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Meet Dubsmash, the video service stealing some of TikTok’s thunder

July 14, 2020, 6:30 PM UTC

Lip-synching stars, video gamers, and fashionistas are turning to Dubsmash to share their short viral video clips amid growing concerns about the security of popular rival TikTok.

During the last week of June, Dubsmash’s weekly downloads worldwide soared 235%, to 511,000, from the previous week, according to mobile app analytics firm Sensor Tower. Meanwhile, downloads of TikTok fell 19%, to 15.4 million.

“Over the past 30 days, Dubsmash has seen a surge of new communities around the world,” Suchit Dash, Dubsmash’s cofounder and president, said in a statement. “The team is working around the clock to help foster a safe, fun, and welcoming environment for all.” 

The contrasting momentum between Dubsmash and TikTok coincides with India banning TikTok because of security concerns following a border skirmish between Indian and Chinese military. It also comes as U.S. officials increasingly voice concerns that the Chinese government may be using TikTok to spy on U.S. residents.

Last week, President Trump said he’s considering a ban on TikTok. A few days later, Amazon sent a memo to employees telling them to delete TikTok from their phones “due to security risks.” Amazon later claimed the memo was sent “in error” and declined to provide additional details.  

TikTok, which is owned by Chinese company ByteDance, has denied it is a security risk, saying it has never provided user data to the Chinese government and never would, the company said in a statement. In fact, the app recently stopped service in Hong Kong because of a new law there that would allow the Chinese government to demand user data.

In May, TikTok hired a U.S. CEO, Disney’s former head of streaming Kevin Mayer. Following criticism from U.S. officials, the company pointed to Mayer and the hundreds of U.S. employees and leaders working on safety, security, and public policy as a sign of its trustworthiness.

Although users in India have helped with Dubsmash’s big gains in recent months, U.S. users accounted for the majority, or about 47%, of the app’s downloads from April through June, according to Sensor Tower.

Dubsmash was founded in Berlin in 2014 by Dash, Jonas Drüppel, Roland Grenke, and Daniel Taschik to give users a place to post short videos of themselves and dub them with audio from movies and songs. Early on, it gained a large following in Germany before users in other countries started adopting the service. But the app, which had 50 million downloads within six months, struggled to keep its users loyal after many of them flocked to the service to watch videos from celebrities and then never returned.

Then in 2018, younger rival TikTok began its rapid rise, initially for viral dance challenges. Its influence grew, helping Lil Nas X, for example, turn his song “Old Town Road” into a Billboard hit after it went viral on the video service first. 

Eventually, Dubsmash’s users had dwindled to the point of putting the company under financial strain. It tried introducing new features, but that ended up accelerating its loss of users. At one point, it considered pivoting to offer enterprise services. Instead, the company closed its office in Berlin, moved back to New York, and started to rebuild the app.

The company declined to comment to Fortune. But in an article they wrote in Fast Company in March, Dash, Druppel, and cofounder Tim Specht said, “We stripped everything about our company back to bare bones, nearly as it was right at the beginning, but without shutting down operations. We let nearly all our staff go.”

Despite Dubsmash’s recent popularity, the app, with 195 million downloads, is still dwarfed by TikTok’s 2.3 billion, according to Sensor Tower.

Dubsmash’s most recent fundraising last year pumped $4.75 million into the company from investors including Index Ventures and True Growth Capital. It has raised $19.95 million since its inception, according to PitchBook.

Now that it is gaining users, Dubsmash hopes to add new features to attract high-profile users, or influencers, who executives hope can attract millions of other users. It also plans to create features to help those influencers make money on its service, much like TikTok does.

Much of Dubsmash’s recent growth has been from video gamers and cosplayers, superfans who dress up as their favorite characters from video games, movies, and books in homemade costumes.

A cosplay TikTok user recently posted a video on TikTok touting Dubsmash as a good “alternative” to the Chinese rival app. But the user, who goes by little_fae_cosplay and has 37,000 followers, cites one key issue: “The only thing it’s missing is the people.”