Zhang Xiaolong created WeChat in 2010.
The QQ social-based product reached 100 million users in 433 days and 300 million users in two years-a terrifying rate of growth. Relative to all previous PC Internet products are unique.
Now, as a “national” social app with more than 1 billion monthly active users, WeChat’s penetration rate has reached frightening levels and it has become a major infrastructure.
However, in the face of WhatsApp, Messenger, LINE, Viber, Skype, Hangouts and a large number of other instant messaging tools, WeChat “broke down” when it went to India in 2012. After five years of bitter struggle, WeChat finally failed miserably.
At Tencent’s offices in Guangzhou in 2010, Zhang Xiaolong, who is best known for creating and selling Foxmail, held a press conference. He formed a team of 10 engineers to develop WeChat, which is now the world’s largest superapp.
At the time, Tencent’s flagship product, QQ, a desktop messaging software, was very popular. The design of WeChat is simple, which is in sharp contrast to the messy design of QQ.
In just 433 days, the first batch of WeChat users exceeded 100 million. After this historic leap, WeChat decided to launch its products globally. Since Tencent already has a foothold in India through its travel service portal Ibibo, India is a natural place for market testing.
In early 2012, Tencent set up a team of more than a dozen employees in Gurgaon to carry out a large-scale marketing campaign.
WeChat is the first mobile app to launch TV ads in India. We didn’t spend any money. “said a former WeChat executive in India, who asked not to be named. Movie stars Parineeti Chopra and Varun Dhawan are listed as brand spokesmen. WeChat has launched advertising campaigns on television, radio and shopping malls.
At the beginning, WeChat successfully attracted the attention of the public. “We won about 25 million users during the campaign. WeChat has been the highest ranked app in the Google Play store for 45 days, “the former executive said.”
It looks as if WeChat has succeeded in India.
But the path of development on WeChat began to turn like a roller coaster in an amusement park and fell all the way down. The number of applications unloaded begins to grow without user stickiness. Soon, there was even news that WeChat might be banned by the Indian government-the beginning of its downfall in India.
FactorDaily, an Indian technology news website, contacted Tencent and the WeChat team to try to obtain some of the information at the time, but received no response.
Why didn’t WeChat survive in India?
To launch in India, Tencent has a team of three to four developers and six to seven marketing staff, as well as two senior managers, from the Ibibo component. The team is led by Rahul Razdan and Nilay Arora, who is now the president of Tencent’s India operations.
The WeChat product is designed exactly in accordance with Zhang Xiaolong’s vision and has many features that are very popular in China, but which are not very popular with users in India. Humanshu Gupta, who served as deputy director of marketing strategy for WeChat India from 2012 to 2015.
For example, WeChat must be accepted by the other party before it can start chatting when adding friends. By contrast, WhatsApp can initiate a chat with anyone in its address book at any time, as long as the other person has WhatsApp installed. WhatsApp’s assumption is that if you have each other’s contact information, then you should know each other very well.
WeChat’s pattern of forcing friends to confirm is similar to that of Facebook, and even to this day Facebook is still the same-you can’t see your partner’s private content if they don’t accept your friend’s request. WeChat does this because it is not only a chat tool, but also a social platform, and its “moments” function is similar to Facebook’s timeline, which raises privacy concerns among users.
But this setup adds a layer of resistance to the interaction, especially in group chats. Chat groups are usually initiated by a person (an administrator) who invites others to join the group through a telephone number. But in India, the WeChat feature does not seem to be working smoothly-administrators must “add friends” and gain acceptance before inviting others to join the group. WeChat has no such problem in China, because by the time WeChat was launched, QQ, the Tencent messaging product of the desktop era, had 750 million active users, while QQ users only needed to log on to WeChat with their QQ number. You can transfer all of QQ’s social relationships.
Another feature of WeChat allows users to find nearby WeChat users and send friend requests. The first time users explore the functionality of the application, many will try the “nearby people” feature, which turns on location sharing by default, sharing locations with nearby people, including strangers. But once location sharing is on, it’s hard to shut it down.
