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QZ&A

Eminem-backed Triller is cashing in on India’s TikTok ban

Hiren Mansukhani
By Hiren Mansukhani

Contributor

American video-sharing app Triller wanted to formally launch in India with a “splash” by the end of this year. But months before the planned launch, the company has already tasted unprecedented success in the world’s second-largest internet market.

After the Indian government banned the Chinese video-sharing app TikTok on June 29 over data privacy issues, Triller’s user base in the country skyrocketed overnight to over 30 million from less than a million.

Now, the Los Angeles-based company is going all out to dig its heels deeper in India, and is in talks for a partnership “with a very large company with many arms,” said principal executive Ryan Kavanaugh. The music-centred app, whose investors include rappers Snoop Dogg, Lil Wayne, and Eminem, is also building technology focused on its Indian audience, which it plans to roll out by December.

Kavanaugh spoke to Quartz India about Triller’s success in India so far and what it’s doing to ensure the momentum continues.

Edited excerpts:

Why was Triller unable able to make it big in India before the TikTok ban, even though it was founded two years before its Chinese rival?

The initial app, which was founded by two PhDs who were also musicians, was launched in 2015 as a utility app and not a social media platform. That app was for professional musicians. Through the app, they were able to cut their own music and music videos using artificial intelligence. That’s a very small market. Then Carnegie Technologies took the company over in 2017 and brought in our current CEO Mike Lu, who launched it as a social platform in January 2018. So the social media app Triller, as you know it today, didn’t launch until 2018.

What was your market strategy for India before the TikTok ban?

Unlike TikTok, we don’t just like come falling into a market and throw money and say we’re here. We like to partner with big companies in each country. We look to them for guidance as to what’s the right way to operate here.

We have had on our radar a partnership in India with a very large company for seven months. This company is big enough for everybody to know, and they will guide us in ensuring that we act like an Indian social media company.

We had been building up the technology and the infrastructure so that we could launch the Indian version of the app towards the end of this year. And we thought we were going to make a huge splash. We also thought we were going to take away a lot of users from TikTok. However, that didn’t mean the app wasn’t available in India’s app store. It just meant that we weren’t pushing Indian content and didn’t hire people on the ground.

How did things change after the ban?

After the ban, we literally woke up one morning and found that we had almost 30 million users from India who joined our platform versus one million a day ago. We immediately realised that we needed to support them. Influencers started calling us and we needed to hire more people on the ground in India. Although we had a plan in place, under which everything was going to happen through a joint venture with this large company, we didn’t have the time or luxury. We needed to accelerate our plan and start hiring people in India so that we abide by political and social rules

What are your hiring plans in India?

Since the TikTok-ban, we’ve hired 20 people in India. By the end of July we should have about a hundred employees in India. When the partnership is announced jointly, our workforce in India will be in the thousands.

Do you think you’ll face competition from homegrown apps like Chingari and Mitron? 

We embrace competition. This market, which we call social sharing, has a lot of room in it. I don’t think that everybody’s identical. Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. We think everyone can exist. And we would be a formidable force.

What’s your data privacy policy?

The only data that we collect is the genre of music you listen to and how much music do you consume on the app so we could personalise the user’s feed. We don’t store personal contact details such as email-ids or phone numbers.

Most of our data is stored in the US and backed up in the UK. So we don’t put ourselves in a place where there would be government intervention. Plus all our data is encrypted so it’s safe.

All our Indian data would stay in India. It won’t be stored in the US or UK; it would remain in India under Indian guidelines and law.

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