Differentiation Is the Key, Say Indian Social App Founders

The move to ban 59 Chinese apps has proved to be a boon for Indian social media apps as they continue to witness a surge in downloads

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Following a fight between Indian and Chinese troops at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) near Ladakh, the Narendra Modi-led Indian government on June 29 banned 59 Chinese origin apps citing these apps were “prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order”. 

Most of these Chinese apps—such as Tiktok, Camscanner, and WeChat, among others—enjoyed millions of active users per month in India. While banning these apps overnight was a big blow to the Chinese in terms of revenue and active users as India remained at the top in their market share, the ‘digital strike’ has put the spotlight on the Indian apps which serve the same purpose. 

In a webinar by Entrepreneur India, stakeholders in the Indian social media app space share their experience on the overnight influx of users and their future roadmap.

Dealing With Overnight Influx
Needless to say, the night of June 29 will be remembered by some of the Indian app founders. Sleep-deprived, downloads skyrocketing, hurtling to scale up their cloud backend to manage the flock of new Indian users—this is how the first 48 hours have been for the app founders.

“Our whole team at Chingari for the first 48 hours after the ban was trying to scale our backend infrastructure. At peak hours of the influx, we were witnessing 600,000 users onboarding with every passing hour. It was amazing and stressful at the same time,” said Sumit Ghosh, founder of Chingari app that has gained more than 11 million users and is looking to reach 100 million by the end of July.

Mitron, a short video platform app which was launched in April this year, saw a five-time growth post the ban on Chinese apps.

“We launched when the Tiktok was already there in the market and saw unprecedented growth organically. Our main challenge was not to attract users but to provide them with a quality experience,” said Shivank Agarwal, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Mitron.

“We didn’t expect a ten times growth over seven days. Our systems were overloaded. However, within 48 hours, we had to upgrade our systems to provide a seamless experience,” said Pulkit Agrawal, co-founder, Trell.

Trell, the lifestyle community commerce platform, has witnessed 3.5 million downloads within the first four days and saw onboarding of 300,000 new content creators in six days.

Differentiation Is the Key Strategy

While the ban on the Chinese apps has handed over a plethora of opportunities to these already existing India apps, the app makers are noticing emergence of new players, for example Reels by Instagram in the social media market. The existing players need to differentiate themselves from the rest to attract more active participation of users.

According to Pulkit, Trell has always been different in comparison to 30 seconds lip-syncing video format.

“We are a modern-age replacement for the long textual blogs that exist on the Internet. Indians need a new-age format to express their stories about their passion and interest, and we are providing them with that,” added Pulkit.

Shivank believes that his app will become the “Youtube for Mobile” and cater to a much broader audience with the help of categorising the videos age-wise.

“We have seen people of age around 40-45 have been using these video platforms. However, the content they are consuming is not in their interest. We want to bring content for this category of the users,” added Shivank.

Ghosh believes personalising feed for every user will play a key differentiating tool for app makers, as it will be able to keep the audience hooked to a platform. Apart from this, the Chingari founder is looking towards incorporating hashtags and global challenges in the app to drive more user engagement. 

What’s Next?
Experts fear that the ban on Chinese apps is temporary and they will return to capture their lost audience with a much more lucrative platform. 

Siddharth Pai of 3one4 Capital believes that Indians have been comfortable using apps originated from China or the US. However, now to tap the Indian market, Pai thinks that entrepreneurs have to create a product in India and for Indians. 

According to him, the period during which these Chinese apps are banned is the golden hour for Indian app developers.

“Once the Chinese apps return, they will try to win back their users. Indian entrepreneurs have to crack the behavior mindset of Indian to continue to thrive in this space,” he added. “I see players providing an Indian-first experience with strategies to retain Indian users through active engagement in the platform will survive.”

Pai believes the Indian government, apart from peddling vocal for local, should start making their accounts on these apps to show their support.

Sunil Jain, founder, Sprout Capital, believes these Indian app makers should focus on the language diversity that the country has to offer. 

“I see a huge opportunity for Indian entrepreneurs to double down on the multilingual content for the upcoming 100 million Indian users and create a creator-base for different languages. None of the international apps has been able to penetrate deep in this area,” he said.

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