July 11, 2024


Does Koo’s closure spell bad news for an indigenous social media platform?

Taking on Twitter by trying to build a platform for Indians by Indians was either a tall order or an admirably ambitious one. Either way, the founders of Koo, India’s answer to Twitter (now X), will have to look back on their journey and wonder what if since it has ended.

While Koo is now no more, it does raise some important points on the broader Indian startup ecosystem. In particular, what are the chances that someone else can create a truly desi social media platform from the ground up? Something like Koo, by Indians for Indians. Is it too high a mountain to climb, or is it just a matter of when not if?


In the beginning, Koo was a historic venture. Started in 2020 by entrepreneurs Aprameya Radhakrishna and Mayank Bidawatka, it was the first microblogging site available in over 10 languages and touted as an alternative to X. The mantra was “a social media platform for Indians, by Indians.”

The impetus for such a venture was the government’s ban on hundreds of Chinese apps and encouraging Indian entrepreneurs to create local alternatives. Things began well. In August 2020, Koo came second in the government’s AatmaNirbhar Bharat App innovation challenge. A few months later, it partnered with the channel Republic Bharat, which would use Koo to run polls aimed at Hindi-language speakers.

3 million users in 3 days was what followed. Within a year of its launch, Koo had 4.7 million users. The government’s standoff with Twitter in 2021 put the social media giant in a tough spot. The company refused to comply with orders to remove posts and accounts critical of the Modi government.

It was clear that government and BJP officials weren’t happy with Twitter. As the standoff continued, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal decided to join Koo in February 2021. Other ministers and celebrities followed. Among the more high-profile ones was Kangana Ranaut, whose Twitter account was suspended based on controversial posts on the farmer protests.

Koo began attracting investor attention. Several months into 2021, and after a couple of rounds of funding, the company was valued at $100 million. By June 2022, it reached its peak valuation of $285.5 million with over 9 million active users. The inflow of money helped the company grow to almost 300 employees.

Things began to go south in late 2022. The startup funding environment was rocky, and Koo laid off 5% of its workforce. Investors wanted the company to focus on monetisation. The company began to shed users. Its monetisation strategy didn’t take off. A last-ditch attempt to sell the company collapsed.

The quest for a homemade social media platform continues. Koo was a worthy attempt. But does Koo represent the absolute peak in this space? Can others learn and go further?

VIEW: Learn and grow

A silver lining is that entrepreneurs looking to build a true desi alternative to X or any other social media platform can learn from Koo’s story – what they did right and wrong. If we zoom out, India’s digitisation story seems like it’s just getting started. More people will get smartphones and internet connections in the years ahead. More people will have 5G. India’s young population want to create, post, and share. So, there’s plenty of room to innovate and grow.

Anyone following in Koo’s footsteps would do well to adopt its mantra – by Indians for Indians. Koo had the right idea in catering to people in local languages. There’s not much of that. The company’s focus on diversity in language and cultures was an innovative step that others like X and Meta haven’t dipped their toes in. At the same time, anyone entering this space should keep in mind early on that the site needs to be monetised at some point.

Ola founder Bhavish Agarwal has said India needs its own social media platform, but that can’t be done by recreating what already exists. It’s perhaps why Meta’s Threads hasn’t taken off as hoped. The same with Bluesky. Koo suffered the same fate since it basically did what X was already doing and nothing more. Something else to consider was that Koo couldn’t shed its tag as the “right-wing alternative”. Others might not want to be ideologically categorised like this.

COUNTERVIEW: It’s way too risky and tough

Koo seemed to mimic X but lacked the innovation and depth to stand out. While it’s easy to say the company should’ve innovated, it’s hard to see how much room there was for innovation. X, for example, offers things like Communities, apart from just being a platform for people to post, like, and share. It brought in users and kept them on the platform. The same with Facebook. They were the early birds, and that gave them several advantages.

While one would think Koo, or any other would-be social media platform, would have the benefit of time to study the competition, the stark reality is that there wasn’t much to gleam. It’s just too hard to compete with the likes of Meta and X. They’re way too big. Any new company will begin on the back foot due to its lesser-known brand and small user base. Even with its focus on local languages, it couldn’t retain users. That’s a bad omen.

If someone or a group of people are going to follow in Koo’s footsteps, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. The local regulatory landscape is filled with strict rules on data protection and control of content. Twitter and WhatsApp’s fight with the Indian government is evidence of how tough and cumbersome it can get.

Reference Links:

  • India’s Twitter-Clone Koo—Boosted By Modi’s Ministers And Once Valued At Nearly $300 Million—Shutting Down – Forbes
  • The rise and fall of Koo, India’s once-thriving Twitter alternative – Rest of the World
  • Indian social network Koo is shutting down as buyout talks collapse – Tech Crunch
  • The evolving facets of social media in India: A reflection – Firstpost
  • Koo, We Need You! – Analytics Mag
  • Koo Closure: A wake-up call for new-age entrepreneurs to up their innovation game – Moneycontrol
  • Mind over matter – The Financial Express
  • Koo’s shutdown is a cautionary tale for founders of social media platforms: Experts – Adgully

What is your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)

a) Koo’s closure doesn’t spell bad news for an indigenous social media platform.

b) Koo’s closure does spell bad news for an indigenous social media platform.


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