Laiwang faces tough challenge

By Zhao Qian Source:Global Times Published: 2013-10-23 23:18:02

One of the functions of Laiwang shown on the mobile phone. Photo: Tang Tengfei/GT

One of the functions of Laiwang shown on the mobile phone. Photo: Tang Tengfei/GT

Jack Ma, the founder of China's leading e-commerce Alibaba Group, is sparing no effort to encourage the company's employees to promote its instant-messaging (IM) app "Laiwang" to take on competitors like Tencent's IM app WeChat and strengthen its position in the mobile Internet sector.

Each employee of Alibaba must invite at least 100 users to use Laiwang - literally means "come and go" in Chinese - by the end of November this year, or they will not get a year-end bonus, according to a statement e-mailed to the Global Times Wednesday, citing an internal letter written by Jack Ma to his employees.

A PR manager from Alibaba told the Global Times Wednesday that it is quite easy for Alibaba's employees to attract 100 users each.

Alibaba officially released Laiwang with voice function in Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province on September 23.

The Alibaba PR manager did not reveal the exact number of Laiwang users. But in a report in the Securities Daily Wednesday, Zou Mengrui, who is in charge of Laiwang at Alibaba, said Laiwang's users are expected to exceed 10 million soon.

Compared with other Chinese IM apps like WeChat, Laiwang has similar functions such as text and voice messages, as well as group talk.

However, Laiwang enables a maximum of 500 users to talk in a group at the same time, five times the upper limit for Wechat.

"Having been confronted with commercial competition from Wechat, Alibaba is feeling the urgency of promoting its own IM app," Zhang Yi, CEO of Shenzhen-based Internet research firm iiMedia Research, told the Global Times Wednesday.

Wechat, which has accumulated over 400 million users and is the country's most popular voice IM so far, has already begun to promote its commercial functions such as an online payment service, which is one of Alibaba's key businesses, since June.

"Jack Ma of Alibaba would not like to see Wechat becoming the main means of access for online shopping, which is the main cause for him to release his own app in a hurry," Zhang noted.

To counter fierce competition from Tencent, Alibaba formed a partnership with NASDAQ-listed Sina Corp to jointly explore social commerce and develop innovative marketing solutions in May. Later in July, media reported Alibaba quietly closed the interface between its e-commerce platforms and WeChat app.

Tencent, the operator of WeChat, told the Global Times on Wednesday that "it welcomed a fair and orderly competition environment and has always focused on improving its products and user experience."

Boosted by the prospective outlook for the IM app market, more Chinese Internet companies have set their sights on this sector.

Another leading Chinese Internet company NetEase Inc and one of the three telecom operators, China Telecom, set up a joint venture in August, and launched an instant messaging (IM) app "Yixin" with voice function to compete with Tencent.

Yixin also launched some new functions that WeChat does not have, as Yixin users could send text and voice messages to not only other Yixin users but also the mobile phone and fixed phone users who do not have a Yixin app on their phone sets.

"The market for IM apps is very large in China, and only those that have a suitable market target could survive competition," Zhang of iiMedia Research said.

Alibaba could innovate its IM app with special online shopping functions, Zhang said.

Compared with Wechat, Jack Ma confessed in the statement that there is still some way to go for Laiwang, but Laiwang will "innovate in its own unique way."

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