If we talk about the Linkedin business in China, we should not forget about Wealink, one of the earliest adopter and used to be the No.1 professional social network in China. Launched at June 2007, Wealink has been working on this field for 4 years. Wealink should not be considered as a successful business, but it’s doing well enough as it survives, given the fact that most of the first wave Linkedin copies such as Linkist were in dead pool long time ago. Four years, what can we learn from Wealink? We recently caught up with Lerry Zou, the CEO of Wealink who shared his experience on running professional social network in China.

Wealink, the company now has +30 staff and over 5 millions registered users. There is some good memory. “Actually in the first month after we launched, we spent rmb 1 million on the marketing and managed to acquire 500K registered users. ” Lerry said. “We are giving away thousands of usb-key/mouse for free to attract users. Also because professional network was quite new to Chinese netizen, even social networks like RenRen, Kaixin001 did not exist yet, we caught lots of eyeballs at the beginning. But a couple of months later, we realized that doing a professional social network in China is not that easy as we expected.”

1. China has now over 400millions internet users, however it is still hard to find loyal users for professional social networks.

Professional social network need white-collar users which are mainly based in several tier-one cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, so geographically speaking, there is not much room for a Chinese Linkedin to grow quickly. Compared with Social Networks like RenRen, Facebook, the user acquisition is a totally different story in China. The market is not that big. “I don’t mean having 10 millions users and several-hundreds thousands business accounts is not possible, the market has the potential, but till now, we have understand it’s a slow business still.” Lerry commented.

2. The need for online professional social networks.

In China, a). The successful business people have built huge social connections, but they usually do not need online platform to maintain the connections. Especially for those CxO of local businessmen in traditional business, they don’t even use internet often. And as we already know, Chinese don’t have the culture of negotiating business over internet with someone who never met in person. b). Linkedin is a good platform for people who has connections to look for new job. But in China, people with good connections usually have a stable job, they don’t really need a platform like Linkedin; but for those like young generation who dont have many social connections, they might be active users, but later they might feel dissapointed as the high level people they want to meet are not there. “it’s like an ecosystem, but we don’t have a healthily working one in China.” Lerry commented.

Linkedin’s IPO definitely heats up the Chinese local professional market, Lerry admitted that he has been approached by a couple of VCs recently. It should be an exciting moment but Lerry seems quite calm. “We have been through a lot in past 4 years, and we’ve been learning especially from what failed.” Lerry said, “We also study the other professional social networks in the market, what I can tell is that many features they’ve been trying now we have tried and would not work in the end.” Lerry added, “We even tried Open Platform, but at end of day we realized that our users don’t need some third-parties applications, games on Wealink. Their needs are simple, looking for more business connections; Freemium model is not working in China, only few headhunters are willing to pay for the service.”

One of the biggest issues Wealink were facing is that more and more irrelevant users send requests to others, then people got confused and annoyed, is it a Social Network for fun or Professional Social Network for career. Other professional social network like UShi is using invitation-only model in order to guarantee the quality of users. “Invitation is a good approach, but it’s just temporary solution. You need open up one day anyway.” said Lerry.

So is there any future for professional social networks in China?  ”We would not expect a huge traffic into our site, but we can still find a way to monetize it. It’s a slow growing market, but it has potential” Lerry said, “We need a better solution to hiring/recruiting/job hunting in China, as an alternative to sites like 51job, ChinaHR etc.”

According to Lerry, Wealink will launch a new in August with focus on business accounts. We will target at Shanghai to start with aiming at 100k business accounts this year. Every company can set up its company profile page on Wealink. The HR people or staff from that company will be highlighted so users can interact with them directly. The company has +30 staff and is expecting 20 more by end of this year. ‘These 20+ new staff will be mainly sales person to serve business customers.” Lerry is very confident about the company’s new strategy, “We will announce some great partnership very soon!”

Wealink managed to raise $5millions in 2007 and never looked for new round of funding ever since. I thought the market should be mature than 4 years, but Lerry thinks it’s a Yes and No. The market is more mature because the internet penetration is much higher, but with social networks like RenRen, Kaixin001 and Weibo getting popular in China, it’s even harder to pitch a professional social network in the entertainment-centric environment. However, as the market is stimulated by Linkedin’s IPO, no matter if we do need Linkedin in China or not, a tough competition is definitely happening.

Dr. Gang Lu - Founder of TechNode. He's a Blogger, a Geek, a PhD and a Speaker, with passion in Tech, Internet and R'N'R.

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