Ever since the Indian government has banned 59 Chinese apps, including the popular short-video platform TikTok, users and creators have been searching for an Indian alternative with similar reach, virality and range of content. Most of the apps may not develop into world-class products, but their eyes are fixed on the next billion smartphone users residing in small towns and villages, comfortable in various Indian languages.
A look at the various Indian short-video platforms, their journeys and what is cooking in their tech lab.
‘Agar aapko Sachin ke WhatsApp group mein aana hai, toh apna phone number daal dijiye’ – this post on a Sachin Tendulkar fan page on Facebook, with over 50K comments, became the genesis of ShareChat, in 2015. Ankush Sachdeva, Bhanu Pratap Singh and Farid Ahsan, of Mohalla Tech, created 10 WhatsApp groups around the popular cricketer with 100 members in each. “Within minutes, the groups were flooded with all kinds of content, including jokes, pictures, videos – most of them in native languages. This was an eye-opener. We saw the huge appetite users had for local content,” says Ahsan, COO and co-founder.
Internet users from Tier 2 and 3 cities found it tough to be expressive in English and connect culturally on social media platforms. There was also a content vacuum in the regional language space. Though they made English available in the initial versions of ShareChat, over 80 per cent of the users selected it despite being uncomfortable. It was the other 20 per cent, who had opted for regional languages, who were driving the engagement on the platform. In the third version of ShareChat, they eliminated English, and engagement grew multifold in the following days.
Right after the TikTok ban, the company announced Moj “to fill the vacuum and encourage local artists to showcase their talents”. Currently, it has over 50 million downloads. “The product has been improving with every version, and soon it will have lots of special effects, camera filters, stickers, magical effects for selfies and many more elements,” says the Bengaluru-based tech entrepreneur. Meanwhile, ShareChat is clocking half a million downloads every hour. It has over 400 million registered users, with over 130 million monthly active users.
Discussions to develop Mitron started in February this year between Shivank Agarwal and Anish Khandelwal. When COVID-19 made people stay in and work from home and social life moved online, the resolve to make a platform combining the social with entertainment became stronger. “We wanted to explore if close community interactions were possible within the short-video domain,” says Khandelwal. Launched in May, Mitron announced the closure of its seed round led by 3one4 Capital and a LetsVenture syndicate led by Arun Tadanki. Apart from allowing users to create, upload, view, and share entertaining short videos, it is also looking at content on skill development. “People can create DIY videos, a government organisation can talk about farming techniques, and awareness on lesser-known cultures and festivals can be created,” says Bengaluru-based Khandelwal.
Right now the focus is on optimising the video output size, and on user and content attribution. To increase daily active users is a task. “Even if they download, are they coming back after 30 days or not? That is a very important metric to measure. User retention is also important. If people are engaged, they are more likely to come back,” says Khandelwal.
Developed by Sumeru Softwares, a company affiliated with the spiritual organisation The Art of Living, Elyments was touted as the first Indian “social media super app” and has since clocked over two million downloads. Created by a group of over a thousand IT specialists, one of the main reasons behind developing the app was data ownership and residency, says Rajesh Krishnamurthy, COO, “We guarantee that user data will be stored within India, and will not be shared without consent.”
Users can chat, make audio/video calls, share and like posts, and discover influencers. The team is planning to add features like audio/video conferencing, secure payments and a curated commerce platform. With a combination of various features and tech trends, the idea is to have them engage with one another. “For instance, if you’re shopping and would like to discuss with your friends about it, you’ll be able to chat and take an opinion within the same app,” he says. Available in eight Indian languages, it has English and Spanish too.
Within four hours of the launch, the app faced a malicious DDoS attack with two million malicious requests a minute. “It actually caught us by surprise. It is quite rare that on the day you launch, you get hit by a thousand servers coordinating from different parts of the world. Four or five days after the attack, we got about a million malicious downloads, we stopped them at the gate,” says Bengaluru-based Krishnamurthy. At the moment, increasing daily active users along with stronger and smooth integration between different features is the focus of the company.
“People want to engage in meaningful conversations on social media, and want to reduce the degree of separation between the creator and the followers, on a platform that can monetise content,” says Shubhendra Vikram, CEO & Founder of Hapramp, on the idea behind GoSocial. Mahindra Group Chairman Anand Mahindra has invested $1 million in the startup. This social media platform for creators, like artists, designers, writers and photographers, has an idea room for users to subscribe to. If a creator can create a threshold of users on her idea, a resource tab enables the sale of a workshop or work.
