In 2017, Su Hua, the founder of a Chinese startup called Kuaishou Technology, was on the verge of closing the biggest deal of his career — the acquisition of a fledgling video service that would become TikTok. But arch-rival ByteDance swooped in with a better offer, and Su missed out on what has become a global sensation.
Now, the 38-year-old entrepreneur is getting some payback. In February, Kuaishou went public in Hong Kong, raising more than $US5 billion ($6.8 billion) on the strength of its booming video and commerce operations. ByteDance, meanwhile, tangled with the US government and then got ensnarled in China’s tech crackdown, likely delaying its own initial public offering.
Su isn’t wasting a moment. Flush with cash from the IPO, Kuaishou is cranking up spending to close the gap with ByteDance, more than four times its size. Kuaishou plans to expand in countries like Brazil and Indonesia, rather than TikTok’s stronghold in the US. The company intends to double its global squad to 2000 by year’s end to accelerate the roll-out of its international products.
Having missed out on TikTok, Chinese billionaire Su Hua is betting on a daggier version of the internet sensation.
Kuaishou could have an advantage over its rival in these markets. While TikTok tends to be stocked with photogenic, dancing teenagers, Su’s stars are a diverse, at times low-brow, crew of entertainers, often from rural regions. They include a binge-drinking farmer and a long-haul truck driver.
“TikTok is a big frontrunner ahead of us today globally, but there’s still huge room for growth.” Su said in his first interview in four years. “Kuaishou’s philosophy is quite different from our peers, and that’s built upon my personal experiences and values.”
To drive Kuaishou’s expansion, the entrepreneur is deploying a tried-and-tested strategy of creating the commoner’s video forum, mixing artificial intelligence-driven recommendations with human curation to deliver a personalised experience. His company aims to reach 250 million monthly users outside China this year, after tripling that base in just the past six months. It has about 300 million users in China.
‘As I grew up, I saw more people who didn’t have a chance like I did. So I hope Kuaishou will provide another way for them to interact with a world different from their own.’
Billionaire Su Hua
Kuaishou’s overseas apps span Kwai to Snack Video and Zynn. Kwai, its most successful export and the international twin to its domestic platform, has been downloaded more than 76 million times in the first half of 2021 in countries such as Brazil and Mexico, while SnackVideo built a following in markets like Indonesia and Pakistan.
About half of its 150 million overseas users now hail from Latin America, one of TikTok’s key markets. Earlier this year, Su’s company struck a deal to sponsor the 2021 Copa América tournament, a big draw in the region. It also pledged to spend $US10 million to incentivise sports content creators over the next year.