How Snapchat Lost India

And how Bytedance — and TikTok — managed to win the market.

Neil Arora

July 25, 2019

How Snapchat Lost India

“I’m not using Snapchat,” said Akshay Bagal in Hindi. “I download it often and then just never end up using it.” Bagal manages 👬TikTok🎶🇮🇳🎶India, a Facebook group based in Tuljapur, Maharashtra that has over 1,600 members, who post at least one TikTok video an hour. They’re posting videos of themselves to get more TikTok followers. Bagal, who won’t reveal how many followers he has, is one of the most frequent posters. 

User-generated short video app TikTok, which has 120 million monthly active users in India, has taken the country by storm. 

TikTok has videos of boys who cry passionately, dramatic reenactments of moral conundrums, and a child star who’s racked up 15 million viewers. “I do all my work on Facebook, Insta, TikTok, Whatsapp, YouTube, and SC [ShareChat],” Bagal said. TikTok has become an integral part of the Indian tech scene — but how did the Chinese app, owned by Bytedance, manage to win over India — and how did Snapchat lose its shot at seizing the short video market?

TikTok’s win starts with Snapchat’s loss. The two apps have many similarities — they both highlight influencers and allow users to create and share their own short-form videos. However, Snapchat made it clear from the start that it only cared about developed markets. It launched as Picaboo in 2011 with an iOS-only app; even last year, Apple only had 1.8% of India’s smartphone market. Snapchat’s app was bandwidth-intensive, making it expensive for mobile users to stream video at a time when mobile data was still expensive. Yet, Snapchat never released a light version of its app for India, the way Facebook did in 2015.