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Searching For Superman

Searching For Superman

India's consumer startups are looking to make an app that fulfils needs like ecommerce, cab hailing and food delivery

The model for such 'superapps' has been WeChat which enjoys massive usage in China

Grab and GoJek are other famous super apps

Since early 2016, JustDial has been running an advertisement which features brand ambassador Amitabh Bachchan at an airport where repetitive notifications of a fellow flyer’s phone disturb the superstar’s reverie. Bachchan takes the guy’s phone, deletes all his apps (bearing an uncanny resemblance to some of India’s most popular apps) downloads JustDial, and reassures the panicked flyer that the “super app” will be the only one he needs. 

From aggregating local business listings on audio calls to an app where one can buy movie and flight tickets, order food, watch TV shows, payments — JustDial’s big-budget foray into super app territory is one that many Indian startups are attempting to do as well. The growing list has one goal: make an app that makes people wonder how they ever lived without it.

“Smartphones are reaching the hands of everyone these days, including the illiterate and the technologically challenged. For them, having an umbrella of apps that are simple to navigate is naturally a godsend. So, theoretically, super apps are the perfect solution for the Indian market,” Vinay Nair, founder of early-stage VC firm Nair Ventures, told Inc42.

Behind The Great Firewall Of China

The origin-story of the super app began in China, where a government firewall on platforms like Facebook, Youtube, Twitter etc. led to the creation of an app ecosystem similar to their western counterparts. For Google there’s Baidu. For YouTube, Youku. For Twitter, Sina Weibo. And the list goes on. These apps were only available in China, and Silicon Valley app developers dismissed them as state-run ‘puppet apps’ that let the Chinese government keep tabs on its citizens.