2018-09-14 11:15:39

BEIJING — The flamboyant investor behind a recent hit messaging app claims that it has attracted “investment interest” from the owner of its archrival, WeChat — the ubiquitous social media platform and super-app that boasts over 1 billion users.

Since its Aug. 20 launch, Bullet Message has racked up 7 million users. From Aug. 23 to Sept. 4, it shot up Apple Inc.’s App Store charts in China to hit No. 1 as the most-downloaded free social media app, according to app tracker App Annie. By Tuesday, the app had lost some of its momentum, falling to No. 8.

In his social media post Tuesday, educator-turned-entrepreneur Luo Yonghao raised eyebrows when he claimed that the investment team from WeChat’s developer, Tencent Holdings Ltd., had approached Bullet several times to request “meetings, communication, or collaboration.” Tencent responded that its employees had indeed conversed briefly with Bullet Message staffers on WeChat but denied that it was looking into investing in the new app.

Luo, a former English teacher and a charismatic public personality, made a name for himself after defiantly smashing malfunctioning Siemens AG appliances in front of his company’s offices to protest what he called the poor quality of the German manufacturer’s products. He currently helms Smartisan Technology Co. Ltd., a boutique smartphone brand launched in 2012. Smartisan is an investor in Beijing Kuairu Technology Co. Ltd., the startup that developed Bullet Message.

Bullet Message faces an uphill battle against WeChat, China’s most popular instant messaging app, which offers mobile payments and Facebook-like functions. It also incorporates countless “mini-apps” that allow users to hail a cab or order takeout delivery. Still in an early stage of development, Bullet Message offers instant texting and voice messaging services. It is also able to automatically transcribe voice messages to text. WeChat can also transcribe voice messages, but users have to manually activate the function.

Financial news outlet Caixin found that the majority of Bullet Message users own a smartphone from Smartisan, whose target buyers are limited to a smaller niche market. A number of users who have installed Bullet Message told Caixin they had managed to add dozens of friends on the app — though only a few admitted to still using it.

In another social media post last week, Luo declared his intention to spend 1 billion yuan [$146 million] over the next six months to increase Bullet’s user base to 100 million.

Luo has acknowledged that he doesn’t expect Bullet Message’s arrival to inspire people to uninstall WeChat. Nonetheless, he will continue to beef up his app’s features. For example, the developer plans to incorporate mobile payment platform Alipay into the app. WeChat, meanwhile, has its own popular payment service, WeChat Pay, run by Tencent.

This is an original article by Caixin Global and has been republished with their permission. The article can be found on their website here.

(Header image: A mobile user holds two phones displaying the logos of rival apps Bullet Message (left) and WeChat (right) in Shanghai, Aug. 30, 2018. IC)