There have been reports that twice as many expatriates are leaving China than arriving. Despite this the Shanghai Daily reported that Shanghai’s expat population now exceeds 173,000, a 6.7% increase from 2011.
For these expats in China, WeChat is a must-download app for business and daily living. But, since WeChat only offers its service provider and payment functions in Chinese, this makes it challenging for expats to really adapt to it and use it as they want to.
There are a handful of apps in China that provide the same services as WeChat in English. While no app could replace WeChat in the messaging field, these services tackle other features that are a mystery to English speaking users.
Hangzhou-based Swiss, Lucas Rondez, founded the ‘Nihao’ app for expats in China. Nihao offers solution and advice for problems that expats may encounter in China: Q&A, translation, events, Dianping-like restaurant listings, house keeping, insurance, moving services, booking train tickets and paying water and electricity bills. The app can even enlarge Chinese addresses when a user is looking for a location so that expats can show it directly to older taxi drivers who can’t read small letters. They also offer a newsfeed like Wechat Moments, allowing users to share their events or promotions. The app currently supports Wechat Payment, Unionpay and Paypal.
“Alipay provides passport registration for expats, but they need to go through long and complicated user verification process. WeChat has started to serve passport registration options for foreign users a few months ago, and many expats are using it now for payment option,” Mr. Rondez says.
Mr. Rondez worked eight years at UBS bank in Switzerland. He chose to re-locate Hangzhou in 2007, at a time when barely any foreigners lived there. He worked at the Bank of Hangzhou and Ping An Bank for six years before starting his own business.
“I want to advise entrepreneurs to consider living in second-tier cities like Hangzhou, rather than first-tier cities like Shanghai or Beijing. You need to locate where not many foreigners live, to change their home-country mentality and to fully understand Chinese people,” he says. “Hangzhou government gives a lot of support for local startups, too.”
Mr. Rondez launched the Nihao app at the Shanghai Expat Show this September, where he leveraging Wechat marketing for most downloads. “We did a raffle event on Wechat and got almost 60,000 views on that content,” he says.＂For the prize, we had to spend about 20,000 RMB, but considering how costly it is to put an ad on major media in China, I think the campaign was very effective.”
Here’s What Wechat Can’t Offer
However, Mr. Rondez says it’s not totally viable to push marketing on Wechat public accounts for an indefinite amount of time. “Uber was using Wechat account to promote their service. But as Tencent is backing Didi Kuaidi, Uber was later suspended on WeChat. There is certainly a big platform risk.” he says.
Another strong point of the app is that all the information is open for users, compared to WeChat where they only provide information from a user’s added friends.
According to the company, the app now has 25,000 users and 90% are expats from 177 cities in China and from 190 countries. Founded this May, the company raised a 1.5 million RMB angel round, and raised another 6 million RMB pre-A round from a VC firm.
The company makes their revenue from pushing advertisements in listings, and takes a commission fee on service transactions like movie ticket purchases and insurance sign-ups.
“We don’t focus on the revenue, but on market share and attracting more users to our app. To break the next milestone, we’re looking to have 100,000 users in our app by the first quarter of next year,” Mr. Rondez said.
Competitior ExpatsExpress was founded by Chinese entrepreneur Star Yang. Based in Nanjing, their team has 17 members, nine of whom are expats. ExpatsExpress also lists services like translation and Q&A, similar to Nihao, and differentiates itself by listing jobs for expats in China.
Mr. Yang said that ExpatsExpress does not make revenue now, but it will monetize from its Chinese users later on when they want to connect to expats on the app.
Image Credit: Nihao, ExpatExpress