China based U+, or Youja.cn, the social and entertainment app, is entering Southeast Asia and aims to take its current registered user base of 20 million to 35 million by the end of the year. It hopes that by the end of 2015, it will have 90 million registered users, with at least 30 million new users from Southeast Asia.
U+ has already started its operations in Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia, and wants to target the youth in the 16-25 age group in the city-state. “We will go to Indonesia later. Currently, we want to focus on smaller markets,” Hu ZhuTao, CEO, U+ tells e27.
U+ already has some users in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia, comprising “local Chinese” youth.
The priority for the three Co-founders and serial entrepreneurs — Hu ZhuTao (Frank), Zou Ling (Lerry) and Jiang Mingliang — for the next few months is to expand its team in Singapore, look for distributors to work with, reach out to bloggers to get some PR for the product, and localise the product in English. The trio hope to make Singapore a base to target the pan-Asian market besides China, where U+, according to the team, is already number one in the “instant social” segment.
Let the show go on
U+ differentiates itself from other messaging apps on “instant quotient,” which it says is its unique selling point. The youth today, it feels, is pronouncedly impatient and enjoys visibility on social networks. ZhuTao feels that the social needs of this demographic are unmet, despite the multitude of social apps in the market today. “Apps like WeChat or Facebook have users from all generations and all walks of life — parents, your bosses or teachers. The self-centric, anti-authoritarian young generation usually shuns away on these social networks,” he says, adding, “Whereas on social discovery platforms like Tinder, Momo, Skout or Tagged, a typical out-reach takes ages to get a response. The experience is very asynchronous, particularly when the impatient youth want to play now!”
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The U+ experience, according to the company, “is unique”. Users on U+ can immediately get engaged in “ShowTimes”, live shows, where show-hosts interact with their fans via audio, video, games and chats. The model is similar to a Nasdaq listed player called YY, which too has shows. However, according to the U+ team, YY employs professionals showing via PC webcams. “In U+, the show-hosts are the grassroots users; the content is all UGC-based. When you have over 10 times the number of show-hosts than YY, exhibiting facets of their life ‘live’ via mobile phones, you have a very colourful social network unlike anything else,” says ZhuTao.
Expanding to Southeast Asia is a natural progression for the app, as ZhuTao feels that “the youth in the market has a similar cultural and social media consumption behaviour” as compared to China.
Entertainment means money
U+ is already garnering a monthly revenue in the tune of US$1 million, most of which comes from sales of virtual items and gifting similar to LINE and QZone, a flagship product of QQ. The company’s valuation according to ZhuTao is pegged at US$160 million.
The social and entertainment app — available on iOS and Android — also generates revenues from membership fees to access premium features. According to ZhuTao, more than 100 million messages are exchanged on U+ on a daily basis by the three million daily active users (8.5 million monthly active users). He hopes to double up the number of monthly active users by the end of this year. While the male:female ratio of users is 3:1, 70 per cent of U+ users are on Android.
U+ has raised over US$30 million in its Series A and Series B rounds of funding in 2011 and 2013 respectively. It is scouting for Series C, through which it hopes to raise about US$40 million. The money will be used for marketing and market expansions.
Men behind the show
For the record, ZhuTao is the former Founder of Vogins Technology, a feature phone middle-ware platform, which was acquired by MediaTek in 2009. Besides heading U+, he also takes care of marketing and operations in the company.
(L-R) Jiang Mingliang, Hu ZhuTao and Zou Ling
Meanwhile, Zou Ling the other Co-founder and Chief Product Officer at U+, was the Founder of Wealink.com (2004), one of the largest online professional social networks in China. On asking him, why he wouldn’t concentrate just on the professional social network, he says, “Wealink is not as big as LinkedIn. Unlike the West, where people are comfortable sharing their professional details, and do businesses over phones and emails, Chinese businessmen are conservative. They prefer to do deals face-to-face.”
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The Southeast Asia expansion operations will be largely handled by Mingliang, who goes by the Chief Finance Officer title. He is the former Founder of FengShang TV Shopping, which was acquired by Changbai Group in 2010. He has also served as COO at Livedoor China (formerly Lycos China), where he was responsible for web portal and wireless value-added services.