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How NewsDog’s Yi Ma broke the Cultural Barrier to build Successful Vernacular Startup in India

Can a Chinese entrepreneur really build a successful Indian startup or product without having an iota of knowledge about Indian culture or its people? Conventionally, this is a challenging task for any foreign entrepreneur (let alone Chinese entrepreneur), but surely not impossible. And you will know why it is not impossible once you meet Yi Ma, who along with her partner Chen Yukun, has pulled off an unlikely success story in India’s startup ecosystem.

Today her news aggregator app NewsDog is one of the most successful players in India’s vernacular news aggregation space. The app’s 50 million downloads is good enough indictor about how NewsDog has emerged as a significant player in a very short span of time. But the coolest thing about Yi Ma is that, apart from few Hindi words, she could hardly mutter any Indian languages.

Yi Ma, co-founder of news aggregator startup NewsDog

Yi Ma has achieved phenomenal success in a world that continues to be completely alien to her. Ma’ success amply proves that dynamic entrepreneurship has the power to shatter any cultural barrier.

Below are some of the important excerpts from Yi Ma’s recent interview. This brief interview was published in a leading online startup publication.

Why India and Why not China?

According to Yi Ma, India’s increasing internet and smartphone penetration was really hard to overlook. “India’s digital market is big due to its population, and it’s a big market opportunity for us. So, we chose to set up shop in India,” Ma claims.

Ma also sought lot of inspiration from Toutiao’s phenomenal success back in China. Toutia was launched nearly six years ago when internet penetration started rapidly picking up across China. Today the news aggregator app has nearly 120 Mn active users and boasts almost $20 Bn market valuation.

Interestingly, today Ma’s NewsDog faces direct competition from Toutia backed Dailyhunt. Toutia along with other investors had pumped $25 Mn in Dailyhunt in 2016.

Pressure to maintain content quality

Today NewsDog has more than 50 Mn downloads and is a more player in news aggregation space.

With millions of active users across India, the pressure on NewsDog to maintain content quality is immense. Yi Ma says that the company is pursuing two-fold approach for maintaining content quality. “We have editors in different languages who decide what can be published or not,” she says. She further adds that these editors are also responsible for maintaining consistency in quality.

Speaking about the second approach, Ma claims that NewsDog works really hard to cater to the right interests of the readers.

“If the audiences want to read about astrology, we give them astrology; if they are interested in Bollywood celebrities, we give them that,” she adds.

Challenge of language barrier    

Yi Ma makes no bones about the fact that her inability to speak or understand Indian languages does create communication problems. These problems were even more severe during the initial days when as an employer she was completely new to everyone. However, Ma claims that over the years she has learnt several ropes and tricks to counter the communication problem.

The young Chinese entrepreneur also claims that she has team of trusted collogues who sincerely help her in bridging the communication gap.

Separately, this restless business woman claims that she continues to make sincere efforts to learn as much as possible about Indian culture and languages.

What it means to be a woman entrepreneur? 

Like almost all facets of our society, even entrepreneurship has always been dominated by men since time immemorial. This ruthless domination continues even today as women entrepreneurs are found few and far between in the corporate world.

So was it really tough for Yi Ma to pave her way to success in the male dominated corporate world?

Ma has a surprising answer for this one. This young Chinese woman claims that she has never attached undue importance to the fact that she is an woman entrepreneur. She points out that every entrepreneur has to work had irrespective of the gender.

However, she does admit that number of women entrepreneurs are far less in both India  & China.


Please note: The interview was originally published on Although some of the quotes of Sridhar Vembu has not been changed, rest of the interview has been rewritten to avoid copyright violation. 


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