If you are a comic fan, you must know Stan Lee, a legend that reshaped the entertainment industries in the U.S. As the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics, he created world-known ‘superheroes’ like spider-man and X-men, which end up becoming cultural icons. Stan Lee is not only an insightful businessman but is truly a creative producer of American people’s entertainment lives.
In China, a guru-level KOL and comedian, Mr. Luo Yonghao, strives to transform himself to a smartphone tycoon. He is serious. In August, the messaging app— Bullet became the No.1 popular app in China, soon after his smart phone business Smartian invested heavily in it. As Luo is followed by tens of millions of fans on his social media accounts, people believe Luo’s strategic investment takes big credits in the successful promotion of Bullet.
But who is Luo?
The Chinese ‘Stan Lee’ On the Way
Unlike many execs, Luo speaks his mind, both on and off stage, with a flat tone, fast pace and sometimes pokerfaced sense of humor.
His storytelling format and blunt criticism of others (featuring words like “stupid,” “idiots” and “bumpkins”) were refreshing changes from the typical smartphone launch. For the crowd who paid to get in, they were mainly there to be humored — they loved it when Luo jokingly thanked McDonald’s for keeping his team fed during late nights. The CEO even went as far as introducing some of his single colleagues in his slideshow, in the hopes of helping them find partners.
Luo started off as a high school dropout, much like how Gates and Jobs were college dropouts. Luo took on odd jobs like running a lamb skewer shop, selling computer parts and reselling smuggled cars, but those were far from ideal for a comfy life. Luo taught himself English and became a teacher at Beijing’s renowned language school, The New Oriental. That’s where he got his first taste of fame. His students were so amused by Luo’s bold humor and off-topic stories, that they secretly recorded his lessons and shared the audio clips online. Luo became an internet sensation, and the Chinese search engine Baidu recognized him as one of the top 10 personalities of 2005 and 2006.
After resigning from the language school in 2006, Luo dabbled in other businesses. Dissatisfied by other platforms censoring his critical posts about Chinese authorities, he launched a blogging platform of his own — Balog. Bullog attracted bloggers who weren’t afraid to speak up, and quickly became one of the most influential websites in China. The government eventually shut the website down, but Luo didn’t fight back. In his words, “I had to feed my family.”
About a year before Bullog was shut down, Luo co-founded and ran an English school as its principal until he started running Smartisan in 2012. Between those years, he also managed to squeeze in some side projects. He published an autobiography, hosted a popular series of talks about his entrepreneurship, organized a fridge-smashing protest against Siemens for refusing to fix loose doors, and acted as a copyright activist for Beijing-based font studio. Perhaps most notably, Luo wrote, directed and even made a cameo in a micro movie.
“After the software unveil, recruitment and funding were a lot easier,” Luo said. Smartisan now employs about 350 people, many of whom are ex-Motorola staffers.
Last year Chinese media reported that Luo was approached by Meizu’s Vice President Li Nan, who made an offer to acquire Smartisan. Given Meizu’s history and Luo’s celebrity status, it would have been an interesting combination; but despite Luo’s public endorsement of his rival company’s craftsmanship, he kindly rejected the offer.
According to Luo, he has all the right ingredients to be the next Steve Jobs. He’s spent years studying industrial, UI and human-interaction design purely out of interest; he ran a business for three years that apparently generated millions of dollars revenue every year; and he’s passionate about gadgets and arts — alternative music and woodwork.
“The idea first came to me when I had dinner with a friend almost three years ago,” Luo said. “I told him I really wanted to make a phone, and he said, ‘Why not? The only genius in this industry is Steve Jobs, and he is dead. The others are doing a sloppy job; they’re all just as bad. So why don’t you do it?’ I was moved, so I started to take a serious look at the feasibility.” It’s still too early to say whether Luo has made it, although his super popular Bullet messaging app formed a good foundation for his emerging smart phone business.
A Challenger for WeChat?
Bullet Messaging (子弹短信), the app that is shaking up WeChat’s dominance in China, announced on its social media channel that the app reached 4 million active users in just 9 days since its launch.
The app created by Smartisan-backed startup Kuairu went online on midnight of August 20th and by the morning of August 30th, Bullet Messaging was already installed on 4 million phones.
“Thirty-six colleagues, with an average age of 27, went online for seven days, attracted 54 investment institutions and RMB 150 million of financing in three days,” Bullet Messaging wrote in a post on Chinese Twitter-like platform Weibo.
The app surpassed both WeChat and the popular live streaming app Douyin (Tik Tok) becoming the most downloaded social iOS app in the Chinese App Store. It also received RMB 150 million ($22 million) in funding after its first week of operation, confirmed again by Smartisan CEO Luo Yonghao.
However, the messaging app is already facing scrutiny. Users have uncovered Bullet’s dark underbelly which is already populated with tricky pictures and videos—content that WeChat would not allow.
The app was also criticized for its lack of security standards namely the lack of two-factor authentication, end-to-end encryption, and other privacy settings, as well as the option to see other parties’ phone numbers which brings privacy concerns, according to a Chinese site.
Here are the features that Bullet Messaging is offering to its customers:
• Bullet messenger is an application primary for instant messaging unlike WeChat who provides lot of other services along with texting.
• It converts your voice into text as you are composing your message, feature not yet provided in WeChat.
• It allows the user to pause a voice message, drag and jump to a certain point, saving a lot of time for both ends, feature not provided by WeChat.
• As the name suggests, the features are designed for saving user’s texting time.
Users in China are surely giving a green signal to these features provided by Bullet Messenger.
Although media regarded Bullet as a rival to WeChat, Smartisan’s CEO Luo Yonghao has completely denied the speculations of rivalry with WeChat, by stating that Bullet Messaging is nowhere focusing to compete WeChat, rather they are focused on targeting a particular group unlike WeChat.
“We are creating a niche product for people who care the efficiency of communication. ” – Luo Yonghao Smartisan’s CEO
Another point in support of his denial to competition is that Bullet Messaging only covers instant messaging whereas WeChat offers multiple services to
Even though Bullet Messaging publicly denies competition with WeChat, it is going to incorporate Alipay in its app, the biggest competitor to WeChat pay.
WeChat is an experienced and the most used instant messaging app in China. It is going to take lot more than making profits to overtake this well-established social app.
All the hassle caused by Bullet Messaging in China’s social media application market proves that, the market in China is still full of potential and is open for new chat application startups to enter.
(Content edited from Technodeechnodeechnode, Smartisan (Luo Yonghao), EngadgetEngadgetEngadget, appscrip.com, Visual China Groupoupoup)