Ku made a Twitter coup in India Startup stories

After the dispute between the Indian government and Twitter continued earlier this year, when it refused to remove a handful of tweets critical of India’s farm laws, the prospects for Twitter’s local competitor, Ku, are starting to look brighter.

A Bengaluru-headquartered micro-blogging platform called Kuku Calling launched on Twitter on February 9, with several Indian government ministers including the Indian Railway Minister tweeting their followers to Connect with them on co. While the app was mentioned by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a radio broadcast a few months ago, the company’s real growth came after the feud between New Delhi and Twitter escalated in February.

“It is the current microblogging site where key ministers of the Government of India have joined the platform. [Twitter] Does not comply with certain laws. They had to make sure there was another place they could go to connect with the citizens,” said Ku co-founder Aprameya Radhakrishna. CASIA.

In February this year, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology announced new guidelines under the IT Rules 2021. The rules are meant to hold social media companies accountable for content posted on the platform. For that, social media companies must appoint a round-the-clock monitoring officer to resolve government issues within 72 hours of the request. Twitter is challenging its IT rules in an Indian court as unconstitutional.

Twitter has been involved in a long-drawn-out battle with the government, while local competitor Ku is using the time to grow. Koo recorded more than 3 million downloads within two days of its debut on Twitter.

Bird call

Radhakrishna is a serial entrepreneur. His first startup was a cab-hailing company called Taxi Foursure. In the year In 2016, a year after selling the company to Ola for $200 million, he launched a peer-to-peer knowledge sharing app called Vocal. Like Quora, users post questions on the app and wait for others to answer them. You can do this by writing or recording a voice message, and Vocal welcomes users to do so in their own language; India has 22 officially recognized major languages ​​and hundreds of dialects. The idea of ​​building Radhakrishna Kun came to him while measuring vocals.

In the year In late 2019, Radhakrishna along with co-founder Mayank Bidhwakta began traveling to different states to talk to vocal users to understand what they wanted on the social networking platform. The goal was to build new features for Vocals based on their interactions with users.

“During our visit to Lucknow [a north Indian city]We asked people what their interests were. They didn’t know how to answer. But when we asked them who they follow online, whose opinion they appreciate, or what kind of news they need, they came up with multiple answers within 30 seconds.” Radhakrishna said.

Read this: Social media giants WhatsApp and Twitter take Indian government to court over new IT bill

Then there was another group of users who, instead of just posting questions on Voice, wanted to express themselves in their own language, follow people with similar interests and, most importantly, connect with people who share the same language background.

“The users we talked to don’t use Twitter and haven’t even heard of it. They use Facebook, but mostly to connect with existing friends. What they were looking for was something that could connect them with new people online based on some common ground,” said Radhakrishna.

The co-founders used the feedback to create a Ku prototype, which had some of Twitter’s functionality but with localized language options. Ku launched in March 2020 and has already clocked over 6 million downloads.

The look and feel of the app is similar to Twitter. Ku logo from Twitter blue Larry T. A bird is a bird, even if it is yellow in contrast. The features are the same as Twitter—post, follow, and curate a personalized feed. There are hashtags, polls, verified users, and trending topics, all of which are familiar to Twitter users.

“Facebook looks like Orkut, you could say Ku looks like Twitter. The concept of social networks, to some extent, is limited to consumption. We’ve made some minor changes, like instead of ‘retweet’, we now have the option to ‘retweet’. We don’t have a heart key, we have a love key. There are only so many ways you can customize the design of a social media app,” says Radhakrishna.

Ku’s international expansion.

In addition to India tightening its grip on Twitter, this year the microblogging platform has continued to receive scrutiny from governments around the world, including Russia and Nigeria. With Twitter facing serious obstacles in other parts of the world, Ku is looking to expand beyond India. After Nigeria’s indefinite ban on Twitter last week – the result of a series of events that followed Twitter deleting a tweet from the country’s president – Radhakrishna Koo announced that he was staying in Nigeria. Within a week, the Nigerian government made an official account on Ku and has over 2,300 followers.

At a time when Facebook and Twitter seem to be dominating social media, Koo’s sudden rise has attracted Indian and overseas VCs — backed by Indian government officials.

Last month, Tiger Global led a $30 million Series B round, three months after raising $4 million in February. “Tiger Global has been very aggressive in its investments in India in recent times. They like to invest in market leaders and we are definitely at the forefront,” Radhakrishna said.

According to the founder, social media companies building platforms in local languages ​​will be the next big thing in India as more people connect to the internet across the country. Currently, Ku users can browse the app and write posts in six different languages. “We want to build communities in each language. We see people discussing topics related to their communities in their own languages. So hashtag trends are available in local languages ​​as well,” he said.

Radhakrishna said the company is still developing its product and acquiring new users, so there is no rush to carve out revenue streams. The company will start monetizing once it reaches 100 million downloads. “We want to innovate more on the theme of expressing ourselves in our own language. We are fortunate to have found this sweet spot in research to develop vocals in 2019.”

This article is part of KrASIA’s “Startup Stories” series, where KrASIA writers talk to founders of tech companies in South and Southeast Asia.

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