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Expect to cross 100 million users by end of December: Helo’s Shyamanga Barooah

Shyamanga Barooah, head of content operations at Helo, says it is too early to look at monetisation and primary focus in on creating the brand with good userbase

Written by Debashish Pachal | New Delhi |
Updated: June 30, 2019 10:59:21 pm
Shyamanga Barooah, Head of Content Operations at Helo

Helo app, a social media app from ByteDance, the creator’s of TiKTok, has been making a splash in the Indian regional languages of late. The app has grown significantly within the first year of its launch, hitting 50 million monthly active users in June 2019. The app, which primarily focuses to tap in on the youth in the semi-urban and rural areas of India, is available in 14 different vernacular Indian languages including Hindi, Bangla, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu. English is, however, not an option. Shyamanga Barooah, head of content operations at Helo, says he could not have asked for a better start and hopes to achieve 300 per cent annual growth in userbase by the end of this year.

Excerpts from an interaction with indianexpress.com:

How has Helo grown so far and what is your target for the future?

“We launched the app last June and within a month it crossed a million downloads on Google’s Play Store. The users liked the idea of posting in their own mother tongue which we could provide. By the end of December 2018, our platform had 25 million monthly active users. By now, the user base has grown to 50 million active users and we feel that we can achieve our 300 per cent projected growth at 100 million monthly active users by the end of December 2019.”

Why the name Helo and not Hello?

“Well, if we look at the dictionary, the spelling of the name is wrong. But this error stands apart and catches the attention, hence the name Helo.”

Apart from vernacular languages, how do you differentiate your app from others? How did you come up with the idea?

“At present, we are focusing on growing our app’s reach to more users. We are not focusing on the competition right now. We went to different tier-2 and tier-3 cities, towns and small villages all across India to understand and study the smartphone and internet landscape there and we were amazed to see that almost everyone had a smartphone there and they had good internet connection due to the presence of Jio.”

“The people in these places also had some popular apps installed on their phones, so we asked them if they were given an app that would provide them with an option to express themselves in their mother tongue, would they want to use it? If they were to get interesting news about celebrities, key policymakers and the latest information from the big media houses or interesting content created by independent creators. The response to this query was positive and that’s how we launched our app.”

Did you also reach out to celebrities and influencers?

“The sole idea behind the launch of this app was to make stars, celebrities and influencers more accessible to their fans in smaller cities and towns and even rural areas. So yes, quite a lot of them are organic and some have been invited to use the app.”

You have also recently announced a partnership with Big Boss Marathi, can you elaborate on that?

“The recent partnership with Big Boss Marathi is based on our earlier experience with Big Boss Kannada that happened last year. Helo had made it possible for the regional users to interact with the show by suggesting tasks to the participants of the show. The most interesting tasks were taken up by the show.”

“With Big Boss Marathi’s partnership, we encourage our users to post interesting questions and the question that gains the most traction on the platform will get selected as the question of the week and the user will become the caller of the week on the show. Also, almost all the participants of Big Boss Marathi are on the Helo app, so once they are eliminated from the house, users can still ask them questions using the hashtag which is available in vernacular language.”

How much growth do you see in the vernacular language social media segment?

“In the next five years, reports suggest that 90 per cent of new internet users will be regional language speakers, according to a report by Kantar IMRB. So there is a huge potential in this space.”

How do you generate revenue in your app?

“I think it is too early for us to focus on the monetisation part. We have just completed a year so our primary focus in on creating the brand with good userbase and giving out a good product to our users.”

How easy or difficult is it to use the app?

“Our app has a simple and interesting user interface. Users can post interesting things and there is a repost feature through which the users can share the posts that they like. All of this is based on Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered machine learning algorithm. If I am watching and posting about sports, and let’s say your post has nothing to do with sports then the machine would not force me to see that post. The app also provides posts related only to a particular region or area let’s say I want to watch posts about Karol Bagh and I don’t want to know what’s happening in Gurgaon, so I will only get news and updates related to Karol Bagh. So it is all based on user behaviour.”

How big is the Helo team?

“Since we are a part of ByteDance which is our holding company, we are around 500 people working in different teams. There are multiple teams that include people from other ByteDance apps such as TikTok and we do not break down on the number of people who are working for Helo or TikTok. However, both apps are operating out of different places. Helo is based out of Delhi NCR while TikTok is based out of Mumbai.”

Given that a lot has happened with Tik Tok in the past few months, how do you act on the content which is subjected to nudity or pornography or hate speech or fake news?

“We have the best industry systems in place and a robust moderation process to keep our app exciting and safe for users to express themselves. The systems are a combination of our machine learning algorithms which work in tandem with our well-trained moderation team. We are quite serious about fake news and tied up with fact-checking agency Alt News in December last year and they have been training our moderation team. With all of this, we took down around 160,000 accounts and about five million posts on Helo, which shows our commitment towards keeping the platform safer and cleaner for users.”

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