19Lou.com, a platform running local portal sites for Chinese cities, announced RMB60 million (US$9.7 million) in series A funding from two Hangzhou-based early-stage venture capital funds under NewMargin Ventures (announcement in Chinese). An angel round was raised in 2008.
Founded in 2006 by several local newspaper reporters in Hangzhou and only serving Hangzhou citizens then, 19Lou now covers twenty cities in Zhejiang province and a dozen outside it, including first-tier cities such as Shanghai, Chongqing and Wuhan. A total of more than 30 million users are on all those sites.
Local portals sites are everywhere. Some cities have more than one sites dedicated to them. But 19Lou stands out as one of the most popular and has become a brand speaking for itself. It has created some innovative services and a well-functioning business model.
Huatan is a sub-channel crowdsourcing local news. Citizens are allowed to submit news entries and they can subscribe to topics with entries contributed by others. Another sub-channel Haodian, or stores worth visiting, is a platform for local businesses set up their online presence and for citizens to share pictures and comments about those stores and services.
19Lou charges local businesses for setting up a mini-site there and other forms of campaigns. Its revenue sources also include online advertising and offline activities such as small trade shows. It doesn’t charge users for any services provided.
The new funding will be used for improving online-to-offline services, said Lin Yu, founder and CEO of 19Lou.