How a popular TV drama boosted HK startup MailTime

January 11, 2019 14:14
"Mo-jing", the app featured in mainland TV drama "Entrepreneurial Age", is based on the TalkBox app launched by Hong Kong mobile app developer Green Tomato. Photo: Zhejiang Huace Film & TV

After the excitement generated by its US$40 million initial coin offering (ICO), Hong Kong-based email messenger service MailTime finds itself contending with the cryptocurrency market crash and the venture capital winter.

The startup, which created an app that reformats emails into instant messages to make communication easier, is now looking to expand its presence in mainland China. Part of its strategy is to ride on the popularity of a Chinese television drama, which was inspired by his team's entrepreneurial journey.

MailTime founder Heather Huang found time to sit down with the Hong Kong Economic Journal to talk about some aspects of his company's business.

HKEJ: As we know, in the ICO in 2017, MailTime raised an amount equivalent to about US$40 million on ether (ETH), the cryptocurrency that runs on the ethereum blockchain. How does the crypto market crash in most of 2018 affect your business?

Huang: We can see that ether once reached US$1,400, which was its historical high. But since then, it has plunged to about US$134 this month. As we raised an amount equivalent to about US$40 million on ether in the ICO in 2017, we initially thought that we wouldn't need another venture capital funding round after the ICO, and we could focus our efforts on R&D for our product in the next few years. However, the collapse in price of ether left us no choice but to change our financing strategy. 

Honestly, we are facing a thin VC market now, with many mainland Chinese startups unable to raise funds at all. I expect that to complete a series A or B funding round, raising US$4 million to US$5 million, we need to approach about 100 VC investors and funds. Back in 2014, during our angel funding round, the market was bullish and we obtained a 100 percent success rate in intention-to-invest after meetings with seven investors. That’s how different the market looks now. 

Q: Can you explain your business development? 

A: We rolled out two flagship products last year. The first is the MailTime app, which simplifies email communication to instant messaging, and we estimate it has reached 10 million users worldwide. We have partnered with Samsung and US-based telecommunications operators Verizon and AT&T. In addition, we are working with Xiaomi (01810.HK) in regions such as Europe, Southeast Asia, and Hong Kong, to pre-install the app on Xiaomi’s smartphones. 

Another flagship product is our big data analytics platform, Measurable AI, which helps businesses to analyze consumer behavior trends through data from consumers’ emails. As consumers often get receipts in emails from retailers and businesses after shopping and booking, we can make use of the data from MailTime users, edit out the personal-identifiable information, and aggregate the consumption data. For MailTime users, as long as their data is used by our business clients, they will be rewarded. 

One of the uses of our Measurable AI analytics platform is to provide insightful analysis for investment. For example, investors and institutions can study the data from Measurable AI, like sales of Apple’s latest flagship products, to assist them in predicting Apple’s stock price. 

Q: We know that your company has recently launched an app called “Magic Crystal”, or “Mo-jing” in Mandarin, in mainland China. What is it about? 

A: Last year, a mainland television drama, “Entrepreneurial Age", started broadcasting across the country, and it is actually inspired by the entrepreneurial journey of a Hong Kong mobile app developer, Green Tomato. The app “Mo-jing” mentioned in the drama is based on Green Tomato’s voice messenger app TalkBox, the first app that enables users to communicate via push-to-talk instant voice messages. 

In order to do research for the drama, the producers approached us as nearly half of my team are, in factGreen Tomato alumni. And with the drama generating huge popularity, we decided to re-package MailTime and turn it into “Mo-jing” to launch in app stores for the mainland China market.  

The drama series turned out to be a big hit across the country, racking up nearly 7 billion views. And our “Mo-jing” app has generated 1 million downloads in two weeks since the drama premiered. Popular TV shows are truly helpful in driving app downloads!  

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 11  

Translation by Ben Ng with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版] 

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Hong Kong Economic Journal