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Koo: The Rise and Fall of India’s Homegrown Twitter Alternative

In a significant development, social media startup Koo, which had positioned itself as a homegrown alternative to X (formerly Twitter), has announced the closure of its services. This decision follows prolonged and ultimately unsuccessful acquisition talks.

The Beginning

Koo was co-founded by Aprameya Radhakrishna and Mayank Bidawatka in 2019, with its official launch in March 2020. The platform gained rapid prominence in 2021 during the standoff between the Indian government and Twitter over takedown requests related to farmer protests. Koo’s unique selling proposition (USP) lay in its commitment to providing a platform for social conversations in native languages, positioning itself as a viable local alternative to the global giant.

The Expansion

Koo’s influence grew, even venturing into Brazil in November 2022. The platform prided itself on building a “globally scalable product in a fraction of the time that X/Twitter did, with superior systems, algorithms, and strong stakeholder-first philosophies.” At its peak, Koo boasted 2.1 million daily active users and around 10 million monthly active users, along with over 9,000 VIPs, including eminent personalities across various fields.

The Downfall

The trouble for Koo began in September 2022 when the company first laid off around 40 employees. This was followed by more layoffs in February and April 2023, with the workforce being trimmed by 30 percent. These layoffs coincided with a decline in the platform’s monthly active users (MAUs), which dropped from a peak of 9.4 million in July 2022 to just 3.1 million in April 2023.

Financial Struggles

Koo faced significant financial challenges. Despite two rounds of layoffs and other cost-cutting measures, the platform struggled to control its monthly cash burn. By April 2023, Koo had reduced its monthly cash burn to Rs 10.2 crore from roughly Rs 16 crore in January 2023. However, this was still far from the target of Rs 6.5 crore set for March-end.

Failed Acquisition Talks

In recent months, Koo engaged in acquisition talks with startups like Dailyhunt and Sharechat. However, these discussions did not yield the desired outcome. “We explored partnerships with multiple larger internet companies, conglomerates, and media houses but these talks didn’t yield the outcome we wanted. Most of them didn’t want to deal with user-generated content and the wild nature of a social media company,” the co-founders stated in a LinkedIn post on July 3.

The Final Decision

Despite efforts to sustain the platform, including substantial personal investments from the founders to meet salary commitments, the challenges proved insurmountable. “While we would’ve liked to keep the app running, the cost of technology services to keep a social media app running is high and we’ve had to take this tough decision,” the founders explained.

Read The Linkedin Post from the Founders

The Legacy and Future

Koo’s journey, though short-lived, highlighted the potential and challenges of building a social media platform in a competitive market. The founders now plan to evaluate making Koo’s assets into a digital public good to enable social conversations in native languages worldwide. “We will be happy to share some of these assets with someone with a great vision for India’s foray into social media,” they said.

Koo’s story is a testament to the difficulties of sustaining a social media startup in a market dominated by global giants. Despite its promising start and significant user base, Koo could not overcome the financial and operational challenges. The founders’ dream of creating a globally recognized social media platform made in India remains unfulfilled, but their efforts have laid the groundwork for future innovations in this space.

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