At Transmit China last week, experienced and prominent business people gave keynote speeches. Si Shen, founder of Papaya Mobile was one of them. She told of her ups and downs. Her key message was to “never give up,” an underlying factor of all successful entrepreneurs.

Si Shen grew up in Beijing and entered the prestigious Tsinghua University to complete a degree in Computer Science. She then joined Google in America to become a Product Manager for the China, Japan and Korea Search team. Later she transferred to the Mobile Division.

In 2007, she moved back home to work at Google’s Beijing office. After a while, she told her boss she wanted to leave to start her own company. But her boss persuaded her to stay by offering great conditions. One, she would still earn her salary in USD$ and two, she would be her own boss. Attracted by these terms, she decided to stay and built out the Google Maps team over one year.

In 2008, Si Shen eventually quit Google to found Papaya Mobile, a social mobile gaming company inspired by Japanese companies DENA and Gree. At the outset, Papaya Mobile designed games for both iPhone and Android and wanted to build a platform that allowed users to play all their games and buy virtual goods. Their first hit game was a social farming game for iPhone that was in the top 25 for 2 months and attracted 1.5 million users. Since users could jump from game to game and all were cross-promoted, Papaya was able to attract another 4 million users over 12 games. The target market was outside China because they felt China’s infrastructure was not yet ready to adopt mobile gaming at scale. Plus, Beijing had a wealth of top notch developers yet operating costs were only 1/7th that of America.

Courtesy of Emily Chong

In 2009, things were looking positive so Papaya tried to raise venture capital to accelerate growth. But a major hurdle arose, threatening the deal. Overnight all their games had mysteriously vanished from the iPhone App Store. The investor said if they didn’t get the apps back, they would not sign the term sheet.  Desperate to keep the deal alive and sustain Papaya, Si Shen even emailed Steve Jobs himself to ask for his help to restore her games. In the email, she also said how much she admired Apple, so named Papaya after another fruit. After no response from Apple, she flew to their Cupertino headquarters in America to investigate how to re-activate her apps. After three days she received an email from a director, who told her who was responsible for removing her apps. She then waited outside his office for 7 hours. Impressed by her persistence, he revealed that the reason for removing the apps, was because Papaya was running a game engine that worked across both Apple and Android, which they didn’t permit. Si Shen, returned to China to inform her team that they would be forced to migrate to the Android platform. Loyally, her team stuck with her and said whatever she decided to do, they would follow. Consequentially, they lost the investment from the initial investor.

The move to Android, turned out well after all, as the dramatic growth of Android boosted their downloads, users and sales. Papaya was then able to raise a new US$22 million investment. Now Papaya has racked up 25 million users across America and Europe and has over 300 games after working with 3rd party developers on their Android game engine.

To conclude her speech, Si Shen “Never give up, because you can always find something new.”

Jason is an Australian born Chinese living in Beijing, specializing in entrepreneurship, start-ups and the investment eco-system in China, especially in the tech and social area.

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