Why China’s Craigslist Made Big Losses In 2015

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After merging with its major competitor Ganji.com (“Ganji”) last year, 58.com Inc. (“58”) became the largest online classified listing company in China with an estimated market share of 70% to 80%. Their only direct competitor is Baixing.com, whose annual revenue in 2015 was a low single digit percentage of 58.com’s.

58.com also aqcuired Anjuke, a real estate listing site in March 2015, while the addition of the two companies did boost their top-line revenue, 58.com still posted a significant loss in 2015.

Apart from the expenses associated with the consolidation of Ganji’s and Anjuke’s financials, the company attributed the losses to “increased competition.”

Different from Craigslist, 58.com doesn’t charge for individual listings but instead offers premium subscriptions to merchants. It also provides marketing services, on both 58.com’s own sites and their third-party partners’ sites.

42 percent of their 2015 revenue was from paying business subscribers and 54 percent was from marketing offerings. The rest was primarily from the discount coupons for real estate transactions offered by Anjuke.

58, Ganji and Anjuke had a combined 1.4 million paying merchants as of the end of 2015, with a significant portion being small and medium-sized businesses. The subscription revenue has been driven by subscriber growth.

Even though the company did manage to turn profits in the previous two years, 58.com is not yet anywhere near as profitable as Craigslist.

Sales and marketing has been the biggest cost for Chinese classifieds sites. 58.com’s marketing spend hasn’t faltered, even after the merger with Ganji, which should have eased some competition in the market. Instead, 58.com felt “increased competition” from “smaller or regional online classifieds websites as well as industry or content-specific vertical websites”.

$689 million USD, equal to 96 percent of 58’s 2015 revenue, went to sales and marketing expenses. $289 million USD, 40% of their total revenue, was spent on advertising alone, and the rest mainly went to salaries and commissions for their sales force.

58.com still maintains a huge sales team of 12 thousand employees as of the end of 2015. It has teams on location in about 40 cities across China. And most of the company’s subscription revenues are collected by sales employees instead of through their online transaction system.

It’s not likely the sales team will be reduced significantly in the near future as 58.com will need them more in lower tier cities to sign up merchants and collect subscription fees. A majority of 58.com’s revenue was from five major Chinese cities as of the end of 2015, though its online services were available in more than 400 Chinese cities .

58.com also sought to expand into on-demand services and used car trading through 58 Home and Guazi.com, respectively. Both launched in 2014, the two companies exist in verticals plagued by high valuations and fierce competition.

58 Home covered three categories, home cleaning, moving and manicure, and was available in some 30 Chinese cities as of the end of 2015. It planned to expand to more categories and cities in 2016.

58 Home’s major competitors include Helijia, an on-demand beauty services app, Daojia, the on-demand services platform of online retailer JD.com, and a handful of apps in niche categories. Meituan-Dianping, the largest local services platform and a strong potential competitor to 58, decided to close down their on-demand services platform earlier this year.

58.com’s automobile channel allows listings of new and used cars and other auto-related services but doesn’t facilitate car sales. Guazi.com was developed by Ganji. After the 58-Ganji merger, Yang Haoyong (aka. Mark Yang), the founder of Ganji and former co-CEO of 58-Ganji, decided to focus on the used car marketplace. At the end of 2015, 58.com sold their controlling ownership stake in Guazi to Mr. Yang.

Apart from heavy ad spending from parent company 58.com, Guazi and 58 Home have also raised outside funding to fuel growth. In November 2015, 58 Home raised a $300 million USD round of outside funding from investors including Alibaba Group. Guazi announced $204.5 million USD in Series A funding in March this year.