Despite being one of the earliest web-browsers, Opera has been able to stay ahead of the game by implementing a mobile-first strategy that has now started reaping dividends. Opera Mini is now the third largest app in India after Facebook and Whatsapp. Over 50 million users—of the 350 million globally—are based in India. The company is setting its sight on doubling this figure, CEO Lars Boilesen tells Nandagopal Rajan. Edited excerpts from the interview:
By Nandagopal Rajan
How important is India for you?
Just a few days ago, we crossed 50 million monthly active users in India. It is clearly the biggest market for Opera Software. We can even say that this is our home market now. Half our users here are using Android and it shows how fast-growing the market is… our goal is to reach 100 million. Only 20% of the population here is connected and our vision, since we came to India in 2006, has been to connect the unconnected.
Is the market similar to other geographies?
It is very similar to all other emerging markets, but is growing much faster. These are all young, fast growing and mobile-first markets. People in these markets are getting connected for the first time through the mobile phones. And this just syncs with the Opera’s vision, as we allow them to open a Facebook account even on a feature phone. We offer the same speeds for users across all device categories.
In India, is the growth happening on entry-level phones?
Yes. We see a lot of growth happening on devices of Indian manufactures like Micromax, Karbonn and Lava. We have strategic partnerships with them and they are a big part of our success here. They pre-install Opera in many of their devices and that is a very efficient delivery model for us.
You said India is like your home market. But is that true in case of revenue also?
No. In terms of revenue, India is not the largest. But I think we need to look at the future here. We want to invest in India and be here 20 years later too. We want to invest in the future, in India’s potential. It is not like we don’t make money here. We reinvest all the money we make here and add a bit more. We have multiple revenue streams, but at the end of the day, as the CEO, I want to reach out to all the Indians who are not connected. That is why we are an important part of Internet.org and have been compressing data for users for so many years.
Are you looking at different monetisation models for markets like India?
We have some good partners here in the service providers as they like what we do, getting more people connected. We also have the Discovery tab on the browser where ad units are integrated with interesting content. But we are happy to make less money for making a better product.
But you are also profitable in the process, with revenues of $138 million in the last quarter.
That is the great thing. If you have a lot of users, you have the circle running. But you have to focus on the user, first. If we had focussed on making money when we had 30 million users, we would not have reached where we are now.
With Coast, you redefined how people use the browser. But we have not seen that kind of innovation on Android, which is where the volumes lie.
Opera is all about innovation. We compete with all the big guys like Google, Apple and Microsoft. But their browsers have not changed much and their new features are what we brought in long ago. We believe that as long as we create unique features people will always use Opera. Coast is a good example of that. It took ten of our best developers and five designers over 10 months to create the app for the iPad; we had to unlearn everything we knew about a browser in the process.
We will soon take it to Android because that is when it will hit the big markets like India, Indonesia and Brazil. It was nice to experiment on iOS and we are quite sure that it will be adopted in bigger, more important, markets. But it will take some time.
How important is localisation for you?
We are improving on it and are trying to be local in the markets that we are in. We support 13 local Indian languages as we believe that the next 100 million to get connected in India will be outside the big cities.
Like Google, are you also thinking of projecting the browser as the operating system, especially in markets like India?
Yes. Our mobile app store is the third-largest in the world with 60 million downloads a month. We have 3 lakh apps in that store and are big in that space. We think there is huge potential in taking the web forward with HTML5. Developers can now create one app for all platforms and keeps the web open. They don’t have to be regulated by big companies anymore and don’t need to share revenues with them. This is important for India too as people here are still using the web more than native apps.