Indonesian news aggregator app Baca announced on Thursday that it secured at least US$20 million of Series B from Bertelsmann Asia Investment (BAI), Crystal Stream, and CC Zhuang.
But that was just the beginning of the story.
The supposedly happy news took on a sharp turn late last week when an opinion piece in DailySocial harshly criticised the startup’s advertising strategy. The piece excoriated Baca’s use of sexually explicit images and headlines to lure potential readers into opening the app — including images suggesting a female rape victim had been tied up and beaten.
“Our hope is that the abundance of fund can be used to fund for a better, more appropriate digital marketing technique, that goes beyond ‘sex sells’,” wrote the piece.
Netizens also jumped on Twitter to voice their opinion about the startup, questioning whether the funding is ‘well-deserved’ for the company.
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Indonesia’s own version of Startup L. Jackson, Startupwati, even ran a poll, asking her followers to answer whether “Baca deserves that US$20 million investment, considering how Kaskus used to ‘accidentally’ post ‘similar contents’.” As of publishing, 86 per cent of respondents answered ‘do not deserve’.
“There is a category of startups with so-so product quality, but it has strong political lobbying skills. There is also one which never got any funding, but very close to govt,” Twitter user Randi Eka Yonida (@randiekayonida) wrote.
Startupwati herself took on a rather neutral stance by stating that there is indeed market for those sexually explicit content in Indonesia.
e27 was able to confirm that it is no longer available on the platform, despite the company’s claim that it secured more than one million active daily users in Indonesia.
The startup’s parent company — Hong Kong-based News in Palm — also has operations in several countries including Brazil, where it recently launched under the name of Central das Noticias in March.
On Tuesday, Baca COO Jimmy Sie responded to e27‘s queries about the issues.
“On the disappearance of our app from Google Play, we are investigating this issue further,” he wrote, also stating that he is currently in Sao Paulo to set up the new operation.
He did not comment on the questions regarding critics against the company’s marketing strategy, or the public’s reaction of its new investment.