What is Triller?

Inside the controversial US app taking the fight to TikTok

Back in March, during the UK’s initial lockdown, a craze spread like a virus, from phone to phone, until almost every household in the country was affected. Celebrities weren’t spared either, and young and old alike fell prey.

We’re talking, of course, about TikTok. The Chinese video-sharing app, launched in March of this year, allows users to create 15 second videos of anything from lip-syncs to dance routines. To date, the app has 3.7 million users in the UK alone. A global monopoly on ‘humorous’ short videos, it seems, was assured.

Except, then it wasn’t.

Released properly (what is known as a ‘stable release’) in July of this year, the American video-sharing app Triller quickly announced itself as a rival to TikTok’s throne. Now the apps are duking it out for their 15 seconds of fame.

Google ‘Triller’ and one of the first suggested questions is “Is Triller better than Tik Tok?”. The figures suggest not. Triller has been downloaded an impressive 120 million times, but TikTok’s figures are closer to 800 million.

Nevertheless, Triller is a bona fide success. In part, this rise has been linked to India banning 60 Chinese apps this summer, including TikTok, after clashes between Indian and Chinese troops in the disputed Himalayan region. A perhaps unintended (and trivial) consequence meant that the country was open for a TikTok alternative. Enter Triller.

ryan kavanaugh
Triller investor Ryan Kavanaugh

Yet all may not be as it seems with the new wunder-app. Triller has reportedly been rubbing its competitors up the wrong way, with some outlets calling its business practices “brash”. More worryingly, Business Insider reports that the app has allegedly been inflating its user numbers.

Controversial, endorsed by Donald Trump (we’ll get to that) and with Reuters reporting on a possible IPO, it’s clear this is enigmatic new app is worth more than a few seconds of your attention.


The history of Triller is a short but storied one. It was first launched in 2015 but rose to prominence, topping the App Store in 50 countries, earlier this year. Like TikTok, users film themselves singing or rapping to a song. Unlike TikTok, Triller users can use the footage to make longer music videos.

Founded in the Bay Area, California, Triller’s majority investor is Proxima Media, the Hollywood studio founded by Ryan Kavanaugh. Triller’s CEO is Mike Lu, co-founder of Fusion 8, who was reportedly employed by “online video advertising technology company” YuMe before joining Triller. While little is known about Lu, he has stated his intention for Triller to “disrupt” 2020. And they’ve certainly done that.

The app has seen its profile grow this year through a series of savvy moves in the music sphere. In April, among other collaborations, it partnered with hip hop trio Migos, and others, to produce a digital music festival. And, in July it announced it would host a boxing match between Mike Tyson and Roy Jones, paying over $50 million to show the match.

So similar are TikTok and Triller that Triller announced it was suing TikTok in July of this year over claims the latter had infringed on a copyright involving the stitching together of videos. Reportedly, Triller may be looking to file claims against other companies including Dubsmash, Instagram and Lomotif over alleged infringement on the same copyright. Also in July, 18-year-old TikTok star Josh Richards (no, us neither) caused controversy after moving from TikTok to take on the role of chief strategy officer at Triller. The move was seen as an attempt to win over Richards 20 million plus followers.

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