27 February 2020

What does Softbank see in a little pea pod?

Earlier this month, Chinese app distributor Wandoujia {豌豆莢} received a US$120 million funding from a group of investors led by Japan technology behemoth Softbank. The market immediately turned its focus on this “little pea pod” (which is what Wandoujia stands for in Chinese) to find out why the big guns even bothered.

After Baidu bought 91 Wireless for US$1.9 billion last year, market observers started wondering about the prospects of small players like Wandoujia. They ask: “If it is wasn’t acquired by one of the industry leaders, how could it survive?” “What if Tencent or Baidu decides to pull the apps from its platform?”

The truth is, what makes Wandoujia a valuable alternative in China’s app distribution maze is its fierce determination to stay independent.

Wandoujia admits that big industry players possess lots of resources; the ride may be smoother if the group marries itself into one of the leaders.

However, most of the time, it’s the herd mentality that pushes these big players to enter a new business, even if they have no clear idea, much less a sound one, about the value of a product and how to bring out its potentials. For them, a new business is more like a strategic move.

“That’s why some app stores or search engines are blocking products developed by competitors as a result,” a source at Wandoujia told National Business Daily. “But we are absolutely open, and that’s the biggest difference between us and them.”

Going beyond the traditional model of app stores, Wandoujia shows its unique vision by integrating content across multiple categories including apps, games, videos and ebooks. Wandoujia believes this is going to be the trend of the future.

Here’s an example: If you are searching “Angry Birds” on Wandoujia, the results will include games, videos and related apps about Angry Birds, whereas if you use other platforms, all you will get are apps.

In fact, the group doesn’t call itself an app store anymore. Instead, 29-year old founder Wang Junyu {王俊煜} and his crew, many of whom are ex-Google staff, refer to Wandoujia as a mobile content search engine. The company name was conceived to leave plenty of room for its evolution.

Wandoujia was one of the first startup projects incubated by Innovation Works, which was founded by Taiwan IT venture capitalist Lee Kaifu {李開復} in 2009. The group currently claims to have more than 300 million users in China and says it’s the second most active Android distribution channel in the country in terms of monthly users.

– Contact the writer at [email protected]





EJ Insight writer