Out of hundreds of Chinese app stores, how Wandoujia rose to the top

junyu wang wandoujia

Junyu Wang, Wandoujia founder and CEO

Wandoujia doesn’t even call itself an app store anymore. Founder Wang Junyu and his staff now refer their company as a “mobile content search engine,” of which the app store is just a piece of something greater. That said, it’s second only to the Qihoo’s (NYSE:QIHU) app store in terms of monthly active users and number of Android apps.

“Everyone is trying to do a mobile search engine, but we think the problems they are trying to solve are wrong, because we believe that users’ most important needs in mobile are the content itself,” says Wang.

The company reports 300 million installs for its Chinese software, which includes both an Android and Windows desktop client. Last summer, Wang, a 27-year-old former employee of Google, told us the store was seeing half a million new users a day; that’s about half of China’s daily Android activations. Wang wouldn’t disclose active user numbers or any stats for the international version, SnapPea, but says it’s popularity is growing rapidly. The company just received $120 million in funding led by Japan’s SoftBank.

“We won’t expand our product lines dramatically,” Wang says. “We want to invest that money into our core product offerings.”

So how did Wandoujia, once just one of more than 200 Chinese Android app stores, become one of the most trusted and well-known names in China’s mobile space today? Wandoujia actually started out as a syncing tool between PC and Android. Targeting geeks, it took a Silicon Valley approach with its app store, which also aggregated search results from all the other Chinese app stores. It’s clean, uncluttered interface was a far cry from the existing stores, as were the labels on each app that indicates if it is paid or contains advertisements. Furthermore, Wandoujia has licensed with Tencent’s (HKG:0700) and Qihoo’s antivirus software to scan every app for viruses.

From SnapPea to snappy

For the last four years, the company has continued to add more functions and features. Wandoujia expanded the scope of its search results to e-books, video, music, wallpapers, themes, and games – all optimized for mobile, and with more than one million results in each vertical. New features are often first tested out on SnapPea, Wandoujia’s English-language international app. Wang says the US is one or two years ahead of China in this space, so SnapPea often serves as a sort of testing ground for what will eventually catch on in China.

“In the long term, all users’ needs are the same, but in the short term, the technical infrastructure, the ecosystems are pretty different between different countries,” he says.

For example, SnapPea has a lightweight browser-based client. In its latest update, a flashy new feature called “Photosnap” was added, in which photos taken on the phone are instantly uploaded and shareable from within the browser. And “instant” truly means “instant.” No need to even refresh the page; each photo appears on screen just seconds after taking it.

Thanks to China’s recent 4G rollout, Wang says Chinese mobile internet users, of which there are now half a billion, will be consuming more content than ever, and mobile trends will take hold even faster.

Helping Chinese netizens find content

Up to this point, Wandoujia has remained focused on the Chinese market, despite continuing development of SnapPea. Don’t expect a huge push for international users anytime soon. With Google Play pre-installed on most of the rest of the world’s Android phones, it’ll be tough for Wandoujia to compete. On the video content front, licensed content is often free with ads from many portals in China — even the newest American movies and TV shows — but those licenses are much more costly and complicated in the west. These are challenges Wandoujia hopes to tackle in the future, but it doesn’t seem like an immediate priority.

Wang explains that the use case for western users is different than Chinese users. Chinese users want a tool they can use to download content, while western users want a tool they can use to manage whatever content they already have.

“Most of our resources will still be focused on products and technologies, so it’s not market-specific,” Wang says.

When Tech in Asia tested SnapPea out a few months ago, Wandoujia’s software searched 1Mobile‘s app store. After some “mixed results,” that partnership has since ended. Wandoujia’s success overseas remains shrouded in mystery for now.

Four years later, same vision

Wandoujia’s vision hasn’t changed much since its inception four years ago. Wang never intended for his company to be “just an app store.” Below, he’s treated us to a few slides from his original pitch to the company’s first investor, Innovation Works.

“We move very fast and integrate very fast, but the long term vision is always the same – moving toward the mobile content search engine.”

You can find the Windows and Android clients for Wandoujia here, and SnapPea is here.

(Editing by Steven Millward)

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