisclosureReliance Industries Ltd. is the sole beneficiary of Independent Media Trust which controls Network18 Media & Investments Ltd.
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Pratik Bhakta
first published: Dec 17, 2020 01:20 pm