“Earlier, we would get about 5,000 daily organic users; now it is above 10,000,” says Lal Chand Bisu, co-founder and CEO of Kuku FM, an Indian vernacular podcast app. While other businesses have been hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing pan-India lockdown, regional social media apps like Kuku FM have seen a surge in users as locked down Indians binge on content to pass the time.

“We get 20,000-25,000 answers a day now, and more than 20 million monthly active users (MAUs),” says Aprameya Radhakrishna*, the founder of voice-based, peer-to-peer knowledge-sharing app Vokal. “About a month-and-a-half ago, we would get close to 7,000 answers [a day].”

The increase in usage is a happy uptick in fortunes for these platforms because, while they mushroomed in 2017-18, following a precipitous fall in the price of data, life hasn’t been easy for them.

Much has been made of the “next billion users”—first-time internet users, especially those in the Indian hinterland. However, while a 2017 report 2017 report KPMG and Google report Indian languages — Defining India's internet Read more by KPMG and Google forecast a market of 521 million Indian language internet users by 2021, cracking this opportunity has proven difficult.

Vernacular social media app ShareChat, founded in 2015, became the poster child of the space. It has raised over $200 million so far and counts American social media giant Twitter among its investors.

Still, the Bengaluru-headquartered company is yet to turn a profit. The company incurred a loss of about Rs 415 crore on a revenue of close to Rs 26 crore in the year ending March 2019, according to data sourced from business intelligence platform Tofler. Interestingly, the revenue it did earn came from “other sources”, rather than from ShareChat’s user base. It claimed to have 60 million MAUs at the time.

Other apps in the space haven’t been as lucky. Not in terms of adoption. And certainly not in terms of funding. This combination becomes especially worrying because user acquisition happens to be one of the major costs for these companies. And while ShareChat can afford to rack up losses in its quest to grow its subscriber base, platforms like Kuku FM, Vokal, or Indian language publisher Pratilipi have had to be far more frugal.

The pandemic, therefore, has given these platforms unexpected breathing room. The spike in the number of users visiting these platforms has significantly lowered the cost of customer acquisition.

“Startups who were acquiring a user for, let’s say, about Rs 20, can acquire them for about Rs 4,” says Kuku FM’s Bisu. This is a great opportunity for apps like Kuku FM, Pratilipi, and Vokal, which have outlasted several similar apps that were forced to down their shutters after burning through their funding.


Prasannata Patwa

Based in Mumbai, Prasannata writes about content start-ups, consumer products, and OTT platforms. When not chasing trends she likes to travel, and binge on documentaries. She previously worked at Mint and is an ACJ Bloomberg Business Journalism graduate.

View Full Profile

Available exclusively to subscribers of The Ken India

This story is a part of The Ken India edition. Subscribe. Questions?


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 200+ stories, archive of 800+ stories from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 2,750


Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 60+ new stories with 3-months worth of archives from our India edition. Plus our premium newsletters, Beyond The First Order and The Nutgraf worth Rs. 99/month or $2/month each for free.

Rs. 1,750


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

Rs. 500


Annual Subscription

12-month access to 150+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 120


Quarterly Subscription

3-month access to 35+ stories from Southeast Asia.

$ 50


Single Story

Instant access to this story for a year along with comment privileges.

$ 20



What is The Ken?

The Ken is a subscription-only business journalism website and app that provides coverage across two editions - India and Southeast Asia.

What kind of stories do you write?

We publish sharp, original and reported stories on technology, business and healthcare. Our stories are forward-looking, analytical and directional — supported by data, visualisations and infographics.

We use language and narrative that is accessible to even lay readers. And we optimise for quality over quantity, every single time.

What do I get if I subscribe?

For subscribers of the India edition, we publish a new story every weekday, a premium daily newsletter, Beyond The First Order and a weekly newsletter - The Nutgraf.

For subscribers of the Southeast Asia edition, we publish a new story three days a week and a weekly newsletter, Strait Up.

The annual subscription will get you complete, exclusive access to our archive of previously published stories for your edition, along with access to our subscriber-only mobile apps, our premium comment sections, our newsletter archives and several other gifts and benefits.

Do I need to pay separately for your premium newsletters?

Nope. Paid, premium subscribers of The Ken get our newsletters delivered for free.

Does a subscription to the India edition grant me access to Southeast Asia stories? Or vice-versa?

Afraid not. Each edition is separate with its own subscription plan. The India edition publishes stories focused on India. The Southeast Asia edition is focused on Southeast Asia. We may occasionally cross-publish stories from one edition to the other.

Do you offer an all-access joint subscription for both editions?

Not yet. If you’d like to access both editions, you’ll have to purchase two subscriptions separately - one for India and the other for Southeast Asia.

Do you offer any discounts?

No. We have a zero discounts policy.

Is there a free trial I can opt for?

We don’t offer any trials, but you can sign up for a free account which will give you access to the weekly free story, our archive of free stories and summaries of the paid stories. You can stay on the free account as long as you’d like.

Do you offer refunds?

We allow you to sample our journalism for free before signing up, and after you do, we stand by its quality. But we do not offer refunds.

I am facing some trouble purchasing a subscription. What can I do?

Please write to us at [email protected] detailing the error or queries.