“Women receive a lot of men’s pick-up line, which is the main reason many women uninstall the app. “there may not be such a problem in China,” Gupta said. ”
‘when they report the feedback to China, it may be due to cultural differences,’ he said. ‘these issues are not taken seriously by the Chinese side.’
Despite many problems, WeChat lasted about a year, after which users mostly switched to WhatsApp. In February 2018, WhatsApp, an Facebook app with 200 million active users, supported 10 languages in India, where it now has the largest share of the instant messaging market.
Food and Life blogger Suman Prasad, who has been using WeChat since graduating from college in 2013, said many of his friends are using WeChat’s group chat, emoticons and group messaging. “as a brand, WeChat has huge potential, but I don’t think they can really understand the thinking of Indians and therefore fail to capture the preferences of young people. “he said.
When WeChat first launched in India, the app itself had 40MB. At the time, mainstream handsets in India had less than the capacity of an 200MB. Due to storage limitations, WeChat encountered obstacles at the beginning. What’s more, the enemy that really made WeChat slip was that WeChat only had Android and iOS versions, while Saipan and BlackBerry had a large market share in India at that time.
In 2013, when WeChat was most active in India, there were news reports that the Indian government planned to ban WeChat. A former WeChat executive, who asked not to be named, said, “the decline of WeChat began after rumors that the government would ban WeChat.” Many people didn’t even know that WeChat was a Chinese app, and all they saw was Varun Dhawan and Parineeti Chopra’s propaganda for WeChat. “
The problem of Localization
The success of WeChat in China is a legendary story.
Surrounded by an ecosystem of more than 1 billion users, WeChat is a panacea in China-able to take taxis, order meals, buy movie tickets and even buy drugs.
Gupta said that in addition to adding some local content-such as the expression of Diwali and providing technical support platforms for some Indian partners-WeChat has also added some local content to India’s localization. Tencent has focused on signing deals with brands, trying to build an ecosystem similar to that in China, where brands can operate on WeChat and offer discounts to users who follow the brands. But the key to signing up more brands is to have a growing number of users and use them for a long time.
It’s hard to get brands into the chat platform. Facebook’s Messenger app is still struggling. This requires a large user base, enough time to use, and the need for market segmentation of users, let the brand target user groups for publicity, but also to the application to bring user viscosity. WeChat has been successful in China thanks to its predecessor, QQ, which made it the most popular chat app in the country, with millions of user data.
Gupta said after the fact that if WeChat’s marketing strategy in India had focused on product design rather than brand signings, the situation would have been very different today. But since WeChat was locked in a fierce business battle with Alibaba in China at the time, it seemed to have little interest in product improvements unrelated to the Chinese market. At the time, WeChat’s strategy was to localise products that had achieved success in China overseas and then build ecosystems and partnerships around the brand, supplemented by aggressive marketing strategies.
In 2012, the Internet was much cheaper in China than in India, and sending videos the size of 4MB was not a problem at all. WhatsApp can compress 5MB photos to 40KB. But WeChat does not compress files, so sending and receiving media files takes a long time.
“there is a word called internationalization of products. In China, it basically means translating products into English so that people in other countries can use them. But in essence, products are designed for the Chinese market in accordance with Chinese customs. A former WeChat executive said of WeChat’s failure in India.
Gupta also questioned management. Even if some changes are made to the product, it is only a change in appearance, and it will take a long time to achieve it. “We did get the BlackBerry version and the Nokia Symbian version, but it took a year and a half to get them done, and by then the two operating systems, which used to be number one, were almost dead, causing WeChat to lose all of its users in India. “
India’s Instant messaging Market
When WeChat was launched in the Indian market, India already had instant messaging applications.
WhatsApp is already having an impact in India, partnering with operators such as Reliance to offer WhatsApp a package of 16 rupees a month. Facebook is also online with its own Messenger. Hike, a local product, was launched at the same time as WeChat. A number of competitors have sprung up in the instant messaging market, including LINE, Viber, Skype and Hangouts, which have brought voice messages, video calls, free calls and emoticons to Indian users.
At the end of the initial enclosure, the products either found their niche or pulled out of the Indian market, with the exception of WhatsApp, which already had some markets.
