Devotional content has always been popular in India. With the rise of smartphones in the recent years, it has become easy and convenient for people to access devotional and spiritual content anywhere, anytime.
Betting on this trend is serial entrepreneur Prashant Sachanwho launchedin 2020 in Bengaluru. Prashant, who previously co-founded community-based social network launched the spiritual-tech startup to address the spiritual needs of people.
“When you look at humans and the intervention of mobile phones, almost every behavior has moved online—from education to wallets and entertainment,” says Prashant. “I feel everything will move online at some point in time.”
As of now, the app has about four million downloads.
How it started?
Prashant always wanted to solve for core Indian users, which took shape from his personal background. Coming from a family that was mostly into farming, his father took up a job at Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., but faced many difficulties due to uncertainties in life.
Despite the humble background and lack of opportunities, Prashant saw that his family was motivated and hopeful. The secret to this, he realized, was his family’s spiritual practices.
“There’s one fabric which actually gives a lot of hope, and that is devotional practices or spiritual practices that most people follow in India,” he says.
A lot of our country’s population has been involved in devotional practices for generations. “This is a very harmless way of mental reinforcement or peace,” Prashant adds.
He saw how these old-devotional practices–a behavior concerning a large number of people in India–hadn’t moved online.
Prashant then realized that if pursued with the aim to assist users in their practices and if user engagement could be solved for, this could be a big space to be in. That is how he ventured into devotion as-a-category with AppsForBharat.
What it offers?
AppsForBharat is developing a range of mobile apps that caters to the country’s spiritual as well as devotional needs through meditation-related tools, communities, and services.
“We are starting with Hinduism, because I understand Hinduism. I want to first build a playbook and then look at other faiths,” Prashant says.
The startup first launched SriMandir, an app catering to Hindus, in 2020. “The idea is to focus on spirituality and devotion as-a-category and go with different products,” he adds.
SriMandir aims to be a virtual destination for devotees through a bundling of many use cases. Users can create personalized shrines, consume devotional content through a library, connect with prayer groups through community, and access a large library of spiritual texts, scriptures, and videos on the app.
Prashant says he wants AppsForBharat to replicate Chinese company ByteDance’s family of apps strategy and reach as many users as possible by targeting a broad group of people with different needs.
The entrepreneur is creating an offering similar to Peter Thiel-backed US-based app Hallow and Andreessen Horowitz-backed Glorify, which is based in the UK.
The market and business model
According to Expert Market Research, the Indian religious and spiritual market was valued at $44 billion in 2020, and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 10 percent between 2022-2027.
While AppsForBharat is available on the Google Play Store for free, the startup wants to come up with a freemium model in the future, where users pay a fee for some premium offerings. This is something the team is experimenting on, says Prashant.
He adds that the target audience is everyone who practices devotion in some way or the other, irrespective of where they live. As of now, about 80 percent of AppsForBharat users are above the age of 30, and about 25 percent of users are above 50.
SriMandir has over two million monthly active users and 500,000 daily active users. It has users from all major Hindi-speaking towns in India.
The startup, which competes with apps like Virtual Astrology and Mandir App (VAMA) and Paavan, was part of Trell until November 2020.
In September 2021, it raised $10 million in Series A round led by Elevation Capital with participation from existing investors Sequoia Capital India, BEENEXT, and Matrix Partners India.
“When we met Prashant and heard his vision for AppsForBharat, we knew this is a business we want to be in,” Mayank Khanduja, Partner, Elevation Capital, had said at the time of investment.
“As we spoke to the users, we realized that the product is satisfying the needs of audiences across age groups, geographic locations, and income brackets,” he added.
The startup also raised $4 million co-led by Sequoia Capital India and BEENEXT, with participation from WEH Ventures in 2021. It announced its seed funding in August last year.
From a team of about five people in 2021, today AppsForBharat has a team of 80 people.
The team of AppsForBharat
In the coming months, the startup plans to launch more features to engage users in group activities and wants to add more communities from famous temples around the country. There are about 10-12 communities at present.
AppsForBharat is also working on including more languages to address the regional diversity in the country. It is creating content IPs, building its product, and hiring talent across the product, data, and engineering verticals.
Prashant says he wants to launch similar apps for Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Islam, among other religions in the next two years.
(This story was updated to modify the headline.)