Founder Spotlight: Roland Ros of Kumu

Uniting the Filipino diaspora
by Sam Fernandez

At low tide, there are more than 7,500 islands in the Philippines. There are also Filipinos abroad on almost every nation on earth. The Filipino diaspora is one of the greatest of any culture in the world: We are everywhere.

Despite how geographically diffuse Filipinos are, there have been no significant attempts to connect us with one another. Yes, there are startups that try to serve the Philippines, but there are none that seek to unite Filipinos. One of the first startups to even address this challenge is Kumu, a livestreaming and content app available on both Android and iOS.

Led by CEO Roland Ros along with founders Rexy Dorado, Andrew Pineda, and Clare Ros, Kumu enables any Filipino with a smartphone and the app to livestream. Some sing, dance, or perform in some other way, while many choose to just talk to the camera. The beauty about livestreaming compared to more produced forms of entertainment like television is that you can do anything.

Ros wants Kumu to be the hub for all Filipino creatives and content creators from across the world. This mission is most evident in both Kumu’s in-house shows as well as the emerging slate of user-generated shows. One of Kumu’s flagship shows is Quiz Mo Ko, which challenges users to answer ten questions (courtesy of host Maui Manalo), each set themed around a different aspect about the Philippines or Filipino life and culture. Users who answer all questions correctly get a share of the grand prize, which is no small chunk of change: On the October 29 episode of Quiz Mo Ko, the trivia show is giving away 100,000 pesos.

Another Kumu show is Pinoys Doing Stuffs, which is essentially a dare-style show: Two users battle against one another for each corresponding challenge - one involved singing Backstreet Boys with their teeth completely covered. That Kumu’s shows are vastly different from what you’d see on noon-time television speaks to one of its major goals: The platform aims to diversify Filipino art by democratizing the ability to create content and broadcast it to a live audience. All you need to go live on Kumu, after all, is a smartphone and an eagerness to share your talent, life, or message.

The tipping economy and financially successful creatives

In addition to its shows that give away cash prizes, Kumu is also building out a tipping economy. In markets where livestreaming is already popular, such as the United States and China, digital tipping is a common fixture. Fans will tip their favorite content creators a nominal amount of cash. Individual gifts tend to be small, but they can often add up to significant value when you have thousands of viewers. Many livestreamers live full-time off the tips they receive from viewers, some even becoming dollar millionaires.

Kumu is pioneering the tipping economy in the Philippines with a distinctly Filipino twist. Cash gifts are iconically pinoy - there is a barreleman, a sampaguita, and even a Malacanang - that fans can give their favorite content creators. Though these digital gifts are lighthearted, the rationale behind them is important: Ros and the Kumu co-founders want to create what it calls a financially successful creative, or FSC, for short. These are Filipino creatives who are able to earn meaningful income from livestreaming via tips.

Ros compares what the team wants to achieve in the Philippines to how other markets have prospered from livestreaming.

“The virtual gifting economy launched in China a few years ago and is about to overtake Chinese box office revenues. It has enabled everyone from students to street vendors to farmers who make thousands to millions of dollars each year by sharing their passion. We hope to have the same impact in the Philippines,” said Ros in a public statement earlier this year.

Ros and the Kumu co-founders have big ambitions for the platform, including more in-house and user-generated shows, new features for both content creators and their viewers, and further developments in their own digital economy. Unlike other livestreaming or content-based platforms, Kumu’s guiding light in developing the platform is evident from the moment you fire up the app. “Made with <3 in the Philippines,” the tagline reads, welcoming users to participate in a Filipino creative hub that spans hundreds of countries and thousands of cities.