China’s audio giant Ximalaya FM rumored to prepare for IPO

2 min read
Image credit: IPO Zaozhidao

Chinese biggest audio sharing platform Ximalaya FM is rumored to have restored its VIE structure in a move that is widely translated as a step towards an overseas listing, according to media outlet IPO Zaozhidao.

According to the news, the podcaster received a combined investment of $460 million at a $3.4 billion valuation from investors like Primavera Capital Group, Tencent, General Atlantic, Huatai Securities, Goldman Sachs, and New Horizon Capital.

Ximalaya responded to local media by denying IPO plans. However, the firm did not deny that fundraising in progress—it only emphasized that the funding size is inaccurate. Reports prior to new funding news put Ximalaya’s valuation at $2.94 billion.

“Building an ecosystem to better serve the users is still our top priority and IPO is not our current focus“, local media quotes the firm.

The variable interest entity (VIE) structure is common among Chinese companies seeking foreign investment as it allows them to circumvent restrictions on foreign investment placed on certain “sensitive” or “strategic” business sectors. Ximalaya abandoned its VIE structure in 2015 as it attempted to get listed on the then projected Chinese strategic emerging industries board. The program was canceled in 2016, leaving the company’s IPO plan adrift.

The audio giant has made constant headlines in recent months while local media is brimming with rumors about its new funding and return to the VIE structure. While the overseas listing craze of local tech firms is gathering wind, it is not surprising that the IPO of China’s largest online audio platform and pioneer in the knowledge sharing model is capturing public attention.

Ximalaya launched its own smart speaker Xiaoya in 2017 at a price of RMB 899. (Image credit: Ximalaya)

Founded in 2012, Ximalaya FM is one of the earliest entrants to China’s online audio vertical. The site has 40 million registered users and 6 million daily active users (DAU) who are attracted by the 10,000 daily uploaded items of professionally generated content (PGC). The company has now completed six founds of funding with support from top investors such as Tencent and Goldman Sacks.

Like many Chinese online content platforms, Ximalaya FM has been bothered by copyright issues and bore the heavy burden of IP investment while offering free content to users in the early days. Things changed in 2016 when a raft of knowledge sharing platforms like Zhihu and Fenda emerged to educate China’s paid content market.

Ximalaya FM set up its paid-content column in June 2016 to encourage professionals to sell their knowledge online. A recent update from Ximalaya FM reveals its ARPU (average revenue per user) was over RMB 90 in the first three quarters of 2017. Ads, community, and hardware are the company’s main revenue sources before turning to the paid content model. Since the second half of 2016, the firm’s paid content income has surpassed the combined sum of these three businesses, according to Zhang Yongchang, vice president of the firm.

Ximalaya launched an AI smart speaker Xiaoya in June 2017 and has been making wearables and audio equipment.