Microblogging site Koo will soon appoint a 5-member advisory board comprising people from judiciary, bureaucracy and civil society
In an exclusive interview with Inc42, Koo CEO Aprameya Radhakrishna said the startup is focused on capturing the Indian market, and monetisation will follow later
Without giving a timeline, Radhakrishna said Koo is also looking at expanding to other countries
While Twitter has been in the news for the last few months due to the proposal of Elon Musk, the world’s richest person, to buy the platform for $44 Bn, its Indian rival Koo has continued building its own base and is eyeing global expansion now.
On the anvil is a new advisory board comprising five people from bureaucracy, judiciary and civil society. Besides, the microblogging site is also planning to come up with new features to further its reach among the non-English speaking audience in India, which is still an untapped market, Koo CEO and cofounder Aprameya Radhakrishna told Inc42 in an interview.
Founded in March 2020 by serial entrepreneurs Radhakrishna and Mayank Bidwatka, Koo has raised $44.5 Mn till date. The startup was one of the first social media companies to come out in support of the Indian government’s new social media guidelines or IT Rules, which came into force last year.
The startup is backed by investors like Tiger Global, Blume Ventures, Kalaari Capital, Accel, 3one4 Capital, among others.
Here are the edited excerpts from the interview with Radhakrishna:
Inc42: How much growth has Koo seen in its user base over the last few years?
Aprameya: We have grown to 30 Mn plus downloads. Very few companies can actually boast of getting 30 Mn in two years. So I think we’re very fortunate to get the kind of love and reception from all the users in India especially.
Inc42: What about the average monthly active users (MAUs)?
Aprameya : It ranges between 7-8 Mn.
Inc 42: With the recent reports of Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter, a lot of debate revolved around free speech, and you have been advocating this a lot, tagging Musk on Twitter. What exactly is Koo’s philosophy?
Aprameya: According to our philosophy at Koo, free speech is going to be the future of social media. As an opinion platform, the platform itself can’t have an opinion. And every action, every product feature has to make the person feel that this platform does not have an opinion of its own.
For example, the most basic thing is language communities on Koo. For a person who talks in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, whichever language, if they go to an English dominated platform like Twitter, they will feel judged for talking in the language. On Koo, they won’t be judged. Now just a subtle feature like that where a person will not feel judged for how they’re saying, in what language they’re saying is where we start.
Next, irrespective of your view on politics, on cricket, on a movie, on anything, you can say it on Koo, whoever you are. The only thing that is our guiding principle is we live in a country. The country is democratically run. We have a law of land in the offline world. And whatever you do online will also follow the same law of land.
Inc42: So how does content moderation happen at Koo?
Aprameya: Our community guidelines are a reflection of India’s law of land, what is allowed online, what is not. So hate speech, pornography, nudity, and hate speech against a religion… So these are all examples of what is not allowed on the platform. I think expressing oneself respectfully is the guiding principle. And that’s what we follow.
It’s very straightforward, it’s not too complicated. There are only a few places where it’s in the grey area. Some statement made… for some people it might be freedom of speech. For other people, it will be hate speech. Now those are the kind of scenarios that need to be handled with care. That’s about it. However, we will keep evolving with the changes in technology.
Recommended For You:
Inc42: And how would you differentiate yourself from Twitter in that perspective?
Aprameya: So one major thing is banning people outright from the platform. We don’t do it. We will never do it unless you’re a consistent offender. That kind of a thing has never happened. But to ban somebody of significance outright after they have garnered followers on our platform and not allowing them to talk to them at all is something that we don’t.
If there is a problem with a piece of content that they have posted, whether it’s factually correct, not factually correct, that we’ll deal with at that particular post level, and not ban from outright talking to anybody at all. I think that is too much power to be wielded upon anybody. So that we won’t do. So that’s one example of how we’re different.
Inc42: To that extent, do you agree with Musk when he says that he would try to bring in more unfiltered free speech on the platform?
Aprameya: So some of the things that he is proposing, like… I’ll put an edit button, we have it. He has said that he will validate humans. We have a self-verification process using Aadhaar. We have always said please say whatever, every person is welcome. Everything that will be said is accepted for the two years that we have existed.
So we’ve made our algorithms public. Elon Musk is talking about open algorithms, we’ve already done it. So I think if you look at social media from a first principle perspective of what is good for society, and what is good for a social media company, I think these are the most obvious things that people should do. And we are doing most of it. So do I agree with his principles? We are already following those principles.
Inc42: There were also reports on an advisory board being set up by Koo for content moderation?
Aprameya: No, not yet. Our idea of creating that was to handle some of the sensitive cases where, as I was saying, half the population will think it’s freedom of speech… Half of them will think it’s hate speech. And we as a platform have to be neutral and unbiased. So in those kinds of cases, an advisory board, which consists of eminent people across various aspects of Indian life, is important. So that is something that we are working on, and it’s not an easy board to put together.
You also have to make sure that all kinds of people, all kinds of voices are heard, and there’s empathy for most cases that might happen. So we’re going through that process, and hopefully, we should complete it. The panel is expected to comprise five people including ex-bureaucrats, ex-judiciary, NGOs, and business people.
Inc42: How does a microblogging platform like Koo make money?
Aprameya: We have presently focused on growth and capturing the market that I’m explaining. Monetisation will happen once you capture the market. That’s not a problem. There are enough ways that US, as well as Chinese social media, have made money. So the important thing is to capture the market. That’s what we’re doing. That’s where we’re spending time.
Inc42: Any further capital raise you are looking at?
Aprameya: Not currently. We will go to the market at the right time. We have raised $40-45 Mn so far with $30 Mn from Tiger and $10 Mn from Indian family offices as the last two rounds.
Inc42: How big is the team? Any plans on expansion?
Aprameya: We have an employee base of 300 and we will expand to other countries which have multiple languages. Same demographic, like there’ll be a small portion of English guys. There’ll be other larger portion which talks in multiple languages. There are so many countries like that. Once we crack it in India, which is the most complex country, I think every other country will become easy
Inc42: Let’s talk about exclusivity. Now we know on Twitter, blue tick is a sign of the same. But now on Koo, you are allowing just everyone to have a green tick on their profile. What kind of traction have you seen since the introduction of this feature?
Aprameya: This is a very recent feature. So we haven’t yet dug up the numbers on how many people have done it. But I think the eminence verification..we also have a yellow tick against people. So that is for eminent folks who will be searched multiple times and users who search for let’s say Anupam Kher. There might be people who are named Anupam Kher, but not the famous Anupam Kher. So in order for users to be able to identify the right Anupam Kher…yellow tick of eminence is given based on how eminent you are in the real world.
Now there was also a demand…And it has been a problem of social media in general that there are bots…There are good bots. There are bad bots. There are trolls. All of those are problems that existed in social media in general. So we, as a young company, as we started off, we wanted to be governed by the right ways of running this platform which means anyone would give a platform with real people more importance than a platform which is filled with bots.
Inc42: Aadhaar is also one way of self-verification on Koo now. Can you explain a bit about that?
Aprameya: Yes, so that is the most tech-enabled way digitally that we can do. So we have enabled Aadhaar. As and when we get more access, whether it is a driving licence, whether it is something else,we will keep adding those.
Inc42: How do you filter out the risk of fake Aadhaar cards or Aadhaar cards which have been sort of acquired illegally? Or is it directly linked to the number?
Aprameya: As a platform, we will trust what Aadhaar says. It is authenticated by the government. We can trust the system and make sure that we are using the system. So that is what we will do as a process.