We’ve been trying Professional Social Network in China for a couple of times. The copycats or Linkedin-likers failed: Linkist is dead; Wealink is running still but the team has shrinked to <10 people; Tianji used to claim 3millions users and now partners with a French professional social network Viadeo, which I don’t know what is the value for both parties. And the localization also failed, Xing, the popular service from Germany used to have office in Beijing, but was closed a long time ago.

The Culture of doing business in China

Why direct copy of Linkedin or Xing does not work in China? It seems an easy question. Chinese is willing to upload pictures, share links, poke friends, play social games etc which make the social networks like RenRen, Kaixin001 growing relatively easily, but when it comes to business, Chinese is cautious and more like the traditional ways, such as meeting in person, having business dinner, and of course drinking alcohol and so on. They still prefer a phone call instead of InMail even for some discussion. There is almost no way the business Guanxi can be well maintained online.

UShi.cn, the new player

Nobody succeeded which also means there is still market here. UShi.cn is probably the most popular one currently in China. Co-founded by Dominic Penaloza who is ex-CEO and founder of WorldFriends.tv, and Quentin Zhang, ex-Yahoo! China and Tianji product manager, UShi was beta launched at Feb 23rd, 2010, soft launched at April 19th, 2010 with bilingual version. In October 2010, UShi successfully secured a rmb 10million fund from a list of leading angel investors. Now UShi has over 40 staff and the number of users are increasing around 500 per day.

“UShi right now has more than 100k registered users which include ~10,000 CEO, 5,000 CTO and 2/3 of VCs in China. ” Dominic, CEO of UShi told me, “The average age of users is around 31.”

How to localize the professional social network

I talked to both Dominic and Quentin during the interview, they shared with me UShi’s opinion on how to do the professional social network in China.

  1. Invitation only – Dominic said UShi is a private social network since the first it launched and there is no plan yet to open it up. “Linkedin is open from very beginning, and it has the first batch of quality users from silicon valley. But in China, it’s too risky to control the quality of users. We don’t want to repeat the same failure as that other professional social networks were suffering.” Quentin added.
  2. Job Channel. It’s like Linkedin with theLadders. The traditional online job service in China sucks, which I do agree. UShi is operating a job channel which take the advantage of its thousands of CxO level members to recruit quality people.
  3. Event platform. It’s a new service just launched today. Basically with the event platform, you can create the event, invite friends to participate the event and also see which event your connections are willing to attend. UShi also released its mobile version which can help users to find what events are around him right now, then he can easily check-in and communicate with other attendees using UShi’s internal microblogging service.Quentin said it’s like Linkedin + Foursquare.

Monetization models

If we look into Linkedin’s monetization model: ~40% is from recruiter license fee; ~25%-30% is from membership fee; 25% is from ads and partnership. Dominic said they would be UShi’s revenue models too. “UShi currently has a paid service (membership fee) via which user can send more InMail to others, but it does not work well right now.” Quentin told me.

When I asked Quentin what’s focus for UShi in 2011. He said still it would be brand-building and try to have significant increase in terms of number of users, but it will be invitation-only still.

Dominic strongly believes Chinese professional social network market will get boosted in 2011. I asked why he is so sure, Dominic smiled, “Thanks to Linkedin, it will go IPO this year for sure and market therefore will get boosted. More and more people will understand what UShi is trying to achieve.”