Actor, philanthropist and entrepreneur Sonu Sood recently launched his travel-based social media platform Explurger, calling it a made-in-India app for the world. It boasts features like an automatic travelogue, bucket list, future travel plans, ratings of places, rewards and more as it banks on never-seen-before gamification of social media with built-in artificial intelligence. With this - Co-founder Sood and founder Jitin Bhatia, a seasoned IT professional who has developed several applications for the government, talk to Outlook Business about what sets their platform apart, how the free app will make money and the way forward. Edited excerpts:
You (Sood) have come up with other apps related to jobs for blue-collar workers and rural travel (Pravasi Rojgar and Travel Union), dabbling in technology as an electronics engineer yourself. Why social media?
Sonu Sood- We are all on social media and spend so much of our time but we always wanted a platform which lets us do things those other social media platforms do not. If you are spending time on it, what are you getting out of it? We all worked very hard to create that world which was much needed and had a lot of things that were missing on other social media platforms. The travelogue, for instance. When you are on Explurger and post about your travels, it creates a travelogue and every mile counts. When you accumulate the miles, you start growing on the platform and get rewards with which you can avail a lot of discounts. We are also creating more benefits.
Jitin Bhatia - We have also introduced the concept of gamification where every time you get engagement on your post, you earn counts and based on that, your level goes higher which also unlocks more rewards. We have made a social media app for travellers with the concept of gamification with built-in artificial intelligence in it. The intention is to give benefits back to the users. If they are engaging and spending time here, they should be given something back.
The social media space is already dominated by big players like Meta, Twitter, TikTok, etc. with people hooked to those platforms. Why would a user move to Explurger?
JB- Product, product and product. If our product is good, we will get users. Over the last few months, we have seen how people have joined our app. On the beta version of our app itself, we had about 5,00,000 people joining from 40-plus countries and that too organically. We had not started advertising it because it was not launched but we got love and support from people from outside the country when they did not even know it was an Indian app. They are coming on to it because of its features and the product itself which are our core. There are a lot of platforms but all these platforms are co-existing with each other. Until and unless you provide core features or differentiators, you cannot survive. Facebook came as a generalised social media app, Instagram came as the first photo-specific platform and is now famous for reels, TikTok came with the short video format, Twitter is for current affairs and news and Reddit has a different flavour altogether. There was a big vacuum for social media apps for travellers. We are the only global social media platform for travellers. I think we can co-exist with everyone.
SS - We always thought about what happens when people join a social media platform—for how long you can engage them and how much it excites them to stay there—because there are so many diversions. When we started the journey for Explurger, that was the first thing in mind—how we have to make people addicted in a good way.
What is your business model? How is it going to differ from, say, Meta or Twitter?
JB- We have five monetisation goals that we are going to start working on in the next six-seven months. In 12 months, we will have a proper monetisation plan. Everything is free for the users and the monetisation will come from brands and other models which we are creating. Online advertising is one but because we have a niche audience, we can look at many others. Rewards for users for being socially active is a core differentiator. The rewards that we will be giving are one of our models going forward and we have a revenue tie-up with brands. We are trying to tie up with some of the biggest airlines in the world and also some global brands. We have already tied up with 40-plus brands and we are trying to get the big brands in the country. Sonu has been associated with a lot of them. We have also created a team to look at brands outside as we also have users there. Affiliate marketing is another model and we are looking at three-four more models.
When it comes to advertising, we saw what happened with Facebook and how data was shared with third-party players. How are you going to go about your advertising model?
JB - We are very particular about that. Security and data privacy is paramount for us and we want to stick to that. There is no way we share user data as it is very confidential. We have servers all across the world. The data of Indian users will be stored on Indian servers and the US data is stored in the US and is shared together through the cloud. We are putting measures there and we want to make sure it is a safe platform for all our users. The days of selling data are gone and nobody does that anymore because there are a lot of restrictions, even from brands like Apple and Google. We have come with the pure intention of offering something back to the users and that is what we are going to do.
What is the kind of investment that has gone in? Do you have other investors on board?
JB - In October 2021, we did our pre-series round and raised $1 million from platforms like LetsVenture and lead investors like Jaipuria Group. We got a nice handful of investors in the round when my co-founder name was not even announced and were able to raise money just on the merit of the product. A lot of our sweat and money also went into it in the first two-and-a-half years. Three months back, Google gave us recognition and included us in a bucket of top 100 start-ups in India and two weeks ago, our name was featured in the top 30 start-ups of the list. We are the only social media app on that list and they are giving complete mentorship to our technical team with some of their best technocrats guiding us. Getting recognition from investors as well as technology companies is very encouraging.
What is your growth target for the next 12 months?
SS - You name a brand and we are in talks with them and want them to be on board. Sky's the limit when it comes to the experience one can give to users. We always say that Explurger is not going to be just an app, it is going to be a guide and a friend who is going to tell you what to do and where to do things.
JB - There are 4 billion users currently on social media across the world and around 3 billion share their travel-related pictures while on the move. That is the target market and the scope. We are the only player in this domain and there is no direct competition. Now, the whole focus is to acquire users and make it a really big and truly global app.