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Opinion: Why Google's $140 million investment in Glance is a masterstroke

For cricket lovers, the word glance signifies a shot played by the batsman when he caresses the ball behind the stumps. "What a shot&q...

For cricket lovers, the word glance signifies a shot played by the batsman when he caresses the ball behind the stumps. "What a shot", is how aficionados applaud the finesse of the glance. A day after Google pumped $140 million into an Indian startup called Glance delivering AI-driven personalised content over Android phones, we applaud with the same words. 

Why so? Because both Glance and its parent company InMobi came into prominence seeking a piece of the online advertisement pie owned and operated by the likes of Google and Facebook for years. The fund infusion, coming from Google's India war chest of $10 billion, took Glance to unicorn status, and the fastest one to achieve the status. 

The latest round of investments into Glance is led by Google and existing investor Peter Thiel's  Mithril Partners, which was also part of the early stage growth of PayPal, Facebook and AirBNB. 

A glance at the Glance app

InMobi, which itself is a Bangalore-based unicorn, launched the Glance app in 2018 to serve news, media content and games on the lock screen of Android phones. 

The app, which boasts more than 115 million users, had bypassed Google's Play Store totally, focusing instead on chasing OEMs such as Xiaomi and Samsung to pre-install the app. Also, unlike the Sharechats of this world, Glance doesn't focus on user-generated content, focusing instead on local news, stories and casual games that it delivers using the power of AI. 

However, what makes Glance unique is that it's business-to-consumer model is contrary to the ad-tech company that owns it on the premise that it would not run ads. But, that's not all. Late last year, InMobi acquired Roposo, a startup that offers a short-form video platform. With TikTok out of contention following India's ban on Chinese apps, Google's latest largesse would help.

Risk mitigation and growth

Details of the funding that InMobi released via statements suggest that the monies would be used to deepen its Artificial Intelligence capability, not just at Glance but also at Roposo. It will also be used to expand the technology team, create a services platform, strengthen marketing of the brand and drive expansion into the US and South America. 

A statement from Google's vice-president Caesar Sengupta termed Glance as a great example of innovation solving mobile-first and mobile-only consumption in local Indian languages. Some of our readers may recall that Google is facing legal challenges from a slew of Indian companies who accused it of anti-competitive practices. But, Glance kept a safe distance. 

And by doing so, mitigated the biggest risk that it could have faced from the likes of Google by getting investments from the very company that has in the past been known to curb the growth of companies that could result in potential competition. The story of Unlockd and its ban by Google is still spoken of in hushed tones. Before it filed for bankruptcy, the US-based firm was serving ads to users when they opened their smartphones. 

A deft shot indeed

So, in many ways Glance has brought its biggest fear into the boardroom by offering a stake in its fortunes, which by the way hasn't been disclosed by the company. Suffice to say that Glance has all that Google would want to own in India - language content, partnerships with media, a short-form video platform and big aspirations. 

“Glance is reimagining the future of digital consumption on smartphones,” says Naveen Tewari, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Glance and InMobi Group, in a statement, bringing forth the value of having Google back two of the "largest digital content platforms" of India.  

Does the deal ensure that Glance would soon land up on Google's Play Store? Because, if it doesn't there is a chance that users would continue to remove the app as bloatware when they unpack their latest smartphone. 



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