William Bao Bean

Key players in the US and China have profoundly different ways to expand, says William Bao Bean, managing director of Chinaccelerator to the Harbinger China. Those major player changed the playing field profoundly, also for startups.

The Harbinger China.

William: In the U.S., companies like Facebook have lagged behind China for a year-and-a-half to two years now. And it’s taken about a year-and-a-half for Facebook to develop many of the features that are currently coming out on [Facebook] Messenger and WhatsApp around payment and commerce.

So here’s the difference: in China you can go on any social network and pretty much anything that you see you can click and buy, whereas on Facebook, on [Facebook] Messenger, on WhatsApp, on any of these platforms, they have a different business model, or actually, they do not have a business model. They are not making any money. So Facebook played the long game and now they are making lots of money. But it’s all advertising based and if you think about basic economics, advertising drives behavior. And usually people want to drive purchasing behavior so advertising revenue is actually a subset of the actual commerce revenues. Advertising drives game revenue; advertising drives commerce revenue.

Facebook makes money on advertising while in Asia, social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo make money on commerce such that they get a cut of the actual purchase. So if you control the payment platform as well as the user, it’s much more powerful than just controlling the advertising. You can potentially have an order of magnitude of greater revenue. So we will see an interesting battle played out in other countries like India, where Facebook and WhatsApp are strong and where Chinese players have backed local commerce companies and local payment companies. So it’ll be the Indians backed by the Chinese against U.S. heavyweights like Facebook and Amazon. And that’ll be interesting to see how things play out, especially in comparison to China, because the Chinese retail industry is under a huge amount of pressure since people don’t carry wallets or buy offline anymore.

Adam: Given that Facebook is entering new markets like India, and with the other Chinese-backed providers which have payments attached to the virtual and social experiences, how do you think Facebook might localize their products or customize in those particular markets in terms of payments?

William: Facebook does not localize. They have an “one size fits all” strategy. Facebook in the U.S. is the same as Facebook in India. They can add features, and they are adding payment methods. But the bottom line is that a product designed for one market does not always work in another market. So far Facebook has been very successful in Southeast Asia and same with WhatsApp, but they are somewhat bounded by the fact that they do not localize. So what you’ll see play out is global companies like Facebook and Google increasingly going up against local players backed by Chinese companies like Alibaba and Tencent.

I think it is like the next World War. It’s not going to be fought with the tanks and bullets and guns, but between global companies. Instead of having 80 percent of the money made by 20 percent of the companies, it’s 99 percent of the money being made by 1 percent of the company.

More at the Harbinger China.

William Bao Bean is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request list.

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