Vincent Yang, co-founder and CEO, Firework
Valued at more than $100 million in a fundraising round earlier this year, Firework recently forayed into India. Forbes India
caught up with co-founder and CEO Vincent Yang. Edited excerpts:
Q. You got your first million users within a few months in the US. How fast do you think you can replicate that success in India?
We launched in India this September and our goal is to get to over 100 million users within two years. We are confident we will be able to achieve that.
Presently, we have 3 million users globally, majority of whom are in the US, followed by Brazil and India. But I personally foresee India becoming bigger than the US in two years for two reasons: One is because of the sheer volume of the population. Two, India as a market is more suited to short videos, since Indians spend so much time commuting. That is when they consume the maximum number of short videos. In the US, most people drive to work, which is why podcasts are more popular there.
Q. But TikTok is well-entrenched in India. Do you think you will be able to unseat them?
Firework is different from TikTok is a few dimensions. First, the demographic. Eighty percent of TikTok’s audience is below 18 years and come from Tier IV and V cities. Our audience is largely 18 years and above and primarily comes from metros, Tier I, II and maybe Tier III cities.
Second is the video quality. TikTok’s videos are mostly about kids lip-syncing, whereas we focus on premium, high-quality videos. We allow for 30-second videos where the focus is on story-telling, not just selfies. We don’t have any like, follow or comment option in Firework because we don’t want to encourage vanity. The focus is purely on nice storytelling.
To enable this, we have intentionally raised the bar. We want it to be a little bit harder to create a Firework video. By doing so we are able to create a good community of creators. Presently, we have 400,000 such creators. We call this ‘professional user generated content’ or PGUC, which is different from TikTok’s user generated content, which any normal user can do.
Third, we have filed a patent for a technology called Reveal, which I would say is our USP. If you look at professionals, they normally use a professional camera with a landscape view. But short video is a vertical format especially on platforms like TikTok, Instagram and Snapchat. So when we spoke to professionals they said they didn’t want to do short videos because it was of lower quality. That’s when we came up with Reveal which lets you shoot video content horizontally. When you upload it on Firework, we have the technology to convert it to a vertical format for mobile without losing the specs.
Q. What stops someone like Google, with all its resources, from rolling out something similar for YouTube? Facebook launched TikTok clone Lasso last year and Snapchat too has added some TikTok-like features.
Lasso has died. It didn’t work out. But it’s a legit question. Why can’t big companies with all the resources do the same thing? It’s because one of the biggest issues they have is that of perception. With YouTube, the perception is of long-form video. I would never open up YouTube when I’m just waiting for someone because my perception is that I will use it when I have 30-40 minutes. Whereas for Firework we want it to be the place people come to when they have say, 10 minutes. It’s like comparing Nike with Under Armour. From a product perspective, they are the same, selling shoes. But Under Armour has the perception of more athletic shoes compared to Nike. That’s why we are emphasising on professional, premium content. Once the brand is there, it’s hard for a competitor to replicate.
Another thing is what we call a network barrier. If you think of a triangle, on the one side you have the creators, the other is the audience and third is strategic partnerships. None of the partners we have spoken to wants to associate themselves with TikTok; they all want premium content. The more partners we have, the more creators will come, and in turn more users. It will create a network effect, making it difficult for newcomers to come in.
Q. What is the average session length of a user on Firework?
We have users spending 21 minutes per day on Firework. The average session length is seven minutes, so they log in three times a day.
Q. How do you plan to monetise the platform?
We’ll monetise in two ways: The first is the easy way, through interstitial ads. Second is through sponsored ads. We do a lot of Firework original series, where for example, we have a celebrity hosting a show of food recipes. We’ll have brand placements, where food brands will sit inside that content.
Q. It was recently reported that Google is looking to acquire Firework. Is this true? It alludes to Facebook buying out emerging competitor Instagram in its early days…
About three months ago we started getting approached by several strategic investors, not just Google. TikTok helped us in that they have created awareness about short videos. So when people look around for companies that are investable and acquirable, they see Firework. That’s because TikTok is already big and also it’s a Chinese company, so it’s hard to invest in. Similarly, there’s a company in India called Likee, but it’s also Chinese-owned and hard to invest in. So inevitably they will look at us.
The rational is the same that you mentioned: How Facebook wanted to get Instagram. But for us, as entrepreneurs, we want to explore things independently and we have so much to do. We raised $30 million in Series A earlier this year [from VCs including IDG Capital, GSR Venture and Lightspeed Venture Partners China, valuing the company at $100 million]. Short video is not an app or a tool, it is a new media format. It’s a big market. It will be a shame to get acquired so early. That said, we will be announcing a big move in the next two months.