Let Bullet Messenger ‘rest’

By Zhang Ye Source:Global Times Published: 2018/9/13 18:20:51

Sudden rise and fall of new messaging app shows it cannot compete with WeChat: experts

A view of Bullet Messenger and WeChat icons on a smartphone homescreen Photo: IC

After making a huge splash in WeChat-dominated China about three weeks ago, Bullet Messenger is now struggling to maintain its popularity.

The new instant messaging app, developed by a team of about 40 young IT engineers based in Beijing, quickly became the most downloaded free-offering on the iOS App Store in China on August 24, just a few days after its debut on August 20.

However, this week, the app experienced a dramatic fall, plummeting from the No.1 spot to the 95th on Wednesday, according to the latest statistics from App Annie.

"A calming down is what the team needs most right now," Luo Yonghao, an English-teacher-turned-entrepreneur who backs Bullet Messenger, told a press conference held in Beijing on Sunday.

The conference was titled "Let the Bullet Fly for a While" in Chinese. However, Luo thinks that it's time for the team to take a "rest."

Luo's company Smartisan Technology, a Beijing-based smartphone maker, is an investor of the app's developer - Kuairu Technology. One-third of Kuairu employees used to work for Smartisan.

Going viral

In late August, a Beijing-based white-collar worker surnamed Shang found that several of his WeChat friends suddenly started to share their Bullet Messenger QR codes.

"My friends wished for me to add them on Bullet Messenger by scanning those codes. They felt tired of using WeChat and wanted to try something new," Shang told the Global Times.

Shang registered the app and found it indeed had some extra merits in comparison with China's most popular instant messaging app WeChat run by tech giant Tencent Holdings.

One of the better features of Bullet is that it offers a real-time transcription of voice messages, a feature that is painfully missing from WeChat. That magic is powered by two Chinese artificial intelligence companies - iFlytek and Trio.

Furthermore, with WeChat, voice messages are only able to be played in full, therefore if a user misses something in the middle of the voice note, they have to listen from the beginning again.

Meanwhile, Bullet allows users to start playback at any point by scrubbing through audio files.

On the 11th day after its launch, Bullet Messenger had amassed 5 million registered users. By contrast, it took WeChat five months to reach 1 million registered users, according to media reports.

"Bullet's sudden success was driven by Chinese internet users' longing for alternatives to ubiquitous WeChat," Hao Peiqiang, a founder of Shanghai-based iOS app platform iApp4Me, told the Global Times.

Some analysts have described Bullet as a potential rival to WeChat, with an increasing amount of easy money chasing the newcomer.

Bullet completed its first round of fundraising worth 150 million yuan ($21.9 million) on the seventh day after its debut and its second round of fundraising has almost been finalized. According to Luo, Kuairu received inquiries from 51 venture capitals and seven domestic tech giants within six days. The valuation for the app is now 550 million yuan.

Luo even claimed at the conference that some people from Tencent's investment department had called the team to talk about future investment and cooperation on the second day after the launch.

Following this, Tencent's investment department denied those claims, saying they did not have investment plans with the app, Tencent's news portal tech.qq.com reported on Monday. Tencent refused to make further comment on this matter when contacted by the Global Times.

Not ready

Luo noticed a sudden and precipitous slowdown in growth in terms of new Bullet users on his Weibo account on September 6.

To date, Bullet has 7 million "activated" users, according to Luo. But he did not disclose the number of active users.

After many users like Shang registered for Bullet accounts, their friends didn't use the app, so they uninstalled it.

"WeChat still occupies most of my screen time, because my friends and colleagues are all still using it to communicate, and WeChat offers many convenient services such as online shopping, ride-hailing and online payments, which are missing from Bullet," said Shang.

Now, Bullet only provides a messaging and newsfeed function.

Zhang Ji, CEO of Kuairu, said at the conference that Bullet Messenger has not been fully developed and more functions will be added to meet users' needs.

Their original aim is to serve people who have the need to communicate in a faster way, according to Kuairu.

The senior executives from Kuairu as well as Luo reiterated many times that Bullet Messenger was not designed to challenge WeChat, which now dominates the market.

Apart from losing users, Kuairu is also confronted with accusations of providing a breeding ground for gray industries including illegal lending and pornography services.

A few days after Bullet was launched, many users complained that they received junk messages.

This is a side effect of sudden success.

At the early stages, Kuairu's technologies and systems were not perfect enough to censor messages and accounts that had grown meteorically, said the executives.

In the eyes of Luo, those obstacles are not all issues. He vows to seize 20 percent of China's instant messaging market and spend $146 million to grab 100 million users in the next six months, as noted in one of his Weibo posts.

"Bullet cannot overthrow WeChat, because Bullet has no killer features and will find it hard to build a new social network to get people to stay," said Hao.

Fans of Luo and Smartisan cheered the launch of Bullet, considering the app a silver lining to the struggling smartphone maker.

Liu Xiaofei, a 31-year-old government official who regards himself as a diehard Luo fan, said that he will keep Bullet Messenger even though he rarely gets the chance to use it right now.

"Now, most of the time, I still use WeChat. But I believe that Luo has a big plan for Bullet's future," Liu told the Global Times.


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