19 August 2019
A streetside ad encourages people to scan a QR code to download the news aggregator app Qutoutiao. The online platform gives out cash to users who refer their friends for sign-up. Photo: Qutoutiao
A streetside ad encourages people to scan a QR code to download the news aggregator app Qutoutiao. The online platform gives out cash to users who refer their friends for sign-up. Photo: Qutoutiao

Qutoutiao to add more staff as it remains upbeat on future

Popular Chinese news aggregator app Qutoutiao will step up hiring this year as it feels it needs a bigger team to help the firm maintain fast growth and consolidate its market position.

In contrast to the mood of caution in the broader tech space, which has seen a wave of layoffs amid slowing funding, Qutoutiao is upbeat about its prospects and has unveiled plans to add more staff.

Liu Xianfeng, Qutoutiao’s chief human officer, told Tencent’s tech portalthat the company plans to add 2,000 staff this year. Sixty percent of the new hires will be technical employees, while 40 percent will be operations and sales staff.

In addition, a plan of setting up a research and development center in Beijing is on the table, an initiative that could see about 400 staff brought in to focus on aggregation algorithm development and content operations.

The Nasdaq-listed entity will offer 600 million shares to its employees as incentives during the year.

While other fast-growing Chinese tech companies are shrinking their business during a slowdown in funding across the sector since last year, Liu said in an interview that he believes there is still a lot of room for growth in the third- and fourth-tier cities across the country.

The lower-tier cities are still underserved as a market segment, Liu said, adding that his company needs a talent pool that is in line with the potential growth opportunities.

Liu revealed that during the year, Qutoutiao will focus on creating a series of mobile applications including novel reading, short video sharing and gaming, among others, so it needs to beef up its talent resources.

Launched in 2016, Qutoutiao, which means “fun headlines” in Mandarin, is a content aggregator app with a focus on light reading with entertainment as its main content. Its news app customizes feeds to users with an artificial intelligence-powered content engine, based on users’ profiles and past habits. 

Qutoutiao is giving away cash credit for users to refer their friends to the app and boost their engagement. For example, users can earn “loyalty points” worth about 50 cents to US$1 for every referral to their friends.

For those with a longer attention span, it also runs an e-book reading app, Midu, which has collected 5 million users since its launch in May 2018.

As of June 2018, Qutoutiao claimed over 100 million registered users and nearly 50 million monthly active users. Users in the third- and lower tier cities and areas accounted for over 60 percent in the user base.

Since Qutoutiao debuted in 2016, it has been in a battle to compete and take market share away from Jinri Toutiao, China’s top news aggregator that is owned by the world’s most valuable startup ByteDance.

On the recruitment and expansion plan, Liu told Tencent Tech that he still thinks the company needs to grow fast if it is to maintain its market position against emerging competitors and also to catch up with top-notch domestic internet firms.

“While each user may only have one smartphone, there are numerous mobile applications emerging to compete for users’ attention span and usage,” said Liu. Qutoutiao will create a series of new mobile applications to form its own ecosystem that will help draw more people in. Meanwhile, it is also exploring new revenue models for its app other than relying on advertising income.

Qutoutiao is backed by some heavyweight investors including tech giant Tencent Holdings (00700.HK), Xiaomi (01810.HK) and China Media Capital (CMC), among others.

In September 2018, Qutoutiao went public on Nasdaq in an initial public offering raising US$84 million. In March this year, the company received US$171 million from Tencent’s arch rival Alibaba via a convertible loan. That makes Qutoutiao one of the unusual Chinese tech startups with backing from both Alibaba and Tencent.

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