“I do not have the know-how, resources or desire to compete with the big SNSs in China like QQ, 51.com, Xiaonei, etc. I just want to focus on what we know well and where we can be a positive force. At the same time, I think our users will influence mainstream Chinese culture more and more over time”, said CEO of Neocha.com, Sean Leow. Shanghai-based Neocha might not be a big SNS anyhow, but in my opinion, it is one of the best social networks and very unique in Chinese Internet.
Before you read this interview, I suggest you watch the following video first. It is a recording of a creative bazaar, actually the launch party of Neocha held in a 150 year old warehouse in Shanghai last year. Over 80 creative groups (record labels, photographers, clothing labels, graffiti artists, etc.) were there and 9 bands playing throughout the day. Without much marketing, around 10,000 people showed up.
Brief History of Neocha
The initial idea for Neocha took shape around 2 years ago, while the web site is still less than a year old. The real inspiration came from the observation that the new generation of Chinese youth were creating interesting, creative content outside the view of mainstream media and culture, yet had no effective platforms for promotion and collaboration. At the same time, the demand for original, creative content both in China and outside is only growing. Neocha is born to act as a bridge between the content creators and the consumers.
Sean Leow, a half Chinese, half American grew up in Silicon Valley and has lived in China for over 5 years. As a big fan of technology and also passionate about independent youth culture and the arts in China, Sean runs Neocha together with 3 other local Chinese. “We have a small team, but everyone brings their own unique skills, e.g. programming, design, editorial, strategy. Most importantly, we all share a common passion for creative communities in China and helping them grow.”
Within one year, mostly by word of mouth and through the events it has organized, Neocha currently has the largest online library of independent Chinese music. Neocha now has users in every province and is getting more and more popular in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Wuhan.
The Uniqueness of Neocha
Neocha has many of the familiar functions of SNSs worldwide, such as music, video, blog, event, group and even an e-magzine named <Blow Up>. “however, there are a few functions that we focus on for specific users. For example, our music player album functionality is quite advanced and our slideshow is designed for photographers and designers who want to easily manage albums and embed them throughout the web”, said Sean.
Neocha also has some unique aspects. According to a study of Hitwise in 2007, a tiny 0.16 percent of visits to YouTube is to upload video, and 0.2 percent of visits to Flickrs is to upload images. One unique aspect of Neocha is that 50-60% of their users are “content creators” which means they are actively uploading Original music and visual art, writing blogs or plays, organizing events, etc.
Neocha recently launched a new, free music player called NEXT. NEXT’s random playlist draws from the Neocha music library and is extremely simple: You open the player and click “NEXT” to hear the next song. If you like a song, click on the artist’s info to learn more. It is the first attempt Neocha have made to allow non-Chinese speakers to access its content and Sean said they would try to do more of that in the future.
The Revenue model
Neocha is 100% bootstrapped. The team is very clear on where they are in their development and knows that they are not suitable for the typical VC track at this point. When I asked Sean about the revenue model, I have been told that there were three sources:
- Working with brands, agencies, magazines and other organizations who are trying to understand creative communities and young trendsetters in China. These projects take many forms from helping brands on their marketing strategies to organizing innovative events to sourcing various creatives for projects. Because of Neocha online/offline network and the trust of its users, Neocha has some unique insights on a demographic that is difficult to access.
- Licensing some of the best of the users’ content to mobile valued added service (MVAS) distributors and sharing revenue with the distributor and the artist.
- Advertising on the web site or sponsorship of events.
“We are focused on building a sustainable, profitable business ourselves, but at the same time, we would love to find forward-thinking individuals who are interested in our vision and understand the patience and time that building a business around creative communities will require in China”, Sean also said.
The Chinese Internet
Besides Neocha, we also came to a general topic: Chinese Internet. Sean has his own views that I can not agree with more:
“While the Chinese Internet certainly has its fair share of copycats, I think there are innovative sites that focus on unique characteristics of China. Two examples are Douban and Dianping. Douban satisfies a Chinese need for discussing topics online in a BBS-fashion, while Dianping helps users find good restaurants, which is extremely important in China’s gastronomically-focused culture…I also think business models for Chinese Internet companies are interesting as they can differ significantly from other countries. For example, Tencent just announced that two thirds of their revenue came from virtual goods and games, while only 13% came from advertising…Another hugely important factor to consider when looking at the Chinese Internet is the influence and importance of BBS. Your article stated the case very clearly, but it cannot be emphasized enough how prevalent BBS is for the average Chinese Internet user. Even my favourite Chinese website Douban is in my opinion a “BBS 2.0” that is, at its core it is a place for Internet users to use text postings to discuss various topics in interest groups, while it also adds on great Web 2.0 functionality like recommendation engines, RSS importing, and all the other functions that they are continually releasing.”
Neocha is 新茶 in Chinese, meaning Fresh Tea. Tea is very common in China, but sometime Fresh tea is really priceless. I hope we can have more such fresh tea because it will be very healthy to Chinese Internet.
[ If you’d like to get Sean in touch, please leave your comment or just drop him an email: Sean At Neocha.com ]