China’s Messenger App Duel Shows Bullet Aimed At WeChat

In business, as in life, success breeds imitation. Call it the entrepreneurial equivalent of flattery.

And sometimes, in a nascent industry, there’s room for all sorts of business model permutations. Especially in China, where the embrace of tech is enthusiastic.

The messaging app industry offers some striking examples. Reuters noted recently that Bullet Messenger, a, well, messaging app, has logged millions of downloads with haste, having hit the market only a few short weeks ago.

As Reuters recounted, the app bowed on Aug. 20, and within the week had become Apple’s App Store’s most often downloaded app in China. At the most recent report, the app had five million users in 10 days.

An average of half a million new users a day is nothing to sneeze at.

The tailwinds are multiple. For one thing, said the newswire, Bullet Messenger has a “stripped-down” appeal to the masses (more on this later), and in a competitive landscape dominated by the likes of WeChat, those same masses of users are looking for an alternative.

At the same time, money and consumers chase and lock in on what’s available. According to Matthew Brennan, co-founder of consulting firm China Channel, the disruption is one that comes with speed, and, as he said, “there is an increasingly large amount of easy money chasing increasingly fewer opportunities, while there is also a very large pool of talented entrepreneurs now, so people know how to scale businesses fast – there is an established playbook.”

Is the playbook detailed enough so that upstarts can challenge the likes of Tencent’s WeChat, where more than one billion users have congregated?

Bullet traces its genesis to tech firm and developer Beijing Kuairu Technology, which has said that it raised the equivalent of $22 million within seven days of launch. So firepower seems to be massing. The big player on the block has its imitators and those who see ways to offer, at least in theory, tweaks to functionality that may make inroads against entrenched players. That comes with a roughly seven-year streak where WeChat has held sway. Plus, the landscape is relatively open for domestic players, for WeChat and its challengers, as Facebook and other non-Chinese offerings are banned from operating there.

There is some overlap in features between the two offerings. There’s the ability to send messages, of course, but one wrinkle is that among the standouts for Bullet is the ability to transform voice messages into text as the user is speaking, complete with a transcript. Speed is of the essence, say users, and reading the transcript is faster (and polite!) as compered to listening to recordings. WeChat does have a function that differs in that, as Reuters noted, it does not allow the voice recordings and transcripts to be sent together.

Conversely, WeChat has payments functionality.

Still, at the moment, though the initial embrace of Bullet may impress, at least some observers state that the competitive landscape is unlikely to tilt anytime soon. WeChat, as Tencent noted in its most recent earnings results, is a bright spot for the company, as monthly active users grew by 10 percent year over year to reach and breach that one billion user milestone.

Said China Channel’s Brennan, this is not a WeChat killer. Bullet is still tiny and has a lot to prove,” adding that it is “very, very difficult” to build successful social networks where users actually stay.