In February 2013, Hike rose to No. 1 in the App Store with an award-winning referral campaign, and then fell apart. WeChat and LINE also launched marketing campaigns in India after months of silence.
Korean-born Japanese app LINE, which entered India in July 2013, has held the No. 1 spot in the app store for several weeks, relying on its own TV ads. Soon after WeChat began its TV commercials, LINE began its own TV commercials in June 2013, with actor Katrina Kaif acting as the brand’s spokesperson in October of the same year.
As for Tencent’s management, at least in the early days, they saw it as a competitor to LINE, not WhatsApp, because both relied on a lot of marketing activity to expand wildly around the world. “said Gupta.
The reason Tencent’s management is focusing on LINE in India is that WhatsApp has always kept a low profile. Gupta said the growth of WhatsApp is entirely spontaneous, and from a national point of view, there is nothing WeChat can do to stop it. But LINE is expanding wildly in countries around the world, just as Uber competes with many local taxi companies.
In mid-2015, WeChat realized they had reached a dead end in India. About a year later, Tencent led a $100, 75 million fundraising for Hike in August 2016, valuing Hike at $1.4 billion. But Hike is still struggling to cash in, and today, two years later, it has only about 100 million users.
It can be said that Tencent in the Indian instant messaging market bet is not very smooth.
India has also seen some indigenous applications go the way of universal applications. Tapzo, backed by Sequoia Capital, has a strong market share. It started as an online customer feedback platform, developed into an app aggregation platform, and was sold to Amazon Pay in September. Another PayTM, backed by Alibaba, is also trying to become India’s WeChat.
Unlike WhatsApp, which preempts the market by relying on low memory versions and media file compression, WeChat, LINE and other applications growing in China and Japan all have better quality architectures. They have rich media interaction, such as emoticons, voice messages, video calls, and so on. Rather than adapting their products to the lower end of India’s mobile market in 2013, they assume that the world will eventually become more popular with better phones and faster internet, allowing their apps to provide a better messaging experience.
In India, this did happen in 2016, but the network effect of WhatsApp is already so powerful that other apps are no longer possible to capture the market.
Lessons learned by the Chinese from India
Of course, WeChat’s problems in India are not unique. Chinese applications and services in other areas have encountered similar problems. In February, ofo, the world’s largest bike-sharing company, stopped doing business in India just six months later.
When ofo started operations in India earlier this year, there were already many competitors in the cycle-sharing market, including mobike, another Chinese company, Pedl, from Zoomcar, and Yulu, based in Bangalore. These startups have found a blank slate in India’s metropolitan areas and are ready to make the most of it.
Rajarshi Sahai, who heads ofo’s India operations, says ofo has taken a big hit in terms of ease of use, even though it has tailored its local operations strategy for the Indian market. Although the ofo app has 32 million daily visitors in 22 countries, the Indian team has encountered long gestation periods and task schedules as it tries to localize and customize it. As a result, smaller, more nimble competitors have been able to improve their apps more quickly to cater to Indian users.
For Chinese companies backed by BAT, ‘the Chinese market is always the core business,’ Sahai says. ‘the rest of the market is just expansion, so there’s some inertia in the face of other Indian competitors.’
However, it is clear that the Indian market cannot be treated in the same way as other markets.
Sajith Pai of Blume Ventures, a venture capital firm, says India’s consumers are divided into three main groups: the first, about 100m people, mainly urban and wealthy, are the main targets of luxury brands; and the second, about 100m. The rest of the population, about 1 billion people, are still living below the poverty line.
A number of international companies, including Apple, Facebook and Instagram, have taken note, Pai said, treating India as a secondary market, targeting the first group of 100 million people. Chinese companies such as WeChat, on the other hand, are targeting a second group of 100m people, including rural India, emerging internet users and young people. , MX player, NewsDog, Shareit and UCBrowser, for example, are all developing new Internet users in India, and they have a better chance of surviving in India because they know more about new users in India.
However, China is a monolingual country dominated by the government, and local cultures are very similar, while India is completely different, its culture is diverse, there is no common language, urban structure, economic development is also very different. That makes it hard to deal with the Indian market in the same way-a lesson Tencent, or BAT, has learned only when it invests in big Indian companies.