24 August 2019
One of the unique features of Bullet Message is an automatic voice-to-text feature. Photo: Bullet Message
One of the unique features of Bullet Message is an automatic voice-to-text feature. Photo: Bullet Message

China messaging upstart Bullet Message signals big ambitions

Bullet Message, a new Chinese instant messaging tool, has big plans to grow its business, prompting industry observers to speculate about a potential strong challenger to Tencent’s WeChat platform. 

The messaging startup, which claims to have already secured 7 million users since its launch on Aug. 20, plans to spend around 1 billion yuan in the next six months to add 100 million users.

According to a Weibo message posted last week by Luo Yonghao, CEO of Chinese smartphone maker Smartisan, which invested and launched Bullet, the Bullet Message app — which is known as “Zidan Duanxin” in Chinese — has seen more than 10 million downloads since its launch.

In the wake of the huge positive response, the platform will step up investments to expand the user numbers in a big way, he wrote.

Bullet, indeed, took Chinese users by storm with its sleek and simple design, as well as a built-in, automatic voice-to-text feature, which converts the user’s voice inputs into a text message.

The recipient can read the transcription instead of playing the audio message, allowing for a greater degree of privacy.

Bullet also allows users to choose the format in which voice messages and transcripts can be sent simultaneously to the recipient. For replying messages, users can send audio replies to various messages with the “voice message” button on the message list.

While WeChat’s extra functions include payment, gaming, and others, Bullet only offers messaging and a news feed, and its interface allows users to respond to messages in fewer steps.

In a recent live webcast, Luo suggested that he had been contacted from an investment entity of Tencent, operator of the rival messaging app WeChat, during Bullet’s Series A funding round that was completed late August.

“At that time, there were some industry giants who wanted to join in investing in Bullet, but I prefer to slow them down,” he said. “Maybe they can join in the Series C funding round later.”

Luo’s Smartisan is an investor in Beijing-based startup Kuairu Technology, which originally developed Bullet Message. Kuairu claims it has a team of just 36 people with an average age of 27.

After Bullet’s first week of operation, it received 150 million yuan (US$21.8 million) in the Series A funding round, with participation from Smartisan and two local venture capital firms, Gaorong Capital and Chengwei Capital.

A venture capital investor told Chinese tech news site AWTMT that industry giants including Tencent, news aggregator Jinri Toutiao, Baidu and Sequoia Capital have competed to participate in the Series A funding round of Bullet.

However, Tencent denied it had approached Luo with any serious plans.  

Bullet Message has been widely touted as a challenger to WeChat, China’s No.1 Chinese social messaging app, but Luo played down such talk in recent live webcast.

He pointed out that Bullet targets only specific segments, such as users with a large amount of messages needed to process, or those demanding voice recognition features in text messaging.

“Portraying Bullet as the ‘challenger of WeChat’ is nonsense, but there is no problem that Bullet can get tens of millions to 100 million users in specific segments,” said Luo.

“It can get 10 percent to 20 percent of the market share in mobile communication tools, and become a company valued at several billion to 10 billion yuan.”

Tencent’s WeChat, which is now used for social networking, mobile payments, ride-hailing, food delivery and much more, hit the 1 billion monthly user milestone this March. Launched in 2011, the app reached 100 million registered user accounts by March 2012, 433 days after launch.

According to Luo, a new version of Bullet will be launched in the next one to two months.

He expects exciting growth for the app’s user base in the upcoming Chinese New Year, the traditional holiday period that WeChat has leaned on to grow with its digital Red Packets feature.

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