Indian social media startup Koo, which had branded itself as an alternative to microblogging site X, is shutting down its services, the company’s founders Aprameya Radhakrishna and Mayank Bidawatka announced on Wednesday.

Koo was launched in March 2020. The app, which described itself as a platform “built for Indians to share their views in their mother tongue and have meaningful discussions” garnered prominence in 2021 after several government officials endorsed it.

This had come amid the Narendra Modi government’s differences with X, then known as Twitter. The Centre had asked Twitter to block certain accounts related to the 2020-’21 farmers’ protests, and had threatened the company with penal action if it failed to comply.

In February 2021, Koo had partnered with Mann Ki Baat, a radio programme hosted by the prime minister. In August 2020, the app won the AatmaNirbhar App Innovation Challenge held by the government to promote Modi’s initiative of making India self-reliant.

On Wednesday, Radhakrishna and Bidawatka said on LinkedIn that they suffered a “prolonged funding winter” just when the company was at its peak.

“We explored partnerships with multiple larger internet companies, conglomerates and media houses but these talks didn’t yield the outcome we wanted,” they said. “Most of them didn’t want to deal with user-generated content and the wild nature of a social media company. A couple of them changed priority almost close to signing.”

The founders said that while they would have liked to keep the app running, the cost of technology services to keep a social media app running is high and so, they “had to take this tough decision”.

They said they built a “globally scalable product in a fraction of the time that X/Twitter did, with superior systems, algorithms, and strong stakeholder-first philosophies”.

“We were just months away from beating Twitter in India in 2022 and could have doubled down on that short term goal with capital behind us” said the founders.

The founders announced that they will now evaluate making its assets into a digital public good to enable social conversations in native languages.

“This is very difficult and complicated tech and we’ve built it painstakingly in record time,” they said. “We will be happy to share some of these assets with someone with a great vision for India’s foray into social media.”

Koo had been in talks with Dailyhunt and Sharechat for a buyout in recent months, reported MoneyControl. However, the talks did not succeed.

In a social media post in April, Bidawatka had said: “We have gone to the extent of the founders putting in a substantial amount from their personal funds so that salaries for March can be met.”

“...future salaries can only be paid out once the partnership is concluded,” he said. “This transparency helps them resort to options that work best for them.”

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