These days, we have to acknowledge that being a programmer is kind of cool, but the days when coding is the crucial skill-set in developing a good mobile app have long gone. Even for experienced programmers who can work with code, wouldn’t you prefer something easier, like a tool that allows you to build prototypes quickly?

That’s exactly what Zhang Yuanyi, the founder of MockingBot, thinks when he first started the project in 2012. Like many entrepreneurs in early 2010s, Zhang was inspired by Mark Zuckerberg’s story and sought to build his own social network service for Chinese users. But he finds it’s darn hard to explain his ideas to friends and there are no products available on the market to facilitate the process.

As a full stack developer, he built MockingBot single-handedly and the product received lots of positive feedbacks after it hit the overseas market in 2012. Zhang explained that he choose to tap overseas market first mostly because the users have better payment habits for software.

Despite the growth, Zhang treated it as a hobby project and for the following four years, he remained the only person on the project. With the rise of startup craze and shifting of China’s user payment habits, MockingBot team believes that it’s the right time for prototyping services to boom.

MockingBot, or Modao (墨刀) in Chinese, is an online mobile prototyping tool that enables users to build interactive mobile app wireframes and prototypes in just a couple of minutes. In a well-organized and clean workspace, users can put their ideas into inspiring user experience by using combo templates, built-in widgets, and intuitive drag-and-drop features, with no coding required.

Real-time collaboration allows you to share prototypes with others by adding your team members to your MockingBot prototype project. “There are more possibilities in this feature, we can also share the prototype to a larger number of testers as a means to validate the features and receive early feedbacks from users,” pointed out Yu Xiaomeng, a post-90 serial entrepreneur, who joined the company one year ago as the co-founder to oversee finance, recruitment and public communications.

屏幕快照 2017-04-13 下午1.18.20

The Beijing-based startup now registered over 420k users globally with most coming from China, where they have launched some marketing campaigns, introduced Yu.

“Of the total users, around 50k are coming from the overseas market, where we have done zero marketing and have recorded a 5 percent payment rate,” Yu says. “We have high hopes for the U.S. and India markets, where we have seen favorable growth.”

“We are a bit intimidated when entering U.S. market because there’s plenty of competitors, like Proto. But we find that the app development in the US is designer-centric, so most of the US prototyping tools need users to import PS or Sketch pre-treated images. On the other hand, China’s app development workflow is product manager-centric, that’s why MockingBot’s ready-to-use models are easy to use. This also greatly shortens the time it takes to generate a shareable app,” said Yu.

While the demand from designer developers continues, there also raise a demand from green-hand users who don’t have designer skills. “Our users in the US are mostly students from colleges, newbies in the app industry, outsourcing companies and small teams,” she explained. In addition, there’s the price difference, which would be an effective means for user acquisition in the initial stages.

After receiving a 5 million RMB pre-A financing from FreeS in April last year, the Beijing-based startup has more than 20 employees now and planning to raise the next round this year.

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 or Twitter.

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