Chinese under check and Tussle with Twitter
In June, 2020, the Indian Government banned 59 Chinese apps including Tiktok, Helo, SHAREit, etc. This was a reaction by the Government after tensions with China escalated at the Ladakh border. Secondly, when farmers’ protests intensified, the Government got into a tussle with micro-blogging platform Twitter over misinformation being spread by the social media app. Government wanted Twitter to close several accounts; Twitter closed a few but refused to close many others, citing freedom of expression. The situation was indeed an opportune one for several Indian start-ups who were waiting on the sidelines and looking to create an alternative to several global social media platforms.
A Koo(l) new app
One such social media platform was Koo, which was India’s answer to Twitter. Koo was started in March, 2020 by co-founders Aprameya Radhakrishna and Mayank Bidawatka. It was intended to be a micro-blogging platform for Indians in various Indian languages. According to the application’s mission statement, “Almost 1 billion people in India don’t know English. Instead, they speak one of India’s 100s of languages. They are now getting access to smartphones and would love the internet in their language. Koo is an attempt to make the voice of these Indians heard.” According to Google Play Store, Koo has a rating of 4.6 out of 5 and its founders claim that it has more than 3mn downloads till date. The rating on iOS Apple Store is 4.1. The app is available in several languages, including Hindi, Telugu, Kannada, Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi, Odiya and Assamese. The character limit for a ‘Koo’ is 400, as opposed to Twitter\’s character limit of 280.
Co-Founder and CEO at Koo
A strong tussle between Twitter and Government of India helped Koo garner a lot of attention. In fact, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology used Koo for expressing “strong displeasure” against Twitter for not taking down certain content, which allegedly incited violence. In fact, the Government even threatened to take action against Twitter officials with jail also being a possibility.Government’s blessings
Several cabinet Ministers took to Koo in February, 2021 and started posting content in Hindi. Koo was hailed as an Indian success in the field of micro-blogging. The Government mentioned that it could start sharing important public announcements on Koo first and on Twitter after 1-3 hours. In fact, it was speculated that ministers, bureaucrats, ministries and departments could first share their updates on Koo and then copy-paste that link on Twitter. So it looks like the Government is likely to go the extra mile to promote India’s very own micro-blogging platform.
While being hailed as an Indian micro-blogging success, Koo did have a small stake (close to 9%) held by Chinese venture-capital fund Shunwei Capital. However, CEO and co-founder Mr. Aprameya Radhakrishna stated that the VC fund would soon exit the firm. Shunwei had invested in Koo through Bombinate Technologies, the holding company of Koo, about 2.5 years ago.
True to the CEO’s words, in March, 2021, Shunwei sold its minority stake in Koo to a spate of prominent personalities and entrepreneurs and exited the company. Among the ones who bought Shunwei’s stake were former Indian cricketer Javagal Srinath, BookMyShow founder Ashish Hemrajani, Udaan co-founder Sujeet Kumar, Flipkart CEO Kalyan Krishnamurthy, and Zerodha founder Nikhil Kamat.
Fund raising and valuation
Till February, 2021, Koo had raised $4.1mn (Rs. 29.9cr) from investors including Infosys veteran Mohandas Pai’s 3one4 Capital, Kalaari Capital, and Blume Ventures. According to website entrackr (Fintrackr), Koo is currently worth Rs. 190cr – Rs. 200cr against valuation of Rs. 149cr in 2018. While the CEO holds largest stake in the company (33.12%),Accel Partners holds 21.32%. Others include Dream Incubator, Pivot Ventures, Venkatram Krishnan, Sharda Balaji and Ritesh Baglani.
Koo app shareholding pattern
Where does Koo app go from here?
Koo has got all the right ingredients to create a loyal user base in India – patronage from the Indian Government, favorable political developments and investments from marquee names. However, the task ahead is not going to be easy. Against 3mn downloads for Koo, Twitter has 17.5mn users. This is a huge scale to match. Apart from being “Indian at heart”, Koo will have to keep introducing new features to increase its user base, keep users engaged and keep away from all the follies that Twitter allegedly committed.
The biggest bonus for Koo could come if the Government of India bans Twitter, though we are not trying to say that the Government could do something like that any soon. However, considering that the Government banned Tik Tok outright, one cannot deny the possibility. Tik Tok also had 20 mn users in India, a number by no means small.
We do not want to predict the future for Koo, it is still early days and the likelihood of success and failure are almost evenly placed. Going head-on with Twitter will be an uphill task. It would rather serve the app well if it can create a niche for itself and serve that niche well.
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