Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing David Liu, CEO of Jiepang. Jiepang is China’s largest mobile “check-in” platform with offices in Beijing and Shanghai.
1. Tell me a little bit about yourself and how Jiepang got its start.
I’m a 27 year old, American born Chinese, grew up in the bay area, and have been doing my own startups since my college days at UCLA. I was a Mass Communication major and with some free time. In early 2010, I moved to Beijing to do a mobile startup. I was blessed to meet my co-founder, Yuancheng, at a Starbucks in ZhongGuanCun through friends that had gone through the Tsinghua–Stanford route and were back in China for their own startups. After a lot of fun brainstorming at Bridge Café (near WuDaoKou), we both felt like there was a great opportunity to build a truly mobile social network together.
2. What exactly is Jiepang and how is it different from Foursquare?
Jiepang is a local, social mobile app that helps friends share and discover places. Our users “check in” on Jiepang, and share that they’ve arrived at a place. It helps people keep in touch and also discover new places.
In China, there’s just more people, more big cities, and naturally more social networks online – Sina Weibo, Tencent and Weixin (WeChat), RenRen, Kaixin, Douban, to name just a few. Jiepang connects with all of them, so your check-in’s are pushed across different social networks. Recently, we’ve integrated with Weixin to allow our users to easily share a venue on Jiepang, along with a map and more information, into the Weixin app with Weixin friends. I personally love this feature.
Most Jiepang users are of the so-called post-80s, post-90s generations, both super connected with social media and relatively comfortable meeting new friends through relevant social networking. I think Jiepang has a unique opportunity to help Chinese users discover new friends with similar interests and backgrounds by seeing that they frequent similar places.
3. Jiepang grew fairly rapidly from its inception, what do you attribute that success to?
First, I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve in the China market, the world’s largest smartphone population. I think this is the number one success factor.
Second, we picked a very competitive space. A lot of location based social apps launched around the same time we did. I think the competition was very healthy and helped quickly validate our concept with users, brands, local merchants, device makers.
Third, doing a location based social network really crosses into multiple domains—social networking, smartphone devices, offline events, brands, local merchants. We were lucky to bring together a great team with diverse backgrounds, and I believe this helped us rapidly develop Jiepang across these different domains.
4. How many active users does Jiepang currently have?
We have just over 3,000,000 registered users. While we don’t publish our active user data, we do have a very active user base, especially in the bigger cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong.
5. Location Based Services (LBS) is a very competitive market. Every app seems to offer LBS in some form. How has Jiepang managed to retain its user base with so many competitors, both direct and indirect?
Competitive markets are huge markets, and we’re sincere believers that there is a huge market for many different location based services. At Jiepang, our focus on our niche of post-80s, post-90s in big cities, and curating the community of interesting people and interesting local venues has helped us to grow on a differentiated path that’s just more interesting. We also have a strong partner culture. Through our strategic partnerships with social networks, device makers, and brands and merchants, we’ve been able to steadily grow our service. We’re seeing many new and interesting niche local, mobile services continuing to pop up in Silicon Valley and U.S., and I think it’s going to be true in Beijing and China too.
6. LBS is a major marketing platform on paper, how well has that paid off for your customers?
Jiepang has partnered up with great brands and local merchants to do some very successful social media campaigns to drive engagement and sharing, as well as to bring foot traffic into stores. We have great repeat partners such as Starbucks, Starwood, North Face, and more. Today, 90 percent of our revenue comes from our brand partnerships, and we expect great future growth from local merchant partnerships also.
7. Speaking of marketing, how do you market Jiepang to the public? Word-of-mouth? Pre-installs?
Most of our users discover Jiepang through word of mouth, with social networking accelerating the pace of word of mouth as our check-in’s are pushed into Sina Weibo, Tencent, and other social networks. Our partnerships with device makers, as a preinstalled app in HTC, Sony Ericsson, Nokia, and others has definitely helped boost user growth also.
8. If a vendor wants to get listed on Jiepang, what do they have to do?
Local merchants can visit the Jiepang for Local Merchants website: http://jiepang.com/business/venues . Vendors can register online or contact our team. We will be happy to hear from you.
9. Where does your revenue stream come from?
Since early last year, we’ve been running paid campaigns for global brands and local merchants, so users are encouraged to check-in and get specials and badges at Starbucks or a local coffee shop. This definitely helps a lot with keeping the Jiepang business alive and well.
10. Do you have anything exciting in the works for the Jiepang platform itself or for a new product?
In our first two years, we’ve served our users most as a great way to share places with friends. Discovering places is a natural result when your friends are actively checking in with you. However, in the coming year, we’re planning to do more to help people discover places based on the time and day, where you’ve been, where your friends are, what’s trending on Jiepang. We hope that people don’t have to search for places anymore, and to just “Jiepang” to discover nearby places they’ll love. We’re excited to improve the Jiepang experience for people who love checking-in, or just want see what cool places and cool people are just around the corner.