Toutiao, Meituan-Dianping, Didi…Who are these Chinese unicorns, the new BAT ?

China is the most connected country in the world. It reached 854 million Chinese Internet users last June 2019, a penetration rate of more than 60%!

These figures, higher than in all other countries, highlight the power of digital in China, especially of this ecosystem apart, dominated by the BAT (Baidu, Alibaba & Tencent) and now the TMD (Toutiao, Meituan-Dianping, Didi-Chuxing). These new Chinese Internet giants represent the new standards in terms of uses and technology. 

Founded in the late 20th century, BAT has successfully challenged Silicon Valley GAFAMs (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple & Microsoft) as they invested in innovation.

China sees the birth of its new generation of tech giants in the era where mobile and artificial intelligence dominate the digital world. The most important start-ups in the world today include three new Chinese unicorns less than ten years old: Toutiao, Meituan-Dianping and Didi-Chuxing, determined to conquer the world of the Internet, just like their big brothers.

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Who are TMD?

Known together as TMD, they are the best candidates for being the new Chinese Internet giants. Although their emergence gives consumers more choice in their mobile-dominated lives, they also represent, for the first time, some competition for the BAT whose position was previously dominant. They are also a part of the world’s 20 largest internet companies.

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1. TOUTIAO (头条)

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Toutiao is an AI-powered media company, also known as Jinri Toutiao (今日头条), which stands for “Headlines” is a very popular news platform in China. It was created in 2012 by Zhang Yiming, also founder of the ByteDance empire, known for its short video sharing application TikTok (Douyin 抖 音 in China) which is a hit with Z Generations.

Comparable to Google News, Toutiao offers personalized content to Chinese users and information flows tailored to their interests through advanced machine learning algorithms that monitor their reading habits. 50% of the content posted on Toutiao are videos and the application now records 10 billion videos viewed per day.

Toutiao has more than 1.2 million content publishers registered on the platform, covering traditional media, government agencies, businesses, but also celebrities and influencers on a variety of topics. The platform has even partnered with Buzzfeed to add “Western” content in its feeds.

The platform is growing and counts more than 120 million active users per day who spend an average of 74 minutes per day on the app.

Toutiao is the fastest growing app in revenues in the internet history, hitting USD2.2 billion this year.

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Since its creation, the company has constantly raised funds from the most prestigious venture capital and private equity funds. Zhang Yiming, determined to exceed $ 10 billion in 2020 and accelerate the internationalization of his platform, has more than one trick up his sleeve. After several partnerships and acquisitions, ByteDance decides to place itself in direct competition with the Chinese giant Baidu by launching its own search engine Toutiao Search, a search engine based on the digital ecosystem of Toutiao and ByteDance which allows the company to generate traffic to its different platforms. Indeed, users can search for content from all ByteDance applications, including TikTok and the web in general.

With over one billion downloads in only 3 years since its creation, Tiktok is the world’s 2nd most downloaded app. Seems like Bytedance is becoming the new “B” from BAT, therefore joining the illustrious ranks of the Chinese tech firms Alibaba & Tencent.

2. MEITUAN-DIANPING 美团 – 大众点评

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Meituan 美团, founded in 2010 by Wang Xing, a former executive at Alibaba, merged its activities in 2015 with Dazhong-Dianping 大众点评 to form a single Meituan-Dianping 美 团 – 大众点评 group.

Initially created on the group purchasing model of Groupon, the platform quickly specialized in the delivery of meals in particular. As in western countries with Uber Eats and Deliveroo, many scooters with cold boxes roam the streets of major Chinese cities.

It’s China’s leading O2O platform for local life information & services, customer review (its early business model was built upon combining Groupon&Yelp)

The app offers many services such as booking trips or hotel rooms, carpooling, self-service cycling, buying movie tickets. etc… and that for nearly 400 million Chinese users!

Wang Xing’s goal: to help people “eat better, live better”. Bet successful since his empire has become so powerful that it is even more advantageous to have a meal delivered than to cook yourself. Thanks to a powerful artificial intelligence program, deliveries are optimized in time and cost, allowing more than 20 million orders every day.

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Unfortunately, due to a highly challenged market, especially by its main competitor Ele.me 饿了么 belonging to the Alibaba group, the financial situation of the Chinese delivery giant has long remained unstable since it has continued to post losses since its creation, thus arousing the distrust of investors. The company’s share price, for example, had fallen by 30% in 6 months after its listing on the Hong Kong stock exchange in 2018 while the company, valued at US$50 billion, had raised more than US$4 billion at that time.

But for the first time, Meituan-Dianping managed to post a net profit of US$124 million, increasing its turnover by + 51%. Thanks to its ability to offer better services and exclusive partnerships, the group has maintained its position as market leader. Today, this Chinese restaurant giant seeks to generate additional revenue by integrating advertising on its platform. Restaurants can now pay to display banner ads on group sites or have their offers displayed among the top in user search results.

3. DIDI-CHUXING 滴滴出行

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Didi-Chuxing 滴滴出行, previously named Didi-Kuaidi 滴滴快的 was created in 2015 by Cheng Wei following the merger of two competitors in the passenger transportation market, Didi-Dache (supported by Tencent) and Kuaidi-Dache (supported by Alibaba).

With a valuation of nearly US$60 billion, Didi, the famous Chinese “Uber” is today the undisputed leader in China of the transport vehicle with driver, a position facilitated in 2016, when the American platform Uber acknowledged its defeat and sold its Chinese activities against 20% of the capital.

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Although specialized in Taxis, the Chinese giant also offers other services such as car rental, electric vehicles, self-service bicycles, carpooling etc. and is constantly developing in the transport sector. The group even embarked on the delivery of meals, thereby overshadowing the other new Chinese giant Meituan-Dianping.

Didi is also expanding internationally and continues to invest in many Uber competitors, including Lyft and Ola in India, Grab in Singapore, Taxify (Bolt) in Estonia, Careem in the Middle East (recently acquired by Uber), and 99 in Brazil… Last year, Didi even established an office in Mexico, thus intensifying its position as a competitor against Uber.

CEO Cheng Wei’s ambition is to “build a transportation and vehicle system for the future”. His priorities are now security related technologies, driver management, engineering and international expansion. His most ambitious project: to compete with Google and Tesla in the field of autonomous cars. The company even has a research laboratory in California working on the security of driving systems based on artificial intelligence, with key engineering talents from its main competitors.

Sources: tech.ifeng.com, ejinsight.com, quanlaoda.com, mbamci.com, visualcapitalist, China Internet Network Information Center