“We believe that the internet should enable, not impede”: Koo’s Mayank Bidawatka

“We believe that the internet should enable, not impede”: Koo’s Mayank Bidawatka

Koo wants to help everyone talk to each other irrespective of their language.

Mumbai: Launched in March 2020, Koo is the second-largest micro-blogging platform available to the world - offering 20+ global languages. Following Twitter’s acquisition by Elon Musk, rivals are looking to take advantage. One of them is Koo. An innovator of language-based microblogging, Koo is an inclusive platform that provides an easy-to-use interface, free verification, edit functionality, and multilingual posting.

The platform Koo co-founder Mayank Bidawatka explains that it is simple, transparent, secure and free for all users across the globe, built with the intention of creating the most inclusive community in the world. Koo is an independent startup backed by global investors including Tiger Global and Accel Partners. To date, it has over 60 million downloads and is used in over 100 countries.

Indiantelevision.com caught up with Bidawatka. Koo is the brainchild of founders Bidawatka and Aprameya Radhakrishna who wanted to create a platform to discover and connect people with similar interests and languages. Bidawatka is also the co-founder of Vokal, an expert-based vernacular Q&A platform in Indian languages. He has also co-founded Bombinate Technologies- the holding company that builds products for Indian vernacular audiences. Vokal and Koo are products of the same company

 As a serial entrepreneur, Bidawatka was a part of the foundation and core team at ‘redBus’- the world’s largest online bus ticketing platform. Soon after which he co-founded The Media Ant- a media discovery tool that aggregated all the ad spaces in India along with Goodbox, Vokal to name a few.

Bidawatka is a graduate of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), Manila. Before embarking on his entrepreneurial journey, he was a banker at ICICI Bank. He is an angel investor who has invested in startups like Vogo, TapChief, Third wave, Loca, Yolo Bus and Glamyo, and many more.

Edited Excerpts: 

On how the idea of launching Koo came about

We created a multilingual micro-blogging platform to help unheard voices on the internet. We noticed that 80% of India and the world spoke in a native language other than English. While the global platforms did a great job at connecting English-speaking users, a deeper experience was needed to connect native language speakers. Content and connections in native languages were very sparse on Twitter because of broken flows.

After talking to many users and studying existing micro-blogs, we created a prototype in Kannada (one of the native Indian languages) and launched it in March 2020. Over a week they had more content in Kannada on Koo than existed on Twitter. That’s when we realised that our thesis was right.

We want to create the most inclusive social platform that could be home to billions of users worldwide. A safe space for everyone irrespective of their identity or beliefs. A public platform that’s deeply rooted in the values of responsible freedom of speech.

On Koo’s investors and their expectations

Koo has some of the most prolific investors. Some of them include Accel, Tiger Global, Kalaari Capital, Blume Ventures and Dream Incubator to name a few. Prominent personalities backing Koo, include former Indian cricketer Javagal Srinath, BookMyShow founder Ashish Hemrajani, Udaan co-founder Sujeet Kumar, Flipkart CEO Kalyan Krishnamurthy and Zerodha founder Nikhil Kamat. They believe and are invested in our vision to create the most inclusive social platform that could be home to billions of users worldwide. A safe space for everyone irrespective of their identity or beliefs.

On the progress that has been made since launching in 2020

Today we are the second largest micro-blog available to the world. We are present in over 20 languages and have seen 60 million downloads. Over 8,000 eminent personalities are on the platform. We have over 100 features and they include unique features that no social platform in the world has. 

We offer multiple channels to serve users. We operate in multiple countries. or a young startup like ours, we are proud to have gotten to this so soon. 

On the USP of Koo vis-a-vis other microblogging platforms like Twitter

The biggest difference between Koo and Twitter lies in our philosophy. Our mission is to unite the world in spite of the language barriers. Today the world speaks thousands of languages. We want to help everyone talk to each other irrespective of their language. All the features outlined in the blog are a result of our focus on this mission:

We help users select a language of their choice when they log in. We show them an entire list of creators they can follow (people tab), in their language. No other social platform does this the way we do. In their create section they can create a message and post it in their native language. They can also post the same message in multiple global languages, helping them reach out to much larger and more diverse language communities. No social platform in the world has this feature and ability. It's our patent pending product flow.

Moreover, we help users consume these posts in a language of their choice through the ‘translation’ functionality.

These features help users connect with each other irrespective of the language they speak. Global sports superstar Ronaldinho joined the platform on 24 November and he posted in multiple Indian languages and English. Now you won't see him do this on any other platform, including Twitter and Instagram. This is what sets Koo apart from all social platforms in the world! Felipe Neto and many other celebrities have started posting in multiple world languages on Koo.

We are true to our mission in uniting the world in its languages and despite language barriers.

