Ruchika Jha

We want to set benchmarks of our own: Veera's Adityan Kayalakal

The head of marketing for India's first mobile-only browser discusses the post-cookie era, viral 'Toilet Campaign', global browser market, & more.

In response to escalating privacy concerns, Google has announced the discontinuation of third-party cookies, introducing the Privacy Sandbox to fortify its privacy standards. Despite Google's efforts, this decision has faced a mixed reception from users and with the demand for privacy-first browsers on the rise there is a growing awareness among internet users regarding the need for enhanced online security.

In the midst of this global shift and riding the high of their viral Toilet Campaign, Veera, India's first mobile-only browser, aims to provide a faster, smarter, and more secure internet browsing experience.

In this expansive market, Veera takes a distinctive approach compared to browsers like Chrome, which initially started as desktop-first and later adapted for mobile use. Veera is exclusively designed as a mobile-only internet browser, aligning its strategy with the prevalent usage pattern in the Indian digital landscape.

In conversation with afaqs!, Adityan Kayalakal, head of marketing, Veera, says, “The reason was that the other brands weren’t designing the mobile-only format but focussed on desktop-first. I think that is the advantage of being fixated on India. We thought if we need the attention of the Indian audience, we should offer features that are easy and out-of-the-box. We ensure the least number of obstacles the moment a person installs Veera.”

As of 2023, India boasts the world's second-largest internet population, exceeding 1.2 billion users, according to Statista. The majority of Indians access the internet through mobile devices, with over one billion smartphones in the mobile-first nation contributing to nearly 90% of the traffic to major online platforms.

In a strategic move to connect with this extensive user base, Veera launched a bold campaign. Over the weekend of September 30 and October 1, 2023, Bandra in Mumbai became the canvas for an unconventional marketing initiative—an installation featuring a toilet with the message, "What's Private, Should Stay Private."

It was executed by the meme marketing company WLDD and Interspace, an integrated communications agency, joining forces to bring Veera's message to the public eye.

The campaign stood as a symbol of how privacy is treated in the industry today. Discussing the campaign's inception, Kayalakal explains, “We thought about what would be that one visual that would make people think twice or more about their own privacy and how will it make it front and centre for them. If a person is surrounded by four walls and it is taken away, there is no chance that he/she will use it. That is when we came up with this idea.”

The decision to install a toilet in a public space like Bandra's bandstand was unconventional for Veera. Typically, marketing campaigns involve more traditional methods, such as digital advertising or promotional events. However, in this instance, Veera opted for an attention-grabbing and unconventional approach by placing a physical toilet in a public setting.

“The idea of a bunch of people going out for a morning walk and seeing a toilet had us rolling with laughter. Bandstand has also got a natural amphitheatre where people can cluster and we would not be a nuisance in their way,” he adds.

Once the campaign was launched, the team anxiously waited to watch people’s reactions. “The response to all of this was sensational. We had more than 5.5 million people talking about the campaign after a few days. Everyone is recognising the brand through our campaign. If we can make people safe on the internet, we have done our job,” he shares.

Pushing the boundaries of conventional marketing, Veera's approach not only captured widespread attention but also fostered public discourse about privacy in the digital landscape.

To demonstrate that they don't just talk the talk but also walk the walk, the brand underscores its commitment to its users through features such as ad-blocking, tracking and crawler blocking, fast browsing, and pre-built content that dynamically updates based on user preferences.

In response to the increasing awareness among internet users regarding the unauthorised tracking of their online activities, individuals have become more cautious about their online behaviour.

In alignment with this awareness, Veera has introduced Kavach—an optional additional layer of privacy designed to enhance safe browsing. The Kavach feature safeguards users by effectively blocking the various trackers that typically trail a person's online movements, thereby improving browsing speed. Kayalakal explains, “When one needs to open a particular website to watch ads, they can switch Kavach off as that option also exists.”

Amid the ongoing ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023, there is a heightened demand for easy access to live scores. Recognising this sentiment, Veera took steps to capitalise on it. “Last weekend (October 14 and 15, 2023), we launched a cricket score widget. It sits on the home screen and can be seen below the search bar. We saw positive feedback after its introduction.” he explains.

Growth plans and phased product rollouts

Making the internet experience amazing is Veera’s reason to exist, affirms Kayalakal when questioned about the brand’s marketing strategies and growth plans. “Our products will be rolling out in phases in the next few months,” he adds.

The brand is currently focussed on browsing features that allow users to Browse Bindaas, enhancing their ability to navigate the internet effortlessly and enjoy a carefree browsing experience.

The upcoming stage will usher in Khelo Bindaas—a gaming library comprising casual games. This update is significant as the Indian mobile gaming industry, driven by Gen-Z, boasts over 400 million users, according to the 2023 Niko Partners India Games Market report.

With Khelo Bindaas, users will have the capability to play these games directly within the browser, eliminating the need to download additional apps. “We have taken almost 100 of India’s top casual games and pre-built them into Veera Gaming. By the end of the year, we will be having two more phases of features rolling out,” explains Kayalakal.

When it comes to selecting a marketing channel for brand promotion, Veera is currently not committed to any specific medium. According to Kayalakal, the team's primary focus in each phase has been to crack the right idea and execute it with excellence, and they intend to maintain this approach moving forward.

Challenges in the browser market

Building a browser entails months of hard work. Kayalakal mentions a challenge the brand is currently grappling with—the launch of Veera for iOS. He states, “Every browser on iOS is required to use Apple's WebKit rendering engine, so launching Veera on Apple would just be a re-branded version of Safari. There are a bunch of antitrust conversations floating around on this and hopefully this year we will see the end of that monopoly. Until then, we are focussing on the Android ecosystem where we can make an impact.”

Discussing industry challenges, Kayalakal observes stagnant demand, pointing to a lack of a competitive environment. “People for the longest time have been comfortable with no disruption in the space. Reminding users that they have a choice and they deserve a better experience is our focus,” he says.

Multiple reports outline the benefits and alternatives to ad-blockers. Concerning the development of a revenue model without ads, Veera will be fixed on a slew of things such as a default search engine, e-commerce and improving purchases. “We want to ensure that whatever offering we put out, that would be different from others and does not have customers holding heads and questioning themselves for choosing the browser.”

Maintaining a competitive edge in the international market

Spiritedly foraying into a vast and inflexible market amid an era-changing global digital shift, Veera positions itself as a secure, user-friendly, and fast mobile browser. 

“The name 'Veera' was chosen by the team to symbolise courage and align the brand with this powerful trait,” Kayalakal asserts.

With third-party cookies being banished, advertisers are actively exploring alternatives to navigate the evolving digital landscape in the absence of traditional tracking mechanisms. Kayalakal shares his perspective, stating that the decision by browsers to phase out cookies is a commendable initiative for the industry as a whole.

Discussing the increasing competition in tandem with the international market, he states, “It does not change our competitive advantage because they are still serving a whole bunch of ads. Every browser is trying to become an extension. Our primary focus is on becoming user-friendly, providing high productivity and easy to use. As of now, we cannot compare ourselves to the giants. We still are in our nascent stage. We want to set benchmarks of our own, especially in a consumer-oriented manner and going forward, this is where our focus and effort will be.”

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