Last month, when India imposed a sudden ban on 59 Chinese apps including ByteDance’s short video apps TikTok and Helo during the two neighboring countries’ geopolitical turmoil, local Indian startups and investors quickly jumped in to tap the gap as over 200 million TikTok users have started their search for an alternative.
Within days of the ban, Sharechat, which has China’s Shunwei Capital on its cap table, came up with Moj, while Tencent- and Times Internet-backed digital music-streaming company Gaana launched HotSpots. There are a handful of other similar platforms such as Bolo Indya, Roposo, Chingari, and MitronTv, which raised INR two crore (USD 4.6 million) from 3One4 Capital and Lets Venture. Seeing the potential of the market in short-video space, Instagram is also stealthily testing its own TikTok-like app called Reels in the country.
Of these, Roposo is one of the oldest. It was founded in 2014 first as a fashion social network by Mayank Bhangadia, Avinash Saxena, and Kaushal Shubhank. Later in 2017, the trio made it a short-video app which was subsequently acquired in November last year by content platform Glance, a subsidiary of ad-tech unicorn InMobi.
KrASIA talked to InMobi co-founder, Naveen Tewari about what the ban means for Indian technology companies and how is Roposo using this opportunity to grow its platform.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity
KrASIA (KR): What is your reading on the ban on 59 Chinese apps and how will it affect the India market?
Naveen Tewari (NT): There are two aspects to this ban.
I consider this as a landmark moment for India’s growing digital ecosystem. Any industry goes through different phases. India’s digital industry, in reality, started in 2015-16. India went through a massive growth phase after a large population came online. When an industry is just getting started and growing fast, it does what it thinks is right. Then, as it reaches a stage, you have to be a lot more mature and careful, that becomes the turning point.
If you want to serve Indians with digital services then you have to abide by certain rules and regulations and have to be quite deeply entrenched in the cultural and societal values of the country. The platforms that are not doing this would suffer. So, we are seeing a handful of such platforms that were probably not functioning in the right way, were asked to go.
The ban has created an opportunity for India to create and own the fourth technology hub after the US, China, and Russia, which are at least a decade ahead of us. India’s digital borders have been very porous, so they (local startups) have not been able to build a large ecosystem. Therefore, this event gives us an interesting opportunity.
Kr: Why were the existing short-video apps not able to get traction until the ban and what would happen once the ban is lifted?
NT: All these global applications had customers in several other developed and higher GDP markets, so they were able to subsidize the Indian customers. It was never a play of building a purely India focused platform to succeed.
Today, Indian entrepreneurs have better opportunity compared to five to seven years ago, because now consumers are better monetized and are ready to spend online.
Content creators would like to be on multiple platforms where they expect a long-term safety to their creation. We feel even when the ban gets lifted we will have a great product, a huge user base that will ensure our success. A large part of creating such a platform for Indian users has to do with product development, which includes how it integrates with the Indian society, its culture, and its values. I believe Indian companies and entrepreneurs are doing a great job of it.
Kr: How has Roposo’s growth been like before and after the ban?
NT: We acquired Roposo late last year and we were going through an integration phase for Roposo during the first three to four months of this year. We wanted to integrate it with Glance so that the short-videos uploaded on Roposo also get views on the Glance platform. We were looking at content syndication with Glance.
Separately, we started to grow Roposo in May and we saw some phenomenal growth in terms of new consumers coming onto the platform on their own.
So in an organic way creators had started shifting to Roposo by May. In the last two months, we were getting about 500,000 to 700,000 users a day. Then of course, with the ban it took a very different trajectory. We are starting to see 600,000 users per hour.
At the time we acquired Roposo, it was ranked 330th on Google Play Store in all categories. In the last three to four weeks, it’s been in the top one or two in all categories. That’s the level at which Roposo is growing. We weren’t expecting what has happened, but we certainly saw that there was something interesting going on with Roposo.
Right now we are seeing 3,000 to 5,000 influencers joining the platform every day. The viewership has grown from 250 million views in mid-June to around two billion video views every day currently.
Some people said this was the new TikTok for India, but I would say this is Roposo for the world. We feel that we are building a product that has the ethos of India and a product that is attempting to give a platform to everybody to be a hero and be famous.
Kr: How does Roposo stand out among other platforms, since users are trying out several other platforms to see what works best for them?
NT: I think all these platforms have some level of uniqueness that they are bringing to the table. Everyone has thought about how to get social and how to get people to make videos in their own unique way.
We are focused on the creator community. As I said, I truly believe that there is a hero in everyone. At the heart of it, Roposo is a platform to create great content by talents from every quarter of life. A lot of our effort goes behind the video creation process. At the heart of all these platforms are the content creators and that is where we believe the real value lies. It’s not an easy capability to build. What all of us are doing is put the power of movie-making, albeit a very short one, in the hands of people, and in this day and age, we want to ensure users are able to create the effects that they see in movies. That is where we are far ahead compared to our peers—both in terms of technical capabilities and also the size of the community.
Kr: Is there a plan to take Roposo to Southeast Asia.
NT: We have taken Glance to Southeast Asia. We have not done that with Roposo as of now. We may do that next year, but for the next 12 months we are completely focused on the India market.
Kr: What is Roposo’s monetization model?
It’s primarily going to be brand partnerships on the content platform. We have those partnerships with brands that are going live right now as we speak. What has happened now is that a lot of brands are moving their budget that they were spending on other platforms, to Roposo. Brands took two to three days to take stock of the situation and now they are moving fast. Companies in the space of OTT, gaming, FMCG, and e-commerce, among others are in talks with us for brand integration.
Update: The earlier version of the story had incorrectly mentioned Roposo has 17 million users, which is it’s daily active users. We have corrected that to over 75 million total users.