Tweetstorm: The Video-First Future of Ecommerce

Based on my article for a16z with Connie Chan which can be seen here.

https://twitter.com/avesegal/status/1203014397192527874

Tweetstorm: The Usefulness of QR Codes in China

Based on my article for a16z which can be seen here.

https://twitter.com/avesegal/status/1189581319333793797

Here in the US we’ve been slow to adopt QR codes outside of messaging apps. But they’re full of potential; camera-based solutions like QR codes can give instant fixes to clunky user experiences, while also enabling us to log in to physical locations.

Logging in to physical spaces allows brands to learn user identity/preferences, while customers gain a more tailored and social experience, as well as perks like automatic loyalty programs built into every transaction.

Vending machines for fresh-cut flowers are certainly possible in the US with credit card payments, but by linking to WeChat via QR codes, the retailer gets access to customer information and can easily build loyalty programs and retarget buyers.

I detail these and other examples, from sample vending machines to capsule gyms. Final notes: 1) Tech evolves fast in China — most of these products were nonexistent when I lived there just 3 years ago. 2) These examples are by no means ‘magical’ in China; they are the norm.

Tweetstorm: How China is Cashing in on Group Chats

Based on my article with Connie Chan as can be seen here.

But first, the chat groups this posts largely focuses on are not shopping-centric groups (ie Pinduoduo), but conversational group chats facilitated by businesses. These group chats thrive because they feel natural and not transactional.

Ctrip creates group chats for Chinese travelers to major world cities every week. They push products, like car rentals/tours and even spas, but also help travelers have fun to ensure repeat customers. It was fun waking up everyday to hear about adventures across the world!

They’re also nice because users can crowdsource literally anything! I saw people share pools to visit in Bali, photos of lines at Shanghai Disney, and restaurant reviews in Phuket. @ClaireLiStory told me about her mom crowdsourcing cherry blossom photo spots in Japan.

Group chats drive friendship because live conversations mimic real life. I saw tons of solo travelers planning meetups, trips, and nights out. Ctrip disbands the groups after every trip for privacy, but I know from my time in-groups that people make lasting friendships.

Even if the end result is not commerce, customer relationships build brand loyalty. One am, a user lost her bag in the airport. Ctrip support responded immediately with contact info, and fellow travelers helped her find it. That’s a lifelong customer/brand advocate.

Other examples: Supermonkey gym has no membership cards. They use group chats as a loyalty tool: instructors post class music/photos/nutrition tips, and users resell classes they can’t attend. When I attended a class recently, group members hung out IRL afterwards and went for bbq.

In Lingochamp, the group leader hosts a new activity every day in the group chat for students to practice with each other ie self-introductions, interviewing, or even reading Christmas poems. Every week the leader touts performance improvements while upselling premium classes.

That’s not to say only in China do businesses see the benefits of group chats: see Lambda School’s CEO @Austen’s tweet on what he uses group chats for:

In sum, the point is not that group messaging is better than group posts, it just drives a different kind of behavior. And the C2C interactions in the chat groups can work for businesses by building trust and driving sales.

Tweetstorm: Libra and WeChat Compared


(But first…) please note that none of the following should be taken as investment advice. See http://a16z.com/disclosures  for more info.

Similarity: WeChat and Libra both have the goal of payment accessibility. WeChat Pay spearheaded China’s transformation to a cashless digital society w/ 900M+ MAU, many underserved by traditional banks. Libra aims to bring price-stable money via crypto wallets to 2B+ people.

Ubiquitous mobile wallets is big for fintech and greater financial opportunity. While USD is relatively stable, other countries like Venezuela lack stable ways to preserve wealth. It also unlocks new business models, as seen in this post w/ @conniechan

Huge difference: currency/reach. WeChat Pay can be used in 49+ countries but the platform itself is limited to local fiat balances in China or Malaysia. By being a cryptocurrency not pegged to a single currency like RMB, Libra’s aim is to be used globally.

Huge difference: centralization. Libra will launch with 100 nodes (1 by Facebook). Developers and other ecosystem participants have less deplatforming risk than exists with WeChat (although it’s still more centralized than other cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin).

Kevin Werbach’s take on the importance of blockchain-enabled trust: “The benefits from re-establishing the trust it has lost would dwarf what it could squeeze out of mining the data.”

8/ That being said, centralization is not all bad for adopting new tech! WeChat incentivized online-to-offline payment adoption with $150M+ in subsidies in 2018 (Alipay spent $300M+)! But it also means they control the ecosystem.

Difference: Open-source. Unlike WeChat (and other fiat-based monetary platforms), the code that powers it is completely available for anyone to improve. In the event people are deplatformed, they can fork the code and create their own Libra alternative.

Similarity: Lack of anonymity. Libra is pseudonymous like Bitcoin and can be audited by third-parties or law enforcement, in contrast to completely anonymous products like Monero or Zcash (with shielded transactions).

