… Called Bolo Meets, it’s a gamble from the app aimed at separating it from its rivals. A chat with its co-founder and CEO Varun Saxena.
“It’s a pretty exciting time for video apps,” says Varun Saxena, co-founder and CEO of Bolo Indya, a short video app. He’s got a good reason to make this statement. The cluttered short video app market has now sharply divided the audience pie, which earlier gave most of its time and share to TikTok, until the government banned it back in June.
A week or two ago, Saxena’s app released Bolo Meets. It is an in-app feature that lets creators create ‘events’ based on their skills (expertise) and charge consumers a fee to attend the said event.
The most popular categories in demand for Bolo Meets include astrology, fitness, music, dance, personal finance, relationships and mental wellness.
Sessions can be facilitated either through one to one private video chat room, or a group video with a maximum of 10 people. The users can book slots through micropayments (net banking, card payment, UPI or wallet).
“Bolo Meets will be a differentiator on which we are doubling down and focusing as a niche value for users… Tomorrow, when TikTok is back, users can use both the platforms, and that’s how we see it,” says Saxena.
Delving deeper into TikTok, he said the app acts as typical social media platform. It wants advertising to be its core revenue model. Just before its ban, TikTok had introduced self-serve ads, but because it was in its nascent stage, people found it difficult to create such ads...
TikTok’s return formed a major part of our conversation with Saxena. Before the Byte Dance-owned app was banned, it was just Trell and Bolo Indya, along with TikTok, that comprised the short video app market in India, he says.
After the ban on TikTok (As per Business of Apps, a media company for the apps industry, TikTok enjoyed over 320 million downloads in India in 2019), one saw a tidal wave of short video apps enter the market. “The major ones in the race are Mitron, Chingari, Josh, TakaTak, Snack Video and Roposo,” claims Saxena.
Apps which don’t have big backing and are pixel to pixel copy of TikTok may fade away in the next few months because this is a very capital-intensive business, he mentions. So, unless you’re able to create a differentiator and raise continuous funds, it’s going to be challenging.
For Saxena, Bolo Meets is that very important differentiator. It is very different from the thing “where Indian apps went slightly wrong…” Several short video Indian apps “paid hefty amounts to famous TikTok creators, asked them to create videos on their platform and paid them on a per video basis, which actually ruined the market.”
Explaining how his platform is different, Saxena says that ‘Bolo Meets’ allows creators to earn and scale their earnings (there’s no fixed limit)… They create high-quality videos on their expertise, attract followers and later, with Bolo Meets, they can monetise.
The promise of increasing revenue attracted a lot of creators to Bolo Indya. Saxena says that the creators earn Rs 60,000 to Rs 70,000 per month. They know it (the revenue) won’t end here. “If I was paying from my P&L on a fixed payout basis, there is a limit to it. If I have to pay Rs 2 lakh to a creator, I’d rather go to a celebrity.”
Speaking about the role of the platform, he explained that Bolo Indya only helps you (the creator) with distribution and technology support… “ Say we have x per cent of users, who love fitness. If you’re a creator in this category and your content is getting good visibility (then depending on how the response is), you keep growing on the platform, both in terms of visibility and earning.”
The payment model
We asked the Saxena whether the prices of these events are set by the platform. No, he says, and explained that all prices were set by the creators themselves…
“When we launched Bolo Meets, we wondered if creators will come with irrational pricing and we will have to moderate a lot… But to our surprise, creators understand their audiences very well, and nine out of 10 times, we approve the price set by the creator.”
The battle against YouTube
Why will a person go to Bolo Meets to watch a session on personal finance or fitness when he can do the same on YouTube? Says Saxena, “YouTube won’t let you collect payments. It won’t let you interact with your audience and give them the option of date and time in a calendar and select it… It won’t allow you to get into close sessions without doing manual efforts of creating different kinds of things for different sessions. Everything is automated (in Bolo Meets), where the creator does not need to worry about any of these aspects and he just needs to focus on his content.”
“We believe people are looking for short content and one to one session. That’s where we won’t compete with YouTube because creators on it do mostly 'one to many' kind of sessions. Our USP is one to one sessions.”
Speaking about advertising, we saw many ads from Instagram Reels and Moj. Says Saxena, “We’re kick-starting ad campaigns on our platform for creators and users... On the creators side, we’re highlighting earning aspects and how big an impact they are on their lives. We will focus on connect, comfort and confidence for the consumers.”