There was a lot of talk about Chinese social app Youja, or U+, in the past couple of days, for it became the top in the social category of the App Store for China, and recently it announced 25 million users.

It’s not a new app though. Its first version was launched way back in 2011, starting as a location-based social app for strangers. Like many other similar apps, it enabled users to chat with or follow other users, like their shared photos or send their virtual gifts. Shortly after the launch, U+ told TechNode that they planned to monetize users through virtual gifts. And they didn’t expect the selling point of linking strangers to last long, so they’d develop features to encourage users to interact with existing contacts and stay with the app longer.

It was the time when a wave of location-based social apps emerged. Among them include Momo, currently the most successful of its kind in terms of user base and monetization. Momo announced 100 million users earlier this year and claimed they’d broken even with a majority of revenues from mobile games and a minority from emoticon sales.

Several months after the launch, U+ had had several million users. To encourage user participation U+ team developed a gaming community for users that introduced gamification and social elements such as ranking charts and virtual gift sending. The company then started making money through virtual gift sales.

When one group of users would like to buy virtual gifts to the other, the model became similar to YY’s. It’s unknown whether it was the success of YY that inspired it, U+ would launch a feature, Show Room, that works the same with YY’s online show business. The only difference is users on U+, in order to entice others to send virtual gifts, don’t have to perform singing or anything but just post anything they like, from photos to videos. The latest version of U+ that is launched this month allows every user to register a Show Room.

U+ Show Room
U+ Show Room

In April this year U+ rolled out membership subscription, a proven business model in China to have loyal users pay a monthly fee for a package of premium services.

Though it doesn’t seem that successful as Momo, U+ has been financially supported by investors. In late 2013 it raised tens of thousands of dollars in Series B. U+ founding team include Zou Ling, a serial tech entrepreneur and founder of business social network Wealink, and Hu Zhutao, founder of Vogins — the company behind MTK App Store.

Tracey Xiang is Beijing, China-based tech writer. Reach her at

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