With 455 million active users, China’s biggest selfie app Meitu turns its eye to social networking

When it comes to how people like their selfies touched up, Meitu CEO Wu Xinhong has learnt that different nationalities and age groups have very different preferences.

Norwegian women like to keep their freckles. Chinese users want to banish their blemishes. In India, more men than women use the Chinese company’s photo-enhancement app. In South America, selfie-takers want bright colours in their portraits. Everywhere, the old want to look young, while the young want to look mature.

“Selfies and touch-ups are now a basic demand, especially among women,” Wu, who founded Meitu in 2008, said in a phone interview during the Boao Forum. “The pursuit for beauty is eternal.”

Wu, now 37, set up Meitu in the southeastern Chinese port city of Xiamen. After graduating from high school in nearby Quanzhou in Fujian province, he ran domain-name registration businesses for several years before starting to develop and research photo-editing software.

A photography buff, Wu found it tedious to have to alter and airbrush photos.

“If only there’s an automatic tool with easy one-touch feature to make a photo pleasurable and beautiful,” he said.

Today, that dabble in photo-editing has become China’s top selfie-enhancement app company, with 455 million monthly active users. The company has narrowed its losses and is poised to turn a profit this year, the first time since its IPO in 2016 in Hong Kong, according to analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

In a March presentation, the company said that it was at a “point of inflection financially”. Meitu is “still in an early stage to monetise the user base in 2018,” Credit Suisse said in a March 28 report.

Smaller cities and overseas markets will drive growth in the number of users, and advertising will become a major source of profit, Meitu said. Three in five of those who use Meitu are between 18 and 30 years of age, with women making up 81 per cent of its users.

For Wang Xinyue, 23, using Meitu extends to trying the virtual make-up styles within the app and then choosing those that work for her to use in real life.

Wu Xinhong, co-founder and CEO of Meitu, in Beijing in 2015. Meitu has turned into China’s top selfie-enhancement app company in China with 455 million monthly active users.
Simon Song via SCMP

“BeautyCam and Meitu Xiuxiu are such popular apps among our friends,” said Wang, who graduated from Wuhan University last year. “Photos will not be posted on WeChat or Weibo without beautification,” she said, referring to two popular Chinese social-media networks.

A major initiative for Meitu is to transform its namesake app into what it calls a photo-social platform, where users can share their photos and follow the latest trends. The company expects to introduce the upgrade by the end of June.

Meitu also plans to bake more artificial intelligence into its apps. The company introduced an AI-based skin detection feature in its e-commerce platform, MeituBeauty, which recommends skincare and cosmetics products according to one’s skin condition.

This year, the company also plans to expand its internet value-added services, including games, online literature, claw crane machines, VIP membership services to tap on growing online spending by women, it said. Meitu, which makes smartphones that integrates its beautification apps, will also make a foray into beauty-related smart hardware and build “an ecosystem around beauty”, it said.

To keep its pulse on the market and shifting consumer winds among its core customer demographic, more than 40 per cent of Meitu’s 2,000-strong workforce are women, higher than the tech industry average in China. The mean age of its workforce is 27 and more than one in five employees were born after 1995, the so-called Generation Z.

Ironically, Wu, who remains an amateur photographer, may take some convincing to partake in the photo-social platform that Meitu is introducing.

“I take photos and videos, but mostly with mobile phones,” he said. “But I don’t share them publicly.”

SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST

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