Over the last couple of months, indigenous short video-sharing app Chingari has seen a growth spurt that most in the business can only dream of. If there were any app developers – especially in India – on the fast track, it would be Sumit Ghosh, the company’s Co-founder and Chief of Product, and Co-founder Biswatma Nayak, whose TikTok-like app reportedly saw 10,000 users per minute a day after the Chinese app ban in India.
In fact, the app saw so much of TikTok’s traffic right after the ban that it crashed a few times even as Sumit and Biswatma stayed up all night to scale up their infrastructure. The rapid growth also prompted the company to embark on a massive hiring spree in India to add to their UI/UX, as well as its content moderation teams, to keep up with the traction they seemed to be getting.
The app added another feather in its hat of achievements after it was adjudged a winner in government’s recently concluded Aatmanirbhar Bharat App Innovation Challenge. It also found a mention in PM Modi’s Aug 30, ‘Mann ki Baat’ address to the nation.
As of the latest count on Google Play store, Chingari had over 10 million installs and was among the top social media apps, along with Roposo, Josh, ShareChat, and Trell. The app was one of the 24 winners of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Aatmanirbhar Bharat App Innovation challenge, and separately raised $1.3 million in a seed round from venture capitalists, including AngelList India, Utsav Somani’s iSeed, Village Global, LogX Ventures, and Jasminder Singh Gulati of NowFloats.
What sets Chingari apart from the hundreds of other short video apps that popped up after the Chinese app ban is its underlying tech and user experience, which the company has been refining ever since its inception in 2018.
“We have been doing Chingari before TikTok came to India. Our inspiration was Musical.ly, rather than TikTok. But TikTok came and took over the entire market from us before we could do anything about it. What you’re seeing right now is the result of the ban – a lot of copycat apps have jumped into the short video market, but our product was around even before the ban happened,” Sumit told YourStory.
Till date, the app has not spent anything on advertisements, and its growth to 25 million-plus users has been completely organic, Sumit says.
Sumit says creators on Chingari are mostly all original, as opposed to other copycat apps that have scraped together content from TikTok, aside from five or six original creators.
The way the content is distributed to users is also very different – Chingari ensures videos from original creators shows up in every user’s feed first and is never repeated again – a feature that Sumit says others have not been able to crack yet.
“(A user’s) feed is the key. Machine learning will eventually catch up and be able to learn the user’s video-watching preferences. But right now, only Chingari offers a feed where every creator gets a part,” he adds.
Recently, Sumit tweeted that the company was contemplating building a tool to let users import all their TikTok content to Chingari. “As you own your content, [you] can move it anywhere you want,” he said.
In addition to sharing short videos, the app allows users to access news, play games, check local weather forecasts, etc – unique features that other apps, including TikTok, lack.
“Chingari is not limited to being a video sharing platform like other short video apps. It’s a platform where you can read local and international news, check the weather forecast of your city, play games, participate in quizzes, and win prizes… Anyone can download a video and share it on other social platforms. We have a dedicated download button in the app for this,” Co-founder Biswatma tweeted recently while fielding questions about the app on social media platform Twitter.
The early challenges
Initially, as a bootstrapped company, Chingari was not able to compete with TikTok, which poured half a billion dollars to acquire the Indian market, and, as a result, the India-made app had to largely remain tethered to a very niche audience.
But that changed following the government’s ban on 59 Chinese apps.
With a lot more organic users, Chingari’s challenges today are quite different than what they were before. Retaining and keeping users hooked to the platform is a key problem Sumit and team are looking at, he said, along with ensuring that more and more people come back to the app every day.
User experience had once been Chingari’s biggest negative, according to user feedback, but the company says it has revamped its entire app experience, and, as a result, managed to bag more positive reviews from users over the last couple of months.
Ensuring user experience, privacy, and creativity
Sumit says he does not plan to monetise the app anytime soon, especially with disruptive ads that ruin users’ viewing experiences. Instead, the company is getting brands on board to do other creative challenges using hashtags.
“We are monetising at some level, but are waiting for network effects to kick in for larger monetisation.”
To ensure user privacy, Chingari says it stores all data in encrypted form on Edelweiss’ servers in India itself, in compliance with the country’s data privacy laws.
The company is working on a host of new in-app features, which mostly have to do with its camera and its video editor. It plans to soon launch AR filters and editing features such as motion control and music track additions to give creators more advanced tools to work with.
Chingari has three million daily active users, and 20 million monthly users on the back of 26 million downloads, Sumit said.
(Edited by Teja Lele)
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