Tencent’s (HKG:0700) chatting app WeChat, which went global just a few months ago, has gained particular traction in Southeast Asia, especially in Vietnam and Thailand.
The Chinese internet multinational’s VP of international business Poshu Yeung told a gathering of tech journos in Bangkok this week that he estimates the app has about 200,000 to 300,000 users in Thailand alone, based on download figures.
That pales in comparison to the estimated 100+ million users of Weixin, the original Chinese version of the app, but it’s a nice start for Tencent. Poshu was in town for a board meeting for web portal Sanook.com, Thailand’s most popular website and a local partner with Tencent for three years. He said that Thailand has been particularly important for feedback on the new global version of the chatting app.
We like Thailand a lot because of the Chinese culture here, the Asian culture, and because it’s close to China. […] No one goes international and then goes straight to the US. Southeast Asia is the more obvious choice because its closer.
Poshu said that Tencent isn’t doing any marketing for WeChat in Southeast Asia outside of social media, but they certainly aren’t skimping on Facebook, where TechInAsia noted recently they are advertising heavily in Singapore. In addition to the Facebook ads, they are monitoring responses from Facebook and Twitter closely. “It seems like Thai users are really liking the product from the feedback. That’s what makes this market so exciting,” he said.
WeChat joins a tough field of competitors in Southeast Asia, where WhatsApp and Line are firmly established as favorites. Poshu maintained that WeChat’s advantage is that it plans on customizing the product to local markets, rather than simply translating into local languages.
That seems to be the talking point throughout the company, as Tencent’s regional director of global mobile Suyang Zhang emphasized localization in Indonesia at our Startup Asia Jakarta 2012 event this morning. In India as well, Tencent is teaming up with local gaming company Ibibo to promote WeChat.
As for a monetization model, Poshu said that isn’t even in the picture at the moment.
The mobile app industry will continue to evolve over next three years. We would rather spend three years building a user base and providing nice products than monetizing. […] Our business principle is very straightforward. If you have the hearts of the users, you will be able to figure out a monetization model down the road.