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How to build an Indian TikTok - A product perspective

Everyone in the startup space right now is doing one of these things:

  1. Building the banned apps
  2. Funding/thinking of funding the apps in this space.
  3. Talking about how big corp will benefit from this move
  4. Writing a think piece on this - Wow, I am not special anymore!

I write these pieces randomly, just as an exercise to think better. Here are things I wrote on Dunzo, UrbanClap, Clubhouse.

Okay, firstly I feel that these apps will strategically do something & come back. Either register an LLP elsewhere and operate as non-Chinese apps, move the data centres or package as an Indian app & launch & they are not dead, yet. This video by Apar speaks a lot on this. The statement was very loosely written & has a lot of loopholes that these apps can use and get back.

Then what are you building, and why am I writing this? It is because noone wants to read the statement, we want to run with the headline. That is what we love - Buzzfeed style, click-baity style news to get us pumping! (Oh wait, this is not a newsletter so you obviously wont tweet my jokes and people wont subscribe, so I WILL STOP!) Anyway, I think we are building for the enraged India, that wants local Tiktok/other apps, but also wants that entertainment. WE WANT BEST OF ALL WORLDS, JUST GIVE IT US!!

Let me just say, you can copy the app as is, but there is so much more, especially in consumer apps. It is a beautiful amalgamation of product AND content working very well together. From day 1 that is what you need to focus on. Of course you are going to be a product person and say - “I disagree with you, it is all about the recommendation engine, it is beautiful” and you will be right, but what truly puts it there, is the content direction/narrative you give your users, which let me assure is HARD!

So what should you be focusing on?

  1. Remember the users are NOT your friends. Most of these people that you build for, whether it is Tiktok, UC browser or other apps are not the tech bros you hang out with. So firstly dont let them tell you what is working & what is not. TikTok doesnt have a great UX if all you are used to Instagram - That is why we take some time to know what the other buttons even do & just scroll the “For You” section(was that just me? OKOK). Most of these users are panic trying to go to a daily routine of posting videos, so ask them what else they need. How will you find them? Like Tiktok found its users - On Instagram, Youtube, Tiktok clone apps, all video-first apps. Find them, push your app to them & make them feel like they are stars(which tbh if you have seen the content on Tiktok you have to agree!)
  2. Before you hire a management guru, hire a content ninja! Dont hire haphazard and scale teams in spaces you dont need, you really dont need a designer if you have an engineer that can just copy the layout of these famous apps & as a founder you can wireframe the tweaks. What you really need is someone to rapidly build a content generation teams & give a direction to these amassed followers of your Indian app. Of course you can copy the trends of Tiktok, but it is not just that, is it? There are so many variations of Tiktok fandom - voice over, reactions, mom, entrepreneur, dance, challenges, hype, tech, queer, actors, mourning, journalists, celebrities Tiktok! Every one of these has a sub fandom & it goes on. You need to hire people who understand this & keep an engaged audience, at every level & is not biased to one-kind-of-fandom.
  3. Algorithms & more - Study with focus I recently discovered this Youtube video it talks about an algorithm that I had not heard being discussed probably because there is so much more to the app & machine learning they incorporate other than their For You(which is also very well thought & I cant link here, because this content doesn’t exist anymore!). But, there are definitely nuances that are built-in & the AR/VR kits used are also such repeatable content creation tools but hard to get right. So as you get these right, remember the creator tools are just as important as creators itself.
  4. Partner with a mini agency - Better yet be one! Hire someone super savvy to go find you all the amazing creators & pool them together. Not just in tier 1, but 2 & 3. Find the people that are now hoping Instagram creates a home for them, but really want a home like TikTok. One that expects 15 seconds of perishable content. Most consumer products have more consumers than creators but in Tiktok’s case, my hunch is that the number of creators are a lot higher than other platforms, so you must evangelize & gather these folks. You have to manage, engage and leverage them.
  5. Dont get influencers! This is a marketing channel, most consumer apps bank on. My view is, don’t do this! Tiktok made everyone feel like influencers & after much progress is when celebrities & blue ticks from other platforms jumped in on the app. When you get the same set of influencers on your app, you are just another way for them to push their content. You are not building for them, you are building for future influencers, that wont churn when your money stops. So build truly for them & make it inclusive. Heavily invest your marketing budget into ads on similar platforms & build on similar audience. Stray away from this.

It is an exciting time in consumer Indian space to see what comes out of this & who ultimately wins. Ultimately winning - is a truly long game so while building fast may get you initial interest, also know that if you dont build right, churn will be high too. Build lasting products.

Do you have thoughts on how consumer apps like these should be built? - I would love to hear.

Published 30 Jun 2020

Always looking for learning opportunities in product and life.
Vindhya C on Twitter