Remember VYou? The video Q&A platform saw more than a million answers posted and raised $3 million in funding before shutting its consumer site down in March 2013 due to lack of user engagement. Now a new startup called Frankly has launched with a similar premise. Currently in beta with a website and apps for Android and iOS, Frankly has secured seed funding of $600,000 from Matrix Partners.
Its founders, Nikunj Jain and Abhishek Gupta, hope that Frankly will have more success than VYou for two reasons. First, the startup is based in India and hopes to take advantage of the country’s fast-growing mobile penetration rate with this week’s launch of its mobile apps.
Secondly, Jain says that there isn’t a similar platform in India for people to connect with public figures, such as government officials. Delhi’s assembly elections are expected to take place next month, and representatives from all major parties have already signed up to take questions on Frankly.
“We are very focused on how we can impact the elections in Delhi this year and the idea is to launch the product as well as we can in the next few weeks and get it out of beta,” says Jain.
Jain hopes that users who download Frankly for the elections will stick around on the platform to communicate with other people, who range from politicians like Arvind Kejriwal, the ex-chief minister of Delhi, to entertainment celebrities, astrologers, and top chefs. Exposure from public figures on the platform has resulted in 1,000 to 2,000 new users each day since Frankly launched in beta last week, the company claims.
While the platform is open to users all over the world, Frankly plans to focus on the India for the next 15 to 18 months and the challenge of expanding in a market where there are more than 20 officially recognized languages (though most of the Q&A sessions on Frankly currently take place in English or Hindi). After that, Jain says going into more linguistically homogenous languages will be relatively simple.
As a platform where people can communicate directly with public figures, Frankly is up against formidable rivals like Twitter and YouTube. The startup hopes to differentiate by making it easier for two-way conversations to take place. Questions submitted are up-voted by other users, so the most popular ones are seen and hopefully answered. Jain also says Frankly’s interface makes it easier for in-depth discussions to take place.
“We are trying to create a place for more meaningful conversations that have more than 140 characters,” he says. “We believe YouTube is a great platform for hosting and broadcasting, but it’s not a conversation platform. It’s a one-way communication tool.”
Frankly is still considering different business models, but the company is focused on gaining users for now and Jain believes that “if you have a good conversation going on, monetization should not be a problem.”