“Right now, we have audiences from the age of 14 to 25, who are interested in learning a particular skill or building their persona around it,” he says. Currently, they arrange workshops outside of the app, but soon they will make it happen, along with a payment gateway on the app. A premium section of the idea room can have exclusive content and live sessions too. At the moment, content is in the form of photos and graphics, but integrating videos is the next step. “We wanted to add videos six months down the line, but it has become a priority now. It opens up a very big horizon as more genres of content like cooking or dance can be explored,” says Vikram.
Go Social isn’t investing in marketing the platform, but on improving the feed experience. In three months, it has clocked over 100,000 downloads. Also it doesn’t want to position itself as an India-only app. “Our focus is to create a global Made-in-India product,” says Gurugram-based Vikram.
After India went into lockdown due to COVID-19, Spark.live was approached by a number of experts that they were seeing a revenue loss and unable to continue their businesses. It was then the discovery service, which served more as a directory, added features and built a platform where users could watch short videos, book sessions and make payments on the same app. With over 1.5 million downloads, Spark.live is a premium expert consultation provider for everything from yoga to music — all online.
“There are many people in the smaller towns, say dieticians and nutritionists, who run their clinics in a small office and function offline. If they’d come online on say Instagram, the user would pay through Google Pay and meet on Zoom. Instead, we got it together on one app,” says Bengaluru-based Soum Paul, founder of Home Screen Network, the parent company. It also got rid of spam users, and ensured privacy. With a focus on smaller towns in India and Indian languages, their plan is to enable organisations and businesses in running their operation online. “We also want to bring in group classes and interconnect users to form communities built around the same interest,” he said.
While working on an online platform that helped MBA aspirants, Varun Saxena noticed a high traffic for general knowledge videos, especially in Hindi and Tamil. Many users, they realised, were watching videos not only for exams. “They wanted to share their views on different topics and get into debates. So we started looking at content which could go beyond entertainment and news and saw a huge opportunity in infotainment-based content. It could vary from technology, and fashion to motivational stories,” says Saxena, about Bolo Indya. This short-video app that he developed with Tanmai Paul has over 4.5 million downloads with 23 lakh daily active users and 39.7 lakh monthly active users. It also announced recently raising $500,000 investment from Eagle10 Ventures and India Accelerator Group.
“TikTok offered two major things to the creators, it was making them go viral in a short span of time, and the top one per cent were getting brand partnerships. We want to allow people to build a strong social capital on the platform and then be able to monetise it by delivering their skill set and knowledge. People can see the videos and then choose to consult them for a personalised session. For example, we have an Indian Idol singer, who has a strong follower base. The best thing is that creators work on creating quality content, which reduces consumer acquisition costs for us,” says Saxena.
Apart from smaller towns and deeper pockets of Indian metros, the platform is also seeing demand for the vernacular among the diaspora in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka.
At the moment, the focus is on developing creative features. “Indians have a lot of experience, information and knowledge to share, but most of the time, they hesitate in sharing it as they believe that they are not good speakers. So, we are working on building features that will enhance screen presence and empower Indian content creators.
It was in July 2014 that Roposo, the brainchild of three IIT Delhi alumni – Mayank Bhangadia, Avinash Saxena and Kaushal Shubhank – was launched as a fashion social network. “It was a platform for users to find people with common interests,” says Bengaluru-based Avinash Saxena, Co-founder (Roposo) and Vice President (Glance). But the platform soon expanded to include themes such as music, dance, citizen journalism, health, cooking.
“We began with videos and photos on fashion, but people started posting on everything that is important to them,” he says. The platform is available in as many as 12 Indian languages and has more than 80 million videos created monthly.
In November last year, it was acquired by InMobi’s Glance Digital Experience, the mobile content platform. The platform works on a remunerative advantage and revenue sharing model for the creators in the form of Roposo coins (1,000 Roposo coins = Rs 1). Instead of a single feed, it has various channels, such as For You, Beats, Haha Tv, Soulful Quotes, Filmistan, Roposo Stars, Covid-19, Daily Wishes, among others, catering to various themes. Anyone from a city or a village, speaking any of these languages, or from any age group can become a star on this platform.
Since the ban on Chinese apps, Roposo’s new user base has increased to 35 million, and has also become one of the top trending applications on Google Play Store. With over 85 million downloads and two billion video views a day, it has emerged as one of the more popular apps in the last one month.