This Singapore-based ‘make in India’ short video app wants to take on Meta, Google with real talent and original content

Majority of social media, today, is about showing off but that’s not the main crux of Tiki’s content.

Tiki
Tiki is not aiming to be the largest player in the market. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

India’s short video apps market is young, but booming, and Tiki wants a slice of the pie. That’s easier said than done, though, with so much competition hogging up the space for users’ screen time, some of which has been doing this for years. But Tiki believes it has the right set of tools and enough differentiation to steer clear of all the cacophony and carve out its own niche if it can keep its head down –and ears to the ground— and continue to stay true to its guiding principles.

“Our vision is to create a community of real talent and our mission is to support talented creators,” Ian Goh, CEO of Tiki tells The Financial Express.

If you are a creator and you want to post your content on Tiki, you’ll have to go through an audition, first, where a real person will check your authenticity. The platform has a 100+ moderation team that keeps tabs on what you’re putting up to ensure only original and content deemed “healthy” for the ecosystem shows up on feed as much as possible. Copy-paste is a strict no-no.     

There are four levels of verification badges, for creators, depending on where they stand in their Tiki journey. Unlike some other competing apps, here, you won’t usually see traffic –or views—immediately, the minute you sign up and post your first video but be sure that you will rise eventually if you’re good at what you do and you keep doing it.

The next two levels –white and gray—will unlock more opportunities including opening the platform up for monetisation. The top-of-the-line blue verification is naturally for those who have worked their way up towards the top. These “Tiki ambassadors” get additional perks including one-on-one interactions with the Tiki team that can, then, coach them further to do even better. These interactions help Tiki, too, to add more value to the platform.

Majority of social media, today, is about showing off but “that’s not the main crux” of Tiki’s content.

“We’ve had some influencer celebrities on our platform, but they didn’t really do as well as, say, a creator from Bihar who was a nobody before, but they had a unique talent of, let’s say dancing,” Goh says, adding “there’s a big difference between a content creator and an influencer, and we feel that for short video, it’s all about content creators.”

Social media that feels like home

Goh grew up in a small city called Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia and has been passionate about building things from a young age. He was involved with multiple startups before landing an opportunity to be part of the pioneer team that would help OYO build its business in Southeast Asia, something that would also help him get familiar with the India market.

At OYO, while he was keeping an “eye out on what would be the next thing that we could build upon or solve,” India’s ban on Chinese apps including TikTok and others in 2020 left more than 100,000 creators without a viable platform. The opportunity was right there, and Goh was quick to notice. He started off with seed investment and a very lean team of just five people, and some 300 creators to explore the market in February 2021.

In one month, there was a spur of growth. Some 1 million new users signed up for Tiki and the retention rate, too, was good. In the next two months, Goh and team would scale up a bit further –bolstered by the response— and go on to bag 5 million active users. Clearly, there was—and is— an appetite for local creators’ content with –in the case of Tiki— more than 50% of users coming from tier 2 and tier 3 cities.

Goh is quick to add that though Tiki is based out of Singapore originally, it’s a “Make in India” initiative at heart, and even though there are a lot of other players that also serve the market, Tiki is not in it to gain big numbers in terms of downloads and installs, only –which is probably why, retention rate is a big success metric for it— but to serve a need, a clear purpose, which is to empower the creator and give users access to fun, engaging, and original content.

“The initial creators who joined us are still with us and they find tremendous value [on our platform]. Some of them, who had maybe some 2,000 followers on other social media platforms around the time TikTok was banned, have grown to 6 million followers on Tiki. All these success stories are what makes us feel that we’re doing something right for the creators,” Goh says, adding “our aim is for them to grow, and we want to give them the best exposure, help them find the right audience that enjoys and appreciates their content.”

Like every other social media platform in its class, Tiki lets you like, comment on, and share posts but it has another element, also, called Tiki Stars, that lets users support creators in a seemingly more “genuine” way, Goh says.   

“Such interactions are more genuine because users know that they are interacting with a real creator and this creator could probably be a nobody who previously did not have the opportunity to become famous on other platforms and now they do on Tiki, so that’s a big differentiator for us.”

Another differentiator is the community angle. Tiki boasts of more than 300 family groups with more than 10,000 creators that meet up online as well as offline. Every once in a while, you’d see a group going to the beach and do a cleanup, or maybe donate food to the needy, while at the same time helping each other out to create better videos, or even collaborate.

“We talk about how social media can cause depression because everyone is competing, but for us, we want to say that the journey is together,” Goh says, adding “we all know what the common goal is, why not find other likeminded passionate creators and do it together and create a family and community.”

Tiki would rather foster social interactions such as these rather than, say, leaving everything behind the screen so “it really feels like a home” in a way.

David versus Goliath

Tiki is not aiming to be the largest player in the market, but it wants to provide the most value and it’s still early days, so there’s a lot of ground to cover. Even if TikTok comes back— which is a question that should keep many platforms such as Tiki on its toes at all times – “our push for real creators, original content, and communities should be good enough [to keep us going],” Goh says.   

Come to think about it, competition is already very intense with big-ticket brands like Meta, Google and those mushrooming locally from every corner and yet, Tiki has been able to find a market. The numbers speak for themselves. The platform has been growing its revenue numbers by 2x each month, Goh says, and as far as engagement goes, an average user is “opening the Tiki app more than six times a day and majority of them spend more than 22 minutes on the app.”

Tiki is taking a bit of a contrarian view on conventional social media in that it believes “showing ads [as a means for monetisation] will ruin the user experience.” Instead, it sees fan economy, or basically virtual gifting, as the future. Social commerce is in the pipeline, too.

“Our goal is by 2023, we hope to at least break even while continuing to add value for our creators and users,” Goh says, adding “India has a population of 1.4 billion and half of the population is below 25 years old. So, we have a very big Gen Z market. That’s why a platform like Tiki, which caters to such a market, has great potential.”

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