People discovered it while grappling with the idea of surviving in a pandemic. Millions were stuck in their homes, restricted from socializing, and dying to connect. It so happened the livestreaming app was already around when Pinoys the world over were aching for company, and it was only a short time before thousands were warming up to it.
There may be a ton of social media apps out there but this is different. It was founded and run by an all-Filipino team and designed with Filipinos in mind—hence they named it Kumu, short for “kumusta,” which is Tagalog for “How you doing?”
On its third year, Kumu has already racked up more than 7 million registered users, 2 million monthly active users, and does about 40,000 livestreams every day, making it the fastest growing livestreaming platform in the country. What’s behind this startling growth?
“[Kumu] was the right product at the right time,” Co-founder and Chief of Content Angelo Mendez tells ANCX. “It’s because Kumu was able to fill that gap for people to make authentic connections with each other.”
Messaging to livestreaming
The Fil-Am entrepreneur admits he and the other Kumu founders—Roland Ros (CEO), Rexy Dorado (President), and James Rumohr (Chief of Community) and Andrew Pineda (Chief Architect)—initially intended their digital product to be a messaging app, pretty much like Viber but with a very Pinoy branding. “[Messaging] was kind of the rage at that time,” Angelo recalls.
Roland brought up the idea to Angelo, who he knew had successfully established business connections in the Philippines, having ventured in real estate, hotel, and the nightclub biz. Pre-pandemic, night owls would remember Angelo and his partners being responsible for bringing life to the Makati party scene via Black Market and the club 20:20.
The prospect to build a tech company came at a particularly opportune time for Angelo, who was raring for a comeback in the country after a year-long hiatus. The group launched the first version of Kumu, the messaging app, on February 2018.
But the group noticed the app’s users were mostly using Kumu’s broadcast feature to livestream, a bonus they knew they needed to take advantage of. Discovering a new opportunity, the team decided to pivot.
Kumu offers a welcome change for the Gen Z crowd, says Angelo, as the livestreaming app allows its users to be their authentic selves and talk about real issues openly. “Kumu is more conversation and connection based,” he says. Also, Kumu is a pleasant universe, and there are only nice people here. Unlike other social media apps that tolerate cyberbullying and trolling, Kumu has very strict policies against these.
From their original target market, which are Filipino college students, the app became a go-to hangout for millennial overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), particularly in places like the Middle East, where entertainment spots are scarce. “When we launched in August 2018 with our trivia shows, it spread like wildfire in the Middle East, and that is why we have a very strong OFW base,” Angelo shares.
The app allows OFWs to reconnect with their homeland and meet other Filipinos in the comments box. “Kumunities (Kumu communities) started forming in the app through that,” he observes.
Angelo is happy to note they’ve started gaining a foothold in the college student market or the Gen Z crowd. “We have a very strong La Salle group on Kumu right now. There are Kumunity groups that are starting to form in major colleges in the US, Australia, Canada,” he says.
Possibly the livestreaming app’s biggest contribution to the industry, says Angelo, is that it democratized Philippine media. The platform allows any registered Kumu user to go live and reach the Gen Z or millennial market, pretty much like a TV station owner.
The app became a digital stage for aspiring stars and influencers. One example is Kumu talent Monique delos Santos, who shot to instant stardom in a very short time (less than six months) thru the livestreaming app. Her newfound fame even landed her the digital cover of Metro.Style last December. Many YouTube stars have also crossed over to the Kumu platform and are among the app’s top diamond earners, among them Kimpoy Feliciano, Ivana Alawi, and DJ Loonyo, to name a few.
Angelo himself, who takes care of Kumu’s programming, is a Kumu livestreamer. He co-hosts a show called “Usapan Retro” with former radio DJ Sanya Smith. “We talk about video games, cartoons, films, comic books, but we approach it from a tito, tita angle,” he shares.
Kumu’s partnership with the Philippines’ largest media conglomerate, ABS-CBN, also broke new ground. It revolutionized local television by making it interactive and participative, which was the case for the recently concluded edition of “Pinoy Big Brother” and the revived game show “Game KNB?”
In a time when holding go-sees and auditions would have been far-fetched, Kumu made it happen by asking aspiring housemates to upload their audition clips on the app using the hashtag #PBBkumuaudition. The process gave everyone a fair chance at becoming the next PBB star. In past go-sees and auditions, 50,000 would be the highest number of auditionees that would show up. Kumu more than tripled that number. “Close to 180,000 people auditioned in the last season of PBB,” says Angelo.
Interactions made on the app have real outcome on the actual show. “You could keep people in or out [of the show]. You can decide how much of an advantage somebody has for a challenge,” adds Angelo. Audiences could also “hang out” with the housemates in the PBB rooms 24/7 via the Kumu app.
Angelo says PBB was one of their most viewed content, while the Robi Domingo-hosted Game KNB has an average of 10,000 viewers on the app every day. “Since Game KNB is airing on TFC, everybody around the world watching it can answer Robbie’s questions from their phone. The whole world became the studio audience. It’s a very revolutionary event at a very unique time in history,” he says.
You may wonder how Kumu is earning from livestreaming. The group has three revenue pillars, shares Angelo. First, the “virtual gifting economy,” which is basically like digitized busking—or giving a tip to show appreciation to a liveastreamer. The user buys coins via the app store, uses these coins to purchase virtual gifts, and sends these to the talent.
Angelo is quick to point out Kumu prohibits sexualized content, which is the case for some apps that adapt the virtual gifting concept. “In Kumu, you don’t have to do that. Just be yourself. You can actually earn by sharing your passions,” he says, clarifying that discussions about sex are kept at an informational level, and “not bastos.”
Angelo and company also earn from the advertisers that sponsor their game shows. Brands customize the game shows to help advertisers or marketing teams reach their goals through downloads, subscriptions, cash ins, or vouchers. Brands can also tap Kumu’s livestreamers if they want real people having authentic conversations about their products. Streamers can likewise earn from these sponsored streams.
Kumu also expanded its revenue streams by combining livestreaming and e-commerce, which allows entrepreneurs to interact with potential buyers in real time.
Angelo admits he doesn’t get enough shuteye due to work demands, but he obviously doesn’t mind, especially when he looks at how far their baby has come in such a short time and the impact it’s making. “We look at the top apps in the Philippines. There’s Facebook, IG, which are billion dollar US companies. There’s TikTok. And there’s a Filipino company hanging in there called Kumu,” he says. “It’s fulfilling that we’re able to build something that the Filipino audiences actually like.”
Interview by Jerome Gomez