“Our ultimate goal is to become a bellwether in mobile voice search industry”, said Li Zhifei, founder of Chumen Wenwen, a Siri-like application focused on daily life services. Li founded the company after leaving Google’s machine translation team in 2012.

Chumen Wenwen — in Chinese it means “Ask it when going out” — got traction from WeChat on top of which it built a full-winged voice-based information seeking service. After receiving voice queries, it returns WeChat messages with information on travel, local life and urban transportation. Users can ask about flights, hotels, restaurants nearby, subway, etc. Currently users will be directed to third parties like Ctrip to make payments and complete the booking process. The upcoming WeChat 5.0 with payments capability will enable completing transactions.

You can ask “The last train from Shanghai to Hefei tomorrow” on WeChat

Chumen Wenwen chose WeChat for its huge user base and traffic, and because it’s a voice-based platform. Li, however, is not sure whether a real business can last on top of WeChat. He’s not alone. There are some concerns, such as whether Tencent, WeChat’s parent company, would copy and kill third-party applications, or how far third-party services will be allowed to leverage the platform.

An Android version of Chumen Wenwen has been available. Apart from developing consumer-facing services, the company also has plans to develop solutions for businesses.

The users of Chumen Wenwen amounted to around 100,000 with a monthly active rate of 40 percent. The company has secured investments from Sequoia Capital and ZhenFund.

Li Zhifei

Emma Lee (Li Xin) was TechNode's e-commerce and new retail reporter until June 2022, when she moved to Sixth Tone to cover technology and consumption. Get in touch with her via lixin@sixthtone.com or Twitter.

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