Koo will take microblogging format deeper into Indian languages: Mayank Bidawatka

Bidawatka, Co-Founder, Koo, said that they will keep investing in user experience, design, better product experiences, and proprietary technology

e4m by Javed Farooqui
Updated: Feb 22, 2021 8:47 AM
Mayank Bidawatka

Home-grown micro-blogging platform Koo has been the biggest beneficiary of the tussle between the central government and Twitter. The platform has gained traction in the last two weeks ever since union ministers and government departments announced their decision to set-up accounts on Koo. The platform, which had raised $4.1 million as part of Series A funding from Mohandas Pai’s 3one4 Capital, has touched 4.2 million app downloads. Koo co-founder Mayank Bidawatka spoke to exchange4media.com about the vision behind setting up the platform, the growth so far, and the plans ahead.


What was the vision behind launching Koo and how has the journey been so far?

We never started out saying let's clone Twitter or let's compete with Twitter. India is a country of 135 crore people with almost 50-60 crore people on the internet but just a few people having the ability to express themselves openly in an open expression platform like Twitter which has a much smaller base of 30 million compared to our potential. It is the case because it was designed for a global language. They never went deeper into Indian languages. We have 100+ languages with more than 50 languages with over a million speakers. If you want people to participate in social media in vernacular languages you have to deliver a very immersive language experience. If I am a Kannadiga I should be able to find other Kannadigas. I should be able to speak my mind in Kannada. That is what we started out with when we launched in March last year. That's our mission.

For example, Karnataka is a state of 60-70 million but if you go to Twitter you will find just 1,000 Kannada tweets a day out of 500 million tweets globally on Twitter. So, local language tweets are a very small percentage. That is a very important problem to solve. So various events joined together....there were issues between Twitter and the Government of India (GoI). The GoI took a stance and Koo was the only alternative that was available and ready in terms of technology. It already had some traction as people were using it even before this. The response has been overwhelming.

Personally, I have tremendous respect for Twitter. It is a great product and I use it myself. I think they have given a voice to the world. We want to take this format of microblogging and go deeper into Indian lanugages. We also want to create a more deeper and immersive experience as well.

What are the challenges in building a platform that encourages interactivity in native Indian languages?

I don't think there are any challenges. There are lots of opportunities out there. We just have to grow fast. These are all winner takes it all businesses. These are network businesses. So it all depends on how fast you can get your tech to deliver. How fast you are scaling. Everyone doesn't make it because you need a lot of experience to build network businesses. These are difficult businesses to build. We are dealing with a chicken and egg problem. So creators will not come unless consumers are there and consumers will not come unless creators are there. So you have a deadlock there. So to solve that issue you need to know which part to concentrate on. How do you get it going? How do you create a network? So there are lots of nuances to build a business like this to stand up on its feet.

Can you talk about your KPIs? What kind of user growth are you witnessing?

A lot of growth has happened in the last two weeks. We acquired quite a few users in that period. We crossed about 4.2 million downloads. In a few days, we should cross 5 million downloads. There has been a 15-20X growth on the app side and 60X growth on the website. What has happened is that a lot of awareness has been built. So every day you have celebrities, politicians, journalists, and prominent personalities of India joining in. A lot of good has come out of these events for our platform.

Without this controversy, would you have seen the kind of growth that has happened?

It would have happened at a certain pace and out of our own efforts. It may not have been as accelerated as it has been in this particular case. It's like demonetisation moment for Paytm. Would Paytm have become as big as it is? Well, probably yes because there is a Digital India movement and not because of a ban. But without the ban, it would have taken a few more years. Big Basket has suddenly seen a surge but they have been marketing for the last 10 years. There has been a jump in its usage because of Covid-19 related issues. It is all about readiness to take advantage of opportunities in the market.

How will you sustain the growth momentum?

A promise like this is just about ensuring that the platform works well. I think because of a sudden spurt we have some teething issues as our technology is yet to scale-up. Only 4-5% of the people faced some issues the rest of them are still happy. This happens to the best of the companies. It happens to the smallest of the companies. It is a very common issue in the tech world. No matter how much you prepare these kinds of things do crop up. As a young company, we look at it as learning. We have to ensure that we get up and get ready for scale. We have robust systems in place. There are a lot of things that we need to put in place. For us, it is a marathon and I don't look at tech glitches as a setback. A good part of the country is yet to experience open expression.

How are you scaling up the technology to handle the growing user base?

There are ways in which you scale and the scaling happens on the server-side, database side, things related to security and stuff. We need to rearchitect some of our systems. That is when you can scale-up 100 or 200X. We have some of the best tech advisors. We have a strong tech team with rich experience in the start-up ecosystem. We are getting good advisors to help the team scale-up at a much rapid pace. Sometimes, people don't realise that we are a very small start-up. Twitter has 4,000 employees, we have 40. When Twitter was eight months old there used to be an outage every day. In few months, you will see a world-class product being built. We just need some time and patience. It is very difficult to be batting when there are a billion Indians watching. We are getting a lot of appreciation for what we are doing. There are some people who are clapping for us while some people are dragging us down. I would like to concentrate on the claps right now.

Issues like fake news, hate speech, abusive language, etc plague social media platforms. How do you plan to tackle these challenges?

No matter what we want all these platforms to be a reflection of society. There are some people who are positive and some people who are negative. The negative guys will not change their stance no matter what happens. I can't stop a negative guy from coming and using the platform. We will use algorithms and machine learning to tackle these issues. We have also given out a lot of community tools. Since so many people are using the platform we are giving tools to people to report questionable content and also mention why they are reporting something. We will not disclose the identity of a person who reports a Koo post. We also have a complaint redressal mechanism. As far as fake news is concerned, it can be tackled through tech. A lot of start-ups are working in this area. We can find the source of a story if we can keep tracing it back.

What about the issue of data privacy?

All the data that we have on the platform is the data that is put out by people for other people to see. There is a difference between public and private networks. A WhatsApp chat is my private world and nobody can snoop into it. However, a micro-blogging site is a public platform. I am putting out my data on the platform. These are my demographics, these are my interests, these are the things I am saying and these are the things that I am liking. It's out there for everyone to see. So these are different products.

You had recently raised funding of $4.1 million. What are the plans going ahead?

Koo doesn't need too much money to run the operations. The funds will largely go into products and technology. There is a lot of interest in Koo from investors. We will keep investing in user experience, design, better product experiences, and proprietary technology. We will keep raising capital as and when we need funds.

Expanding the team is our great priority now. We are finding great tech talent. In terms of business, we want to expand the number of languages. We want to go deeper into each language. We want to get to at least 25+ languages by the end of the year. We want to enhance our capability to grow a lot faster.

Have you started monetisation or are you waiting for the platform to develop some scale?

We will not monetise till we build some sort of scale. There are lots of ways in which we can monetise because you have a lot of parties that benefit. You have users, brands, creators, and public figures. We have so many different types of people on the platform who aren't available anywhere else. There is a unique demographic that comes and accesses this platform.

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