Being the WeChat of the West Isn’t the Goal

Yesterday, I read the recent Techcrunch article by Edith Yueng on WeChat and how it’s eating the world. If you haven’t read it, you should go read it. NOW. (I’ll wait). Edith gives a great overview of the many use cases of WeChat and each use case’s western counterpart. After reading the article, I couldn’t help, but think about the role that China’s restrictive internet policies played in the massive growth of WeChat’s all-in-one messaging platform. As I tweetstormed on Twitter, WeChat’s dominance is as much (if not more) a sign of China’s specific cultural climate as it is of the future of messaging apps. With that said, many messaging startups are trying to be the WeChat of the West because it is a valuable proposition. Most seem to be doing so without an understanding of why WeChat is so valuable to its users.

MADE IN CHINA

Tencent has an incredibly deep understanding of its users and it shows in the product features and level of engagement (570 million DAUs — crazy!). Just look at the lucky money feature. It’s based on the 1,000 year-old Chinese tradition of gifting red envelopes with money to friends and family. This is an experience that is unique to Chinese culture and something that engenders a sense of comradery and belonging among WeChat users.

Another example is the extensive use of QR codes in the WeChat ecosystem. QR codes are ubiquitous in China, with consumers using them to buy goods, following friends on friends on WeChat and even keep up with current events in government. QR codes are a significant part of how Asian users experience the internet and WeChat is leveraging that to become an integral part of their daily lives.

IMITATE THE DEEP UNDERSTANDING OF USERS, NOT THE TACTICS

The examples above are important in that they speak to a deep level of understanding user needs and how the internet fits into their daily lives. Tencent has built a product that meets current user needs, while introducing new experiences and services that feel familiar and further deeper engagement as times goes on. This is the real lesson that western startups can learn from WeChat — understand your users at fundamental levels (culture and daily life) and create in-app experiences that enhance the user experience.