The kooky and unexpected rise of the Koo app
The TLDR: In any great war, there’s always collateral damage to innocent third parties. But in the case of Twitter vs Government of India, the Koo app offers the unusual example of collateral profit. The made-in-India Twitter clone has crossed 3 million users and its downloads have surged 10X in just 48 hours—ever since GOI gave it a big jhappi as part of its slapdown campaign. So what the hell is Koo, and is it any good?
What is Koo?
Short answer: a fairly straightforward rip-off of Twitter. The micro-blogging platform allows users to post text and multimedia content, including audio clips—and yes, you can ‘re-koo’ all of it. Text is restricted to 400 characters—unlike Twitter’s 280. Also: It supports five Indian languages plus English. And not to be missed: Its bird logo is yellow. This guide has more on how to set up your profile etc.
Point to note: The app was launched in early 2020 and later won the government’s Atmanirbhar App Innovation Challenge. In November, Google Play picked Koo as the everyday essential app of 2020.
OTOH, data privacy issues: Yesterday, Elliot Anderson aka Robert Baptiste—a French security researcher and whitehat hacker—revealed evidence that the app exposes sensitive user data, including date of birth, email address and marital status. This led to a back-and-forth on Twitter with one of its founders, Aprameya Radhakrishna—which ended with Radhakrishna tweeting:
"We're attempting to do something for our country, India. All help is appreciated. If you want to help out in this journey of ours please write to me on email@example.com and we can take a look at all the feedback you have. Thanks!"
Who owns it?
The company was co-founded by Mayank Bidwatka and Radhakrishna—the latter best known for his previous venture TaxiForSure which he sold to Ola. Koo’s parent company also owns Vokal—which is the Indian language version of Quora, and claims to have 2 million users.
The investors: The founders did a series A round in 2018 and raised money from a clutch of investors including Blume Ventures, Kalaari Capital, Accel Partners India— and one Chinese investor Shunwei Capital which is apparently on its way out.
A proudly atmanirbhar brand: As with many Indian startups these days, Koo wears its made-in-India credentials proudly on its sleeve. It recently raised Rs 4.1 million from its current Indian investors (minus Shunwei)—but led by a new one, Mohandas Pai’s 3one4 capital, who Radhakrishna described on Twitter as “a truly Indian investor.” In a statement, the company also underlined its shuddh desi credentials:
“A set of Indian entrepreneurs are seen to be investing in Koo with Ashish Hemrajani from BookMyShow, Vivekananda from Bounce and Nikhil Kamat of Zerodha, among others, entering the cap table of the company. It is a clear indication that the company is getting more and more Indian money into the company… Koo is a fully Aatmanirbhar app with Indian founders and India registration.”
Point to note: As MorningContext’s Ashish Mishra underlines: “I know this sounds mundane, but it is important to convey that Koo is anything but a fly-by-night operation.”
That must make it real popular with the government…
Yup, a spate of ministers and government officials have signed up with Koo—although they have all kept their Twitter accounts where they widely publicised their embrace of its Indian rival. And the Information Technology ministry has recently taken to responding to Twitter with statements posted on Koo as a subtle form of trolling lol!
Also loving Koo: Kangana Ranaut who tweeted:
“Your time is up @Twitter time to shift to #kooapp will inform everyone soon about my account details there. Absolutely thrilled to experience home grown #kooapp”
And remaining true to her core obsessions, she also called the company a “bunch of druggies trying to control us.”
Also a big fan: Arnab Goswami, who proudly announced an “editorial partnership” with atmanirbhar Koo:
More amusingly: BJP supporters are so devoted to Koo that they started an independent customer service handle @KooAppOfficial—which swung into action when Koo experienced a minor tech glitch, much to the founder’s irritation:
Its account has since been suspended 🤦🏽♀️
Key fact to note: While PM Modi endorsed Koo in his ‘Mann ki Baat’ address on radio, he does not have an account as yet. OTOH, he commands 65.6 million followers on Twitter.
Are the founders BJP supporters too?
Based on the only available reporting on this issue, the answer is no. Radhakrishna told Morning Context:
“I am here to do business… I don’t have a political leaning, I’m neutral. People are looking for an alternative to Twitter, you know, which is not arbitrary, which is not removing tweets of people just for the heck of it. I think we are that platform.”
And as Morning Context notes, Radhakrishna “has been bullish about India’s non-English speaking internet users for a long time. In the past three years, the man put his money where his mouth is.” If the company has profited from the BJP government’s war with Twitter, Radhakrishna insists it is “total serendipity.”
- Al Jazeera has a good overview of the latest developments on the Twitter wars.
- Morning Context has the best and most balanced take on Koo.
- For more context on the ongoing brawl, read last week’s explainer.
- In case you think only Indian companies lack creativity, New York Times reports on Facebook’s plans to create a Clubhouse clone.
- Twitter is already doing a limited rollout of its copycat version called Spaces.