Dr. Li Song is the founder of Zhenai, a matchmaking service and Digu, an LBS. A well-respected entrepreneur in the China technology space, he shared about his career path, lessons on entrepreneurship and vision on Digu.
From banker to entrepreneur
Song worked in New York and Hong Kong as Vice President of Fixed Income Division at Bear Stearns in New York and an Executive Director of Equities Division at Morgan Stanley Asia. But he eventually quit because he lost the passion because it was a “transaction based business and a lack of idealism.” “I wanted a different lifestyle where if I came up with an idea, I could just go out and do it. I like being creative. I realized the internet was the closest thing in spirit to the internet because it’s about information.” When creating internet start-ups, Song feels like a “movie director”.
Incubating creative companies
He later raised some money and set up an incubator to start developing project companies. One company was Me.yoyo, a gaming company for feature phones which now has 300million rmb in annual revenue. After that venture started making money, he went onto create the matchmaking service Zhenai. This was a natural evolution of what he originally created when he first became an entrepreneur in 2001 – a mobile dating service called MemeStar, which later sold to Sina to become Sina Mobile. Once Zhenai was stable, he then went on to create Digu. “I think in the coming decade, more opportunity will come in the form of mobile. I am focusing on 3 keywords, Social, Local, Mobile. (MoLoSo)”
Greatest lesson – Persistence
“When you start something in mind, it changes all the time but it’s like a dog fight. You need to stick to it. Some engineers leave because the business model changes so quickly and they can’t adjust to the pace, but for me, that’s the fun part of doing an internet start-up.”
Digu is aiming to solve the social location challenge
It is clear that checking-in is quickly becoming the ‘in’ thing to do. So I asked Dr. Li Song, how is it going to add lasting value over time. “I think check-in will become a standard feature. The key is to develop a feature that strengthens social interactions around locations. It’s not an easy thing to do. The problem is to give people a reason nearby each other to form a social network.” Song also believes that augmented reality will merge with location based services because it will create a “targeted advertising platform and if I don’t do it, someone else will.”
Adding value by targeted local campaigns
Song also claims that they are the “first ones to experiment targeted local campaigns with McDonald’s. We did a campaign to promote their member cards in the top 4 cities in Guangdong. In one month, they had 600,000 check-ins and member card activation rate of 78%.” After the success of this campaign, other big brands such as Burger King, Pepsi and Watsons are also interested. Song believes working with big brands now will generate maximum PR so local merchants will also want to work with them later. Digu has launched a self-service merchant platform for local businesses to create their own coupon and membership rewards cards.
200,000 active users, who are 3X as active as those on Foursquare
Digu has two key areas to focus on. One is building stronger social interaction amongst users around location. Secondly, make interaction between users and merchants more intuitive with pictures and not as much text. “I think you need to raise at least $30 million to make this successful because you need to simultaneously work with users and advertisers which takes a lot of resources and money.”
Digu currently has two million mobile phone subscribers, of which 10% are active users. Song says that the “number of check-in’s per user is 3 times more than Foursquare.”
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