Startups around the world love to nickname themselves after other successful startups. Right now in the US, there’s the “Uber of this,” the “Facebook for that.” In China, where smartphone maker Xiaomi is the hottest tech firm out there, you’ll come across startups calling themselves the “Xiaomi of xyz.” It’s a meaningless catchphrase that often holds no weight. But for the case of Daxiang, an online condom retailer, there might be some validity behind its claims – according to Chinese tech blog 36kr, the company just closed a US$5 million series A funding round.
Founded by former Xiaomi employee Liu Kenan, Daxiang (which translates to “big elephant”) sells 0.002mm-thick condoms in packs of seven for RMB59 (about US$8) a box. That’s slightly more than what you’ll pay for if you get your condoms at a local corner store in China, but the company hopes it can distinguish itself by zero-ing in on giving customers what they want, when they want it – that’s where the Xiaomi legacy starts to show.
For one thing, like Xiaomi, Daxiang intends to incrementally update its products. In the case of Xiaomi, that means weekly ROM updates. In the case of a condom, that means updates for comfort. The company will release a “Version 2.0” of the condom next month that factors in customer feedback (it’s now 0.05mm longer), and a 0.01mm-thick update is reportedly in the works.
Then there’s the matter of application. Daxiang claims that its condom can be put on using just one hand (in a process that includes unwrapping the package), and that when applied properly, there’s no need to fiddle and make sure the condom is inside out. “Reduce the time by half from the moment you pick it up to the moment you put it on… you’ll never lose fervor to time again… focus your energies on pleasing your partner,” the website copy reads (translation ours).
However, the most obvious point of comparison between Daxiang and Xiaomi is its marketing and branding strategy. Both firms eschew traditional advertising in favor of generating buzz exclusively on social media. Neither company sells its goods to retailers (though Xiaomi will partner with telcos). And much like Xiaomi will hype up its generic-looking metal slabs with a cute bunny mascot, Daxiang ships its condoms in an attractive bright-green foldout box (think proposal ring box… or don’t) with it’s flagship elephant logo printed on the front. Evernote might raise an eyebrow or two.
The company is also betting that it can deliver the goods even more efficiently than the millions of corner stores it effectively competes with. It’s currently running a closed experiment in a specific part of Beijing where it aims to deliver condoms to users in under 45 minutes. There’s no telling what might come of this test, but Daxiang says that it will use the funding to ramp up its customer service and logistics.
Liu also tells 36kr that another product is in the works for the company. There are no further details yet, but Liu says it won’t be a sex-related good.
Is Daxiang and its team of 14 employees secretly inventing a new form of ecommerce? Or has this entrepreneur simply capitalized on Xiaomi hype and novelty appeal? It’s hard to say for sure. Scoring US$5 million in the space of about four months is nothing to scoff at, but Liu hasn’t revealed the identity of his company’s investors yet, which dampens the credibility of the investment. In any case, we’ll be keeping our eyes on Daxiang to see whether this company is a mammoth in the making, or an elephant-sized lark.