Beijing based Hengzhi (www.hengzhi.cc) was launched in Feb 2010, by serial entrepreneur Tong Li. Although it is still invite-only, the professional social network has grown to more than 600,000 members.

Hengzhi users come from China’s main stream business and professional communities, including governments, state-owned enterprises, private sectors, and multinationals, said its founder, Tong Li. Hengzhi is stickier than LinkedIn, according to website analytics company Alexa, Hengzhi users spend more than 15 minutes on the site, almost twice as long as the average time spent on LinkedIn, about 7 minutes.

Tong, a Chinese native and an MIT graduate, has worked for Merrill Lynch in New York and founded several successful startups. In 2006, Tong, together with his two other partners moved back to Beijing and started a venture investment fund, Origin Capital, which incubates China’s Internet ventures. The first company they incubated is Tokiva, which provides convenient and affordable mobile international call services for over 1.2 million users in about 200 countries.  It is a quite “profitable” business, according to Tong.

Since moving back, Tong and his partners have been frustrated by the fact that there has not been a suitable website that they can use to keep professional contacts.  “We tried several services, but didn’t really feel the user experience and quality are at the level where we are comfortable with to invite our friends in.” Tong said.  “On the other hand, LinkedIn is more of a recruiting tool and does not have a China focus”. After researching the market, Tong and his partners decided to build an entirely new kind of website for China’s business professionals.

In Chinese, Hengzhi has two meanings: “It takes time to know someone and a true friend lasts forever,” said Tong. In choosing the name, Tong and his partners are focusing on user quality and experience. From the get-to, the site offers 8 business applications that are proven to be very useful and help to drive quality user growth, including contact management, Q&A, and Power Point document sharing.

The seed users come from Tong and his partners’ friends, the consultants, the lawyers and the investment professionals.  While other professional networking websites in China are started by the expats, Hengzhi’s seed users are true business professionals with better understanding of Chinese business culture, said Tong. The site grew by word-of-month and now has more than 600,000 members.

Most of the members are from finance, legal, accounting, and other professional services industries. There are a lot of entrepreneurs and venture investors too.  The majority of the members is between 28 to 40 years old and has more than 5 years of working experience, 60% of the users hold vice president titles and above. Almost all of the users have colleague degree, and about half of the users are based in tier-one cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.

“The make up and demographics of business professionals in China are not as homogeneous as that in the US”, Tong said. “In the US, the private sectors are the largest employers and the entrepreneur spirits are promoted and respected. In China, the reality is that the state owned enterprises account for more than 80% of the economy, and the people open up their connections only for trusted friends. Those two factors have huge implications on how we structure and market Hengzhi as a business professional network”, Tong said. “Other professional social networks often just want to simply copy LinkedIn and fail to realize those two factors are what will eventually make or break a professional website in China”.

Hengzhi seems to be in a good position to grow, given the site’s focus on user quality and Tong’s background. Anticipating the future, Tong said “we are not sure when to open Hengzhi to the public, but we know we would not do that until after the checks and balances are there to maintain the user quality and experience”. Hengzhi is also in the process of closing a round of new financing.