Triller CEO Mike Lu says the world chose the app as a 'successor' to TikTok

Melody Hahm
·West Coast Correspondent
·5 min read

Triller, a video editing and social media app, landed on the map in 2020 when its behemoth competitor TikTok faced an existential threat, particularly in the United States.

As the Chinese-owned TikTok found itself in the throes of a geopolitical war between the U.S. and China during the Trump administration, Triller became a default alternative, even as Facebook-owned Instagram (FB) rolled out Reels, its short-form feature.

Speaking to Yahoo Finance this week, Triller CEO Mike Lu described Triller as offering a product that more closely resembled TikTok than the other social media giants out there. "It wasn't Facebook, it wasn't Snapchat, it wasn't Instagram. It was Triller, this very small, young company that, you know, is grabbing a worldwide voice,” Lu said in an interview for THE NEXT 21 with Yahoo Finance, which recognizes 21 leaders to watch in 2021.

“Triller was the app that actually rose to the top... It was more of the world and our audience that really saw us as the successor of TikTok. And it was something that we were trying to build our own unique voice," he said.

Triller has since become a destination for young audiences to experiment with short-form content, as the line between content creators and consumers increasingly erodes.

The video editing and social media app powered by artificial intelligence plans to go public in a SPAC deal this year as it faces major challenges — including the recent loss of its entire song catalog from Universal Music Group and reported claims from former employees that it inflated user metrics. Still, Lu suggested that the timing is good for an IPO.

Triller CEO Mike Lu speaks to Yahoo Finance.
Triller CEO Mike Lu speaks to Yahoo Finance.

“We’re there as a platform to really help creators. And there's never been a better time to be a content creator ... And you just have to have your phone, if you have something to say, there's an audience that you can find out there for you," he said.

'It's not just about a user base growing'

Originally starting as an app for music video editing and creation just like TikTok, Triller has diversified its offerings, launching 40 “television” shows with celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, the D'Amelio family, DJ Khaled, Noah Beck, 2 Chainz, Fat Joe, Bryce Hall, JR Smith, and Perez Hilton.

Triller has also made great strides in boxing, pairing pros like Ben Askren with young creators like Jake Paul. The app has even teamed up with Snoop Dogg to form a boxing league, aptly named “The Fight Club.” The company live-streamed a fight between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones, Jr. in November, which became the eighth largest pay-per-view fight in history.

Lu said the company logged $100 million in pro forma revenue in 2020 and is on track to double that figure in 2021. This reported amount excludes one-time, unusual transactions.

“If you think about our company, it's not just about a user basis growing, it's being able to monetize a user base. That's ultimately what's most important for our company. That goes to show how well we can leverage our audience. And we'll help to do that with more and more events, concerts, sports and live TV. I think that the future is very, very bright for us," he said.

Lu recognizes Trump’s threat was the unexpected secret weapon to boost Triller’s visibility. The timing was even more fortuitous for Triller, as the coronavirus kept people looking for more content to devour and apps to scroll. The first week of August was a particularly momentous milestone for Triller, as news reports circulated that Trump planned to ban TikTok.

As users looked for "the next best thing," Lu said, Triller hit No. 1 in the App store across 52 different countries within 12 hours of Trump's initial announcement on July 31. Yahoo Finance has reached out to Apple to confirm this claim and will update this article with any response we receive.

"Our tech guys didn’t sleep for three days. We were all scrambling. But it was an interesting and very exciting time for us,” he said, noting that Triller also became prominent in India after that country's TikTok ban.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 28: Jake Paul throws a punch against Nate Robinson in the first round during Mike Tyson vs Roy Jones Jr. presented by Triller at Staples Center on November 28, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Triller)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 28: Jake Paul throws a punch against Nate Robinson in the first round during Mike Tyson vs Roy Jones Jr. presented by Triller at Staples Center on November 28, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for Triller)

As Triller readies to go public, it faces increased scrutiny, particularly about claims that it puffs up its figures. On Feb. 16, a Billboard report, citing an unnamed source with direct knowledge, found the company misrepresented the number of monthly active users it had — 25 million instead of the 50 million it claimed. Lu had said the discrepancies didn’t matter, but then proceeded to deny them and threatened to sue app intelligence firm Apptopia over claims that it had inflated its downloads. Lu told Yahoo Finance he is now working with Apptopia, Nielsen, and market intelligence firm Sensor Tower to verify its metrics.

Triller still lives in the overwhelming shadow of TikTok, whose existence in the U.S. is more certain during the Biden administration. As of December 2020, TikTok was downloaded over 2.6 billion times worldwide, according to Sensor Tower. In January 2021, TikTok had an additional 62 million downloads. The app has 1.1 billion monthly active users, according to recent estimates — dwarfing even Triller's supposedly inflated number of 50 million. ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, raised new funding at a $180 billion valuation. That compares to a valuation of between $3 billion and $6 billion for Triller.

Still, Lu feels confident about the corner of the internet that Triller has carved out for itself. “We want to entertain you. We want to find content that you're going to find really compelling," he said. "And we want the next superstar to come out on Triller...the next Justin Bieber, the next Chris Brown, to be discovered through Triller. That's been our model since day one."

Melody Hahm is Yahoo Finance’s West Coast correspondent, covering entrepreneurship, technology and culture. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm and on LinkedIn.

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