So is Libra actually about emulating WeChat? There are clear differences, but the shared vision, with the potential of giving crypto wallets to the masses, may only be imaginable thanks to WeChat’s success in China.

In response to the Libra news, Tencent Chairman Pony Ma wrote, “The technology is mature, it’s really not difficult. It only depends on whether regulators allow it.” Going global ≠ open financial system, but there’s a lot to learn from studying their respective approaches.

Suggested reads:

The Real Reason for Facebook’s New Cryptocurrency — op ed by Kevin Werbach
Libra lessons from WeChat and QQ — podcast by Matt Brennan and John Artman
Can Libra replicate WeChat Pay’s digital payment dominance? — article by Nicole Jao

Ant Financial: Impact of China’s 2016 Clearinghouse Regulation

This is the second part of a two part series on Ant Financial. Click here to read the first part on Ant Financial’s history, ecosystem, and growth.

In a 2017 interview, Jack Ma stated very emphatically, “We have to step ahead of the regulators; we have to. Otherwise, we go nowhere.”1 This game of leapfrog between third party payment applications and regulators has helped served the Chinese market by letting the market decide the future of finance. Chinese fintech has clearly benefited from the boldness of companies such as Ant Financial and Tencent setting bold paths ahead of regulators, but now that regulators are getting involved, it is beneficial for the future of competition, mobile payments, and Chinese financial markets. In this blog post, will shift my focus to the implementation and effects of the 2016 clearinghouse regulation.

Continue reading “Ant Financial: Impact of China’s 2016 Clearinghouse Regulation”

Understanding Ant Financial: History, Ecosystem, and Growth

Alibaba founder Jack Ma famously professed that should the government desire, he would deliver Alipay to the state.1 He also said that because the state banks would not change on their own, Alipay would change them. What connects these two statements is the power that Ant Financial has accumulated by becoming an indispensable part of over 500 million citizens’ lives. It’s not beyond Jack Ma’s imagination that the overwhelming power of his private company would cause integration with the state to be inevitable.

Continue reading “Understanding Ant Financial: History, Ecosystem, and Growth”

Beijing: First Month Highlights

For the past month I’ve been living in Beijing. My hostel is in a hutong, the narrow alleyways of traditional Beijing. These have been now made increasingly busy (and potentially dangerous) with the popularization of cars, motorcycles, and all kinds of electric vehicles and carts. I spend most of my time  taking language classes, learning to cook Chinese food, and exploring the city.

beijing hutong street

Last week I went on a tour of Maliandao tea market. This market practically takes up an entire street, but is centered on a massive 3 story wholesale tea shopping mall. It was an eye-opener to try so many different teas – from the lightest of green teas to the darkest of blacks. Each tea has a variety of health benefits, and traditionally has no sweeteners or milk added.

beijing maliandao tea market loose leaf teas

Good quality tea does not come cheap in China, as the entire process is done by hand. The tea was sold in a variety of forms – from loose leaf, bags, and blocks to the massive sculpture below.

beijing maliandao tea market store

One of my favorite spots has become Houhai, a popular restaurant/bar area located on a series of massive manmade lakes. I love standing alongside the water, watching the boats go by and waving at everyone inside.

beijing houhai park duck boats

On a completely random note, as I was heading home one night I discovered the bathroom at the subway line 10 had a full-fledged band playing. While it was slightly awkward to walk past them (and even more awkward to photograph), I have to admit that they were pretty good!

beijing subway bathroom guitar player

One night I attempted to watch a Beijing Guoan match. This is Beijing’s professional team in the Chinese Super League, and this year they are doing exceptionally well. I had read online that tickets should cost just about $7-14 from scalpers by the entrance. However, because they were playing the best team in the league for the number one position, tickets were over $60. Realizing that price was the cost of 40 lunches, I decided to head back to my hutong and watch the match on tv.

Nonetheless, I bought an absurd amount of Beijing Guoan apparel on the street. I might be their #1 fan in China who has never been to a match!

beijing guoan soccer match souvenirsFinally, Trey Ratcliff of Stuck In Customs, a popular travel photography blog, came to Beijing and hosted a photo walk. He brought with him a remote controlled drone with a GoPro camera attached – which was loads of fun to watch him fly.

beijing photo walk trey ratcliff flying quadcopter

Trey invited his modeling friend, Ms. Leona Xu over during the photo walk. The photo Trey deemed most interesting would get to keep his camera, so everyone went nuts over photographing her.

beijing photo walk leona xu factoryI found the paparazzi-like crowd and blatantly sponsored baby formula to be quite amusing, while at the same time realized how aggravating it could be to be famous.

beijing photo walk train tracksOther highlights include hiking on the Great Wall and general hutong life, which will have their own posts soon enough. Until then, thanks for reading and 再见!