Koo co-founder Aprameya Radhakrishna on platform's growth, competition with Twitter, its future and more
In recent months, homegrown social media platform Koo has seen tremendous growth in India, driven by the multi-lingual support it offers and the push it received by the Indian government.
Koo's user base touched about 15 million in October, with five million users added in the last quarter.
In an exclusive chat with hindustantimes.com, its founder and CEO Aprameya Radhakrishna talks about the idea behind starting Koo, its journey and future plans.
Here is the full interview:
Q. What was the intention of starting Koo? And has it succeeded in achieving the intended purpose? Take us through the journey.
Aprameya Radhakrishna: The idea of Koo occurred to us while we were building our first product - Vokal - which is a Q&A platform for native language speakers. Several users of Vokal would express their keen interest to share their free-flowing thoughts, in addition to answering questions on the platform. That’s when we recognised that when it comes to expressing online, there exists an immense opportunity waiting to be tapped, especially in native languages. In a country like India - where more than 90 per cent of our population thinks and speaks in a regional language - the power of expression in one's mother tongue is truly immense. We studied existing products and realised that content in Indian languages is sparse, as most social media platforms carry an English-first approach and are built primarily for English speakers residing in urban centres. Native speakers also carry a strong desire to connect and create content, but are left out of core internet experiences due to the English-centric foundations of most platforms. Thus, we started developing Koo as a multi-lingual micro-blogging platform for Indians to express in their mother tongue and connect with their linguistic and cultural communities. We started in December 2019 and launched the platform in March 2020 in Kannada from Mandya, which is a district near Mysuru (in Karnataka). We received a thunderous response at the launch which boosted our confidence, and eventually led us to introduce Hindi on the platform in the next few months.
In July 2020, we participated in the 'Aatmanirbhar App' challenge - and showcased a deeply immersive language experience for Indians. We were among the top three apps in social media out of the 7,000 startups that had participated in the challenge. And in August 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi mentioned Koo in his ‘Mann ki Baat’ address.
Q. Do you think Koo app can get ahead of Twitter in India? What is the current market share of Koo?
Aprameya Radhakrishna: Within 20 months of our launch - in October this year - Koo achieved a major milestone of 15 million downloads. Our first 10 million downloads happened in about a year and half, while the next five million users joined the platform in a quarter. This indicates that the Koo App is being adopted at an accelerated pace. As we move ahead, backed by our unique language features which provide an immersive experience, we are confident of outperforming ourselves and scaling at a rapid pace to hit 100 million downloads.
India has tremendous potential for a platform like ours. A recent report stated that India would have over 900 million internet users by 2025. Koo is one of the most unique social products that caters to every section of the society and promotes digital inclusion. It is also a powerful platform, with some of the most prominent faces of the country using it every day. We have received a lot of love and appreciation in such a short span and we will continue to scale and cross many more milestones in the future.
Q. This year, a very public spat between the government and Twitter made people sit up and take note of the Koo app and there was a flurry of activity to download it. How would you view that crisis in the larger picture of Koo's growth trajectory?
Aprameya Radhakrishna: In the larger scheme of things, the growth we got during the spat will seem like a small spurt. Our growth purely reflects people's desire to express and engage online in their mother tongue. It's a large, untapped need.
Q. For an average user, how is Koo different from Twitter?
Aprameya Radhakrishna: Koo and Twitter are both micro-blogging platforms. That is where the similarity ends. Koo is an innovative platform that democratises the voice of Indians by empowering them to express in native Indian languages - Hindi, Bengali, Assamese, Tamil, Telugu, Marathi, Kannada, Gujarati apart from English. We are working towards adding more native languages and our aim is to cover all the 22 official Indian languages. Moreover, we have a unique feature which enables creators to send their message in real-time across languages, while retaining the context and sentiment attached to the original text. This enhances a user’s reach, as the message can be consumed by people across the country in a language of their choice. Followership thus increases in a short span of time. In addition to these language features, we have communities for each language that is available on the platform. These communities celebrate the essence of their respective culture and regions. A user can engage with a community that reflects his/her interests and gain a meaningful experience.
Q. Tell us something about the revenue model of Koo.
Aprameya Radhakrishna: We are pre-revenue. Our priority right now is to grow the community and our tech capabilities.
Q. Micro-blogging has evolved during the last decade to become a powerful political tool. How does Koo view its evolution and what role it plans for itself in this space?
Aprameya Radhakrishna: There are many use cases for a product like Koo. One of them is the need for leaders and prominent personalities to stay in touch with people that want to hear from them. We enable them to do so in multiple languages - something no other does. These updates and two way conversations become invaluable when done in the language that the masses prefer.
Q. What is the traffic around elections and political issues on Koo? How seriously are people taking it?
Aprameya Radhakrishna: Koo is an inclusive platform for expression which is beyond politics. We have people from all walks of life including literature, sports, media, entertainment, theatre, spirituality, etc. In fact, 70-80 per cent of the content and people on Koo are totally unrelated to politics. But when it comes to politics, Koo has made significant progress in getting adopted by leaders of the ruling party and the opposition at both the national and state levels. This is because we are a transparent and inclusive platform. We have chief ministers of 17 states, various Union ministers, government departments and leaders across the political spectrum who actively Koo, and share updates on various initiatives and developments. Our multi-language features have made it easy for leaders to engage with their followers by conversing in their native language in a holistic manner.
In Uttar Pradesh, which is scheduled to go to the polls early next year, we believe that with the kind of traction we are seeing in terms of onboarding of political leaders, political parties, government departments and opinion leaders, a lot of the conversation about elections and candidates etc will happen on Koo exclusively. In addition, a large number of the people of UP have started creating accounts on Koo to consume content as well as share their own opinions - mostly in Hindi.
Q. For the upcoming assembly elections, have you planned anything special? Can we expect a digital-only feature that will set Koo apart from other micro-blogging apps?
Aprameya Radhakrishna: Apart from the wide range of content creators and users on the platform, Koo already has several smart features that can make it the app of choice for the elections. The most unique feature is enabling people to put across their message in multiple Indian languages and connect with multiple communities at one go. Other features include our Talk-to-Type feature - which enables a user to share their thoughts without having to type. A user can merely speak out aloud and the words are converted into text, making it the easiest way to communicate on a micro-blogging platform. This Talk-to-Type feature is especially useful for people who do not know how to write the language.
The Livestream feature, which was rolled out earlier this week, will create the opportunity for live discussions and debate on the platform and further enhance the experience for our users.
Q. The government is gung-ho about data localisation. How is Koo addressing this issue?
Aprameya Radhakrishna: Our servers are hosted in India. From our perspective, the reasons for regulations are understandable and we'll abide by these regulations respectfully.
Q. Which emerging technologies and trends offer maximum challenges and opportunities to a micro-blogging app like you?
Aprameya Radhakrishna: Our product framework is generic and enables open expression in the best form. We cater to the most core human needs - something that will never change. Any new technologies that better this communication are something that we'll adopt as a platform.
Q. Koo is often accused of having very little global exposure and not hosting any prominent international celebrity. Your thoughts.
Aprameya Radhakrishna: It's by design. Koo has been built for Indians to solve for language diversity. Our endeavour is to enable every Indian to express and share thoughts online in a language of their choice. The average Indian doesn't want to connect with international celebrities as much as they want to connect with local and national heroes they look upto and people like themselves.
This is true for many countries that aren't English-first and we will take our product to all such countries to enable better connections between people.