[Editor: The article is written by Laure de Carayon (@laure2carayon) of China Connect (@chinaconnectEU)]

China’s digital ecosystem is a vibrant scene. Among the (numerous) new players, Meilishuo, the Fashion social network with almost 5 millions followers on Sina Weibo, has a growing audience and major brands are joining. The following is the exclusive interview of its Founder & CEO and VP, in charge of Branding and Advertising, who will speak at China Connect, March 28-29.

Q: Can you briefly tell us who you are, what is Meilishuo, when did you launch it, what’s your vision ?

Yirong Xu, CEO of Meilishuo: I’m a serial entrepreneur in China with engineering background. I obtained a master’s degree from Stanford University and a bachelor’s degree from Peking University, both in Computer Science. I worked for IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, focusing on data mining and data management, before I returned to China and began my ventures.

I founded Meilishuo in December 2009. It means “Beauty Talk/Conversation on Beauty” It is a fashion interest driven social network for female only. Currently, Users of Meilishuo could share products/outfits they like/own with their followers (similar to Pinterest), discover new styles and products, and purchase the product directly through the site. In the long term, I believe that Meilishuo will become the entrance of women’s social life, spreading not only fashion trends but also life attitudes through its media influence in the future.

Q: You claim Meilishuo is China’s No.1 Interest-Driven Fashion Social Network, but many people will think of a Pinterest-like service. Like many Chinese players, it first and foremost, fits Chinese tastes. Beyond its Chinese identity, how do you define Meilishuo’s chineseness ?

Yirong Xu: While a lot of Pinterest users in the US are women under 50 (source: Pewinterenet), Meilishuo focused on 20-35 years old white-collar and semi white-collar women only, who have the leading spending power in China. In addition, Chinese women pay more attention to commerce than generic contents. This is why we position Meilishuo as a vertical fashion platform helping users find and buy beautiful things. More than 95% of sharing contents on Meilishuo are purchasable.

Q: What is your business model ? How good are retailers at successfully leveraging Meilishuo to drive transactions ?

Dan Xu, Vice-President Meilishuo : Advertising is Meilishuo’s revenue source. We offer two types of advertising, brand based Ads (Lancôme, Estée Lauder,…), and performance based Ads (online merchants such as DangDang or 360buy). In average, Users of Meilishuo generate 5-6 million clicks for online merchants per day. Conversion rate of clicks from Meilishuo is significantly higher than market average. We estimate that Meilishuo helped online merchants generate around 3 Billion RMB in revenue in 2012.

Q: How many unique visitors per month do you have (vs the launch date ?), who pins and comments on Meilishuo, through which devices ? Where are the users from ?

Dan Xu: Over the last three years, Meilishuo has grown to a network of over 32 million users (3.3 million daily active users on PC’s and 1.2 million daily active users on Mobile), the largest of its kind in China today. Around 35% of Meilishuo’s users are in top cities as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Also a lot of users are in booming areas including Jiangsu, Zhejiang and other provinces in China.

Every user of Meilishuo is given the opportunity to share their favourite fashion items with their followers. According to our statistics, we have more than 80,000 super users, who are the main content contributors of Meilishuo. Today, there are more than 10 million albums with different fashion themes. Approximately 50,000 new pictures are added every day. These then get repined about 1.5 million times each day.

Q: Who are your clients to date ? And where are you heading to ?

Dan Xu: Meilishuo is a unique and valuable platform for clients with the demand to raise/keep their branding awareness in China. We began to cooperate with branding clients in the middle of 2012. Within the last 8 months, we have established strategic client relationships with market leaders in many industries, including Skin care (e.g.L’Oreal), Fast Fashion (e.g.Mango), Consumer Goods (e.g.P&G), IT (e.g.Intel), and others (e.g. Buick). As we position ourselves as a social network on fashion discovery, we are embracing the coming huge number of fashion brands and merchants in China. In the future, we would love to explore further opportunities to help them on both customer loyalty and sales revenue.

Q: Online-to-Offline (O2O) is a trend in China : any plans ?

Yirong Xu: Yes. We believe in this trend. We’ve already built a mobile app on this area, which allow users to discover and share their favorite items from any shopping malls in Beijing. For each item shared, its exact location is marked out. Hopefully we will be able to connect offline fashion stores with potential customers. It sounds lots of fun.

Q: How do you leverage the power of Weibo, WeChat and other social media networks, how do you leverage the power of your fans ?

Dan Xu: Meilishuo has official accounts in generic social networks such as Tencent Qzone, Sina Weibo, as well as WeChat (Weixin). We have now around 40 million fans globally. We encourage our users to share their favorites on other social media as well, so that they can gain more attentions.

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