Little known Indian social media app Koo won the second prize in the Aatmanirbhar App Challenge hosted by MyGov and Niti Aayog, therefore bringing it squarely into the spotlight. Interestingly, Koo has a different stance to most of its rivals when it comes to cashing in on the ‘made in India’ vernacular social media trend that arose as a result of popular social media app TikTok being banned from India. This stance is based on news and personalities, all delivered in vernacular languages to help politicians, sports personalities and actors connect with Indians in local languages.
The advantage of this is two-fold – one, Koo now has the opportunity to see considerable growth in user numbers, organically. Speaking to News18, Koo’s co-founder Mayank Bidawatka stated that the service is already seeing attention from personalities across various spheres, with union telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad joining the platform two days ago. On this note, Bidawatka says that he expects prime minister Narendra Modi to join Koo very soon.
The idea behind Koo came to Bidawatka and his co-founding partner Aprameya Radhakrishna from a void in vernacular language users that they noted on Twitter. “As per our data, we saw that only about 0.05 percent of posts made on Twitter every day was in vernacular Indian languages. However, we also noted that over 90 percent of these posts were made by Indians residing in our country itself. This gave us the belief that there is a demand for a platform like Twitter in India,” he said.
On this note, Bidawatka noted that Twitter appeared to be more tuned towards metropolitan users, which may be inhibiting users to join the platform or post on it. He states that Koo presently has about 750,000 total downloads, but does not disclose the daily/monthly active user count, since the app is still in very nascent stages. “We already offer the platform in Kannada, which is what we started with, and have only recently also introduced Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. We already allow users to post or ‘Koo’ in text, audio and video, and also show them a categorised ‘People’ view in the app,” says Bidawatka.
This ‘People’ view can be all critical, since it shows new users a list of politicians, actors, sports personalities, journalists and more users to follow as soon as they launch. It is this that Bidawatka believes gives Koo a massive scope of growth in India. “A personality like PM Modi would not want to associate with a platform like TikTok. However, a platform like Koo can give him good scope to reach out to his vernacular followers, such as those who speak Gujarati,” Bidawatka says. Gujarati is in the list of seven total vernacular languages that Koo aims to launch soon, with the other six being Marathi, Bangla, Malayalam, Oriya, Punjabi and Assamese.
Bidawatka affirms that there is a lot of learning as well as technology that has been borrowed over from their other ‘made for India’ app, Vokal. The latter, he says, has now grown to host 15 million active users, up from 2 million since News18 spoke to him a year ago. Talking about winning the government challenge, Bidawatka says that the key draw from here would be the visibility that Koo would get, which he hopes will translate to government officials promoting the app themselves. This will be the key to Koo seeing organic growth in the vernacular Indian user space. “Apps like Twitter grew this big because they were increasingly cited in TV channels and other media, which we hope would be one of the impacts that Koo receives,” Bidawatka adds.
While he does not disclose funding details for Koo, Bidawatka confirms that the app is in “advanced stage” talks with numerous investors, and has attracted considerable interest from various sources. However, he refrained from disclosing any further concrete details. While Koo appears to have missed the TikTok bus of short video social media post format, Bidawatka says that he and his business partner are comfortable with the niche that Koo is targeting.
“There is certainly a large amount of interest in following key personalities and listening to what these people are saying among our users. It is this gap that we are targeting, and we believe that the scope of organic growth in this space is great in India, as more people come online in the country,” he adds.
Koo is already available on both Android’s Google Play Store, and Apple’s iOS App Store. The overall design and layout of the Koo app is rather similar to Twitter, although this may actually be beneficial for the app in the long run.