Dai Zhikang became the head of Tencent’s lifestyle e-commerce division after Comsenz, a startup he founded, was acquired by Tencent in 2010. His team released Weixin membership card in mid-2012, a loyalty program for users to subscribe to merchants’ Weixin accounts and for businesses to do CRM.

Unlike other low-key Tencent executives, Dai occasionally accepted interviews. On the latest one, he talked about the online-to-offline service, or O2O, his team was building on top of Weixin.

It doesn’t feel it’s such a big deal as expected, for Tencent’s senior management didn’t give orders about it, if what Dai said is true. Now half his team are still working on Discuz!, a BBS service – Comsenz’s major business, while the rest are building the online-to-offline services. Based in Beijing, Dai flies regularly to Guangzhou, where Weixin development team is based, to talk to Zhang Xiaolong, or Allen Zhang, to see what his team can do with Weixin.

Weixin evolves too fast that it’s hard to say what businesses would match it.

Dai agrees that there are business opportunities on Weixin platform, but it’s still at early stage and cannot be mined at scale. “Weixin developed too fast. How did you feel about Weixin one year ago? You cannot feel the same one year later. At first we used Weixin to save money as sending text messages costs money. Later it was for sending pictures. Now we use it for group-messaging and voice messages, and for the Moments. Your ideas, including some for building an O2O business on top of it, are different one year later.”

It’s a fresh new business for Dai and his team. He acknowledges that his team has no experience in it, explainng that “doing this O2O business isn’t because we understand it. As a team that used to work on online communities, we had no chance of understanding it”.

He thinks he had something in common with Zhang Xiaolong: they both saw an opportunity and started developing new products on their own without knowing whether it’d work out. Fortunately big companies like Tencent can afford failures to some extent, even though costs for trials and errors are high, said Dai.

Closed Loop for Consumption Behavior Data

He concludes that both group-buying business and rating&review service are for small merchants to serve new customers, where he doesn’t think any new group-buying or review services can beat old ones such as Dianping who has invested in 7-8 years of time, money and efforts. He sees opportunities involved with the two other dimensions: mid- and large- sized businesses and existing customers.

Dai’s O2O service wants to collect all the consumption data for a merchant, when a user visits the store, what he or she ate every time, etc. We all know that data can help a merchant with customer management or come up with new services, but that requires users to use Weixin’s related features every time when they visit stores offline, or even online.

The earlier, the better. That’s how Dai looks at the copy thing: the first one would always be better received by customers even it was launched just a few months earlier than copycats. He reached that conclusion from his own experience that Discuz! became well regarded after its competitors followed its steps for a couple of times. That, he thinks, also works with Weixin O2O business. He found that the Weixin membership card his team built is well perceived since they were a while earlier than other similar services on Weixin platform.

Tracey Xiang is Beijing, China-based tech writer. Reach her at traceyxiang@gmail.com

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