Spirituality and Devotion are deeply intertwined with all the aspects of life and culture for an average Indian. While there is a vast variation in how different people choose to engage with one’s faith, one fact was obvious to us—devotion is ubiquitous in India and cuts across any classical indicators of demographics, and even religious beliefs. A vast majority of Indians pray daily and visit a place of worship at least one a week. And almost everyone turns to faith and looks for blessings and guidance ahead of monumental moments in life such as marriage, starting a family, a new job perhaps, stepping into a new house, kicking off a new business, and so many others. Hardships and bereavements bring us even closer at times. The elders in our families are typically more devout in the traditional sense of the word i.e. visiting temples, reading scriptures and planning events around auspicious alignments, and so on. The rest of us have perhaps seen our faith flounder and flourish, our beliefs tested in times of hardship, and our extent of devotion waxing and waning as we navigate the phases of life. But, we have all at some point found comfort and sought refuge in the thought of a greater power.
As we think back to all the instances where we seeked comfort in the power of devotion, we realise how fundamentally the experience of faith continues to be offline. At Elevation, we have been acutely aware of the dichotomy that devotion forms a core aspect of our lives and still manifests mainly itself in physical ecosystems. You can get your customised morning grocery order delivered online, but not your personalised morning devotion routine. We intuitively felt that there must be a medium through which people are expressing or want to express their faith in the digital world, where they spend more than a fourth of their waking time. So we started to look deeper into people’s behaviors pertaining to faith and devotion in the online world.
We scanned many destinations of content consumption in India and here’s what we found: on Youtube, T-Series Bhakti Sagar, a channel dedicated to devotional content, with 43 Mn subscribers is the 33rd most subscribed channel globally and 11th in India. Its top video with 1.9 Bn views makes it the 5th highest ever viewed Indian video. To put this into context, the top video on the world’s most subscribed channel, T-series (191 Mn subscribers) has 1.2 Bn views. On Facebook, the Pope successfully delivered sermons through live sessions to a staggering size of audiences during the COVID-19 lockdown. On the Google Playstore, any keyword search around religion shows hundreds of content-first apps, many of which have 10 Mn+ downloads. On top social and content platforms like Facebook and Sharechat, devotional content accounts for 10-20% of all content and most family WhatsApp groups continue to buzz with devotionally inclined shares and forwards. On audio platforms like Spotify and Kuku FM, devotional podcasts constantly rank among the top charts. Such deep engagement across existing platforms, cutting across content formats, further cemented our view that there is a strong demand for a dedicated spiritual-tech platform where people can engage with devotion and spirituality in a fundamentally new approach.
While we continued our quest of finding the right team which would re-imagine this experience, we spoke to Prashant Sachan about his new venture. We have known and admired him for over 4 years, since he co-founded Trell, India’s leading lifestyle-content-community-commerce app. Right from the early days, when Prashant was just beginning to ponder on the idea behind AppsforBharat, we were amazed by his deeply user-centric approach towards product development and how deeply the team thought about each aspect of the user’s journey. SriMandir, the first product, aims to be the virtual destination for devotees to create their personalized shrines, consume devotional content, play audio bhajans, connect with prayer groups and access a large library of spiritual texts, scriptures and videos.
Looking at the apps’ usage data, we were amazed by the amount of time users spent on the app daily. In our discussions with the team, we got a window into their user-first thinking and running A/B tests on every feature. This formed the groundwork for them to build an app that has garnered customer love unlike anything else we’d seen before for a content app at this scale. To understand this behaviour more deeply, we spoke with tens of users of the app that currently has an average user rating of 9.5/10. Most people have used the app more than 4 days a week and regularly engage with many different features and parts of the product. Two-thirds of them used the app daily, and more than half of them interacted with the virtual temple; this depth of usage was truly impressive. After many brainstorming sessions with the team, dissecting the usage and retention data, and speaking with customers, we were convinced that the AppsforBharat team has the unique mix of passion, customer-first insights, and execution to build truly path-defining products
Through AppsForBharat, Prashant’s vision is to build a spiritual-tech company that specifically caters to this underserved digital and spiritual need of the Indian population, and offers a thoughtful and unique user experience on their smartphones. Going forward, through SriMandir, devotees will be able to engage deeply into a more social experience and view live streams of temples and aartis, participate in virtual pravachans and satsangs, curate personalized shrines and consult with astrologers and priests..
We couldn’t be more thrilled to partner with AppsforBharat in their journey to holistically re-imagine the expressions of faith for devotees in the digital world and build far more immersive experiences for them than anything seen before.
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