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Chinese App: "We'll Make the World a More Beautiful Place"

One of the up-and-coming Chinese companies that I have been following for quite a while is Meitu. I noticed them for the first time a couple of years ago at a trade show in Shanghai and they have been on such an interesting journey since from when they started in Xiamen in 2008 with their first app ‘Meitu xiuxiu’.

The Meitu stand in Shanghai in 2015. Angelababy was the eye catcher for their mobile devices on display.

Why is Meitu Relevant Outside China

I believe that Meitu is relevant for the world outside China because it is not just another app a large user base in China, in a market with that amount of scale a lot of apps will have an impressive scale, but the really interesting part is the way that they are integrating software and hardware with existing user behaviours. They clearly have a deep understanding of how to connect existing social patterns with a software and hardware platform.

Meitu has leveraged the "selfie" trend to build an entire business on this single social behaviour.

Not many of us can probably claim that we don’t have a need for perfecting our online identities. And Meitu has managed to build a business that can deliver a toolbox of hardware and software that lets users satisfy that need and then simply adding a business model behind on top. I find that quite impressive and confirms that you...

shouldn't compete on the number of functionalities, just satisfy ONE single user need and be the best in the world at it.

Meitu was number 17 on Time Magazine’s list of ”Best apps in 2017”. Since then, they have grown their user base not just in China, but also in the US. Most recently, they did the largest IPO on the Hong Kong stock exchange in the last 15 years, when they went public about a year ago.

So what is Meitu and what unique value do they bring?

I met with Peter Xu who’s Head of Branding at Meitu and his wording of the answer was:

”There’s an old Chinese saying that “Everyone has the heart of pursuing beautiful things & self-images!" The core essence of the Meitu company & its total portfolio has been consistently centered on “Beauty”.

With its software/hardware, online/offline services, utility/social apps, Meitu aims to help various users become more beautiful from the digital to the real world, by leveraging beauty related technology (Visual A.I & A.R etc.) and cross-over partnership with beauty know-how.

Meitu brings that to life with 5 different mobile apps that are all developed to support the overall company mission tagline “To make the world a more beautiful place”. It ranges from being an app with your basic photo optimization to a more ‘Snapchat lense’ of sorts, where you can use subtle or extreme touch-up or make-up filters.

Meitu takes make-up and skin care quite seriously and have, according to Peter Xu “in-depth co-operation with most professional dermatologists and authentic skin clinics to probe more beauty solutions for its consumers.”

Another interesting part of their portfolio is Meipai, which is a live video app which has had really strong traction and been nicknamed ’the Instagram for Video’ by a Facebook exec.

From App to Smart Device

Compared to a lot of companies that develop apps, Meitu has taken it a step further and launched their own mobile phones and smart devices.

When you are in Shanghai or Beijing you can spot them quite often, they are recognised by the unique V-shape. You can check out the whole portfolio here.

I especially like the bundle which include selfie stick, remote and phone in Hello Kitty branding.

Where will Meitu go next?

According to Peter Xu, it’s all about going outside the boarders of China:

“Considering Meitu is one of the most well-known mobile app company in China, however, how to further expand the market outside China will be quite challenging for Meitu.”

Besides this challenge, Meitu is sharing the challenge about monetization with most other app developers:

“Meitu has 1.5bn unique-device-installs and 480 mio M.A.U globally, but the challenge is how to monetize such huge traffic while not disturbing user experience that Meitu always treasures the most, that will be the next biggest challenge for Meitu.”

AR and AI

Going forward I believe that Meitu will not just be be a strong player in beautification and mobile hardware, but also in AR and AI.

Earlier this year they started a creative collaboration with Facebook on camera effects in the Facebook AR studio. The partnership alone shows that Meitu is a player that is being taken seriously and it is also quite clear that they are up there with the very best (if not already ahead) when it comes to the creative execution.

If we then look at the really interesting part which is the AI and big data, then the amount of data that Meitu is generating is staggering. Users are generating over 200 million pictures per day & 7.9 billion video views per month so the big data alone makes Meitu a big player.

The difficult challenge is to make it operational and that might be one task in China, but a whole different one outside of it. China might have the scale but if the company is to venture outside the borders of China for real, then there will be challenges in data-privacy and trust (as reported by Wired amongst others).

It will be very interesting to see how Meitu will solve these challenges but I am very sure that we will be seeing a lot more coming from these guys.

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