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Science & Research

Kumu co-founder Rexy Josh Dorado ’14 named Forbes 30 under 30 Asia, discusses connecting Filipino diaspora through social media

Dorado sees Kumu as still in its early stages

By
Science & Research Editor
Thursday, July 22, 2021

Rexy Josh Dorado ’14 (left) and Roland Ros (right) co-founded Kumu in 2018 after working together on a social venture Dorado started at Brown.

Inside the app Kumu — named after the Filipino phrase “Kumusta ka” or “how are you,” users are greeted by a bright blue tarsier mascot, encouraging members to participate in one of its many popular game shows or to gift virtual coins to a livestreamer. The range of engaging content and the stakes created by the real money value attached to its features are part of the appeal that has attracted and sustained a host of full-time content creators and avid users. 

Co-founders Rexy Josh Dorado ’14 and Roland Ros designed the app to cater toward the global Filipino community. Kumu has since ranked in the top grossing social networking apps in the Philippines and abroad, including the top 15 in the U.S. and the top five in Canada, according to Dorado, who serves as Kumu’s president.

A large part of the app’s success has come from adapting and growing during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many countries including the Philippines went into lockdown and social media app usage increased. Kumu’s total number of monthly active users jumped from around 3,000 in 2019 to two million today, Dorado said. Over half of total users joined the app in the past year. 

Dorado said the “core growth driver” for Kumu comes from Filipinos living abroad who are able to feel connected to their community through the platform. 

Because of the app’s rapid growth and its impact in the media industry, Dorado was recognized on Forbes’ 2021 30 under 30 Asia list for Media, Marketing and Advertising. Dorado said that his inclusion was “a recognition of what the team as a whole has built” and has helped draw in valuable employees and partners.

In the eyes of the team, Kumu is still in its earliest stages. “We still feel like we’re 1 percent of the way of where we need to be,” Dorado said. The company is focused on continuing to expand the platform and “(making) sure that we realize the mission, vision that we started with,” he added.

The idea for Kumu developed out of conversations with Ros, Kumu’s CEO and an experienced entrepreneur, who served on the board of directors for the Kaya Collaborative — a non-profit Dorado founded as a student providing opportunities for Filipino diaspora youth to intern at social ventures in the Philippines. 

The pair wanted to continue Kaya Co.’s “mission of connecting the Philippines and global Filipino diaspora” through a scalable platform that utilizes the impact of technology, Dorado said.

Focusing on the entertainment Kumu creates rather than social networking has allowed the team to be “unapologetic about core values,” which Ros named as safety, positivity and acceptance. “We’ve created an atmosphere where there (are) no politics or bullying or that type of behavior,” — a social experience more similar to Disneyland than Facebook or Instagram, he said.

Building an app with Kumu’s impact required the strengths of a team which Ros likened to Marvel’s Avengers. The global team was recruited with a shared passion to return home to the Philippines and build a consumer internet business which prioritizes the voices of Filipinos, he said. 

Kumu has raised a total of $21.6 million in funding from investors, most recently from a Series B round in March, according to Crunchbase

For a post-pandemic era during which the relationship between users and social media may look dramatically different, the team has been experimenting with creating a livestreaming marketplace inside Kumu, Dorado said. 

“One of the biggest challenges of a live-streaming platform is the amount of intention required to engage,” Ros said. The team’s next task at hand is figuring out “how to build everyday experiences that don’t require such intention.” One way that Kumu aims to create a more casual environment for socializing is through its audio-only feature, where users can listen in to a group stream as background entertainment. 

In the longer-term, as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, Ros envisions social platforms being extended into “experiential retail,” or physical community spaces where users can interact with content creators. 

Dorado noted that taking advantage of the flexibility and resources available at Brown was key to launching Kaya Co. and later Kumu. Born in the Philippines and having grown up in Ohio, “I kind of came in, having spent the past eight years before college trying to not be Filipino,” he said, until getting involved with Filipino affinity groups on campus where he began learning more about his cultural identity. 

Dorado also participated in the Swearer Center’s social innovation programs, ultimately using the Center’s funding and mentors to help launch Kaya Co. in his senior year, using independent study credits to focus on building the social venture.

Brown is “an interesting place that allows you to kind of carve out your own path, and in a lot of ways, that are a bit harder in the real world,” he said. 

Roger Nazaki, a former director of the Swearer Center who taught Dorado in Sociology 1870A: “Investing in Social Change,” recalled him as being “unfailingly humble and eager to learn” in an email to The Herald. 

“Most of all, I felt his values were absolutely clear, even if he wasn’t vocal about them,” Nazaki wrote. “At least as important” as his skills and traits in driving his successes “are the values that drive his work, and his commitment to being rooted in the community.”

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