 Apart from this, we have many new features unique to Koo. We offer multilingual posts, 10 profile photos vs one on other platforms, an immersive profile page, and 10 image attachments vs four on Twitter. In addition, we offer longer videos for free vs paid for as per Twitter blue. We also offer edit functionality, scheduling posts feature, and discovery to new creators through the ‘New’ tab. Then there is a talk-to-type feature where creators can create a post by speaking out their message. There is also a daily summary of statistics every day sent to creators. We also enable all users to get self-verified and prove they are human in a very simple and elegant way within seconds, for free. Whereas Twitter will charge its users eight dollars every month for the same thing!

 We are very transparent as a company. We have published our criteria for getting verified on our site. Our algorithms are public. No social platform in the world has done this. We are a neutral organisation. We don’t tell our users what to do and what not to. You may have noticed recently that Elon Musk asked users in America to vote for the Republican party if they hadn’t decided yet. That’s a big bias and a social platform can’t and shouldn’t impose its inclinations on its users.

There’s a long list of such things that set Koo apart from Twitter.

On consumption patterns being seen on the app

Users can follow from among millions of creators or 1000s of topics. Power users spend hours on the platform engaging with their favourite creators and topics. Conversations around day-to-day news, culture, poetry, spirituality and entertainment amongst various others are the most popular form of content that is being consumed by users.

On how several politicians joining Koo validated its strategy

Koo is a very user-focused organisation. Users want to connect with eminent personalities such as celebrities, politicians, sports stars, and soap opera stars etc. It’s important to help these eminent personalities to connect with their followers. Koo enables this in a seamless way and with the ability to create and communicate in multiple languages so they cover as many followers in as many regions as possible.

You won’t see any Indian platform with as many eminent personalities from India, using the platform. This is all organic behaviour. Today Koo boasts of some of the most prominent names from across the spectrum, 20+ opposition parties, leaders from the ruling party, union and chief ministers and local leaders. All of this gives the users and us confidence in the platform’s unique proposition and promise.

On video content playing an important role in Koo

Yes. These are more engaging for sure. We have a lot of video content on the platform. Be it youtube links or videos created on the platform. We will also add short videos shortly given the short attention span of users.

On confronting fake news and hate speech

Koo is a public platform built with a ‘user first approach’. Every decision is always made using a user first lens. The platform believes that the laws of the land must be followed as far as content moderation is concerned. This is done over and above its own community guidelines related to hate speech, fake news and misinformation.

 The Voluntary Self-Verification function of Koo aids in reducing user anonymity and the presence of nuisance creators. Additionally, Koo has also signed the Voluntary Code of Ethics created by the Internet and Mobile Association (IAMAI) - which aspires to the fair and ethical use of social media during elections, and the platform is committed to following all directions given by the Election Commission of India without delay. Koo is a social media intermediary that just hosts and transmits content provided by users; unless compelled by law, it does not evaluate the veracity of the information or make any changes to content. Koo is dedicated to giving users a secure, stable, and trustworthy interface, and as a result, allows users to access reputable third-party resources for the purpose of fact-checking. Back in May 2022 Koo, issued a community advisory and also roped in prominent third-party fact-checkers that are listed are Press Information Bureau, Navbharat Times, Aaj Tak and Google Fact Check.

On how Koo upgrades itself through new features

We talk to users, and have our own lists of new ideas and bugs that need to be fixed. These are prioritised in terms of severity, excitement for community and differentiation from competitors and then built.

On the monetisation strategy

We are very well capitalised right now and hence continue to focus on growth, consolidation, creator happiness and introducing new exciting features. Profitability is not the goal for the next few years in a market that needs a product like ours. We also recently opened up for the brands to advertise on the platform. In the three months of monetisation we have over 50 brands advertising on the platform. These include Amazon Prime Video, Star Sports, Myntra, Fan Clash and Zupee.

We are also looking to create a platform which can help users and creators to benefit from the monetary exchange happening between the platform and the advertisers.

On expansion plans

Yes. Koo is the future of micro-blogging. Koo as a platform is a strong alternative to Twitter. Our plan is to take our product to the rest of the world to enable users to communicate in a language of their choice. We focus on what matters most in a social media or blogging platform – the end user. Koo is a simple and transparent user-friendly platform focused on creating an inclusive community.

As a testament to the platform’s growth, Koo has amassed two and a half million new users within 10 days of its launch in Brazil. With a stable infrastructure in place to handle a surge of users from across the world, the company has made it easier than ever to migrate with the ability for users to import tweets and follower lists from Twitter to a Koo account, eliminating the need to start from ground zero.

We are the most inclusive social media platform and have built Koo with the mission of uniting the world despite language barriers. We truly enable the world to connect and interact with each other.

We now have an architecture where we can launch a language overnight. We have multiple global languages and will launch many more languages that are spoken by over a million users in the world.

On the challenges being faced as Koo rapidly scales up

These aren’t challenges as much as things that are new to us. We are now learning about new cultures and policies around the world. The team is also expanding and we are working on a world clock instead of just the Indian time zone.