Meitu: an empire built on selfies

Meitu, the maker of China’s largest selfie-editing app, built its empire upon the narcissism of modern smartphone users.

Its Chinese name literally means beautiful picture. The company provides free photo and video editing apps for people with no knowledge or skills in photo editing whatsoever.

The maker of the most widely used photo-editing app in China, Meitu has attracted about 100 million registered users. The company became a unicorn tech company with a valuation of USD three billion in 2015.

Established in 2008, the company has now built an ecosystem of products around its flagship product Meitu Xiuxiu. Starting from this selfie editing app, the company built a social network around its users and even launched a popular smartphone brand.

Meitu Xiuxiu (which means fix the beautiful picture), touts beautifying functions to alter skin tone, make the face thinner, elongate legs, and make the eyes bigger. The company’s main user group has always been young Chinese women.

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Meitu’s founders Cai Wensheng (left) and Wu Yinhong (right) with an older photo of the two

The idea is to achieve instant beauty with “one-second, one button,” says CEO and co-founder Wu Yinhong. 34-year-old Wu is a photographer with an art school background who hates using Photoshop because he thinks it’s too complicated. His concept of simplifying a complicated process to make things easy for users extends to all Meitu products: Meipai produces short videos with one click, Meizhuang puts makeup on a selfie with one click, and Meitu smartphones take perfect selfies with one click.

Meitu co-founder Cai Wensheng is a legendary angel investor in the Chinese tech industry. He reportedly came out of retirement to launch his second career at Meitu. Cai’s goal for the company is to take its products to the global market. “Meitu is a company that hopes to change the world with beauty,” he told PEdaily in an interview in April.

Meitu was the first to catch on to the idea that, as our lives increasingly moved online, the image of themselves that users present online is becoming just as, if not more, important than their real faces. Launched just as the selfie craze was starting to take off, Meitu Xiuxiu shot to the top of the Apple App Store’s free app list in its first 24 hours from launch.

Meitu has since capitalized on its huge user base with its smartphone business. Its first phone MeituKiss was launched in 2013. Its latest generation of smartphone, Meitu V4, was launched in November.

The company is also developing its own social network. After two failed attempts, the company achieved this goal with the Meipai short video app, which has 160 million users and 14 million daily active users, as of July.

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Meitu’s mobile game Meimeixiaodian

In July Meitu released Meimeixiaodian, a mobile game where users pick out outfits and makeup for the customers visiting their virtual boutique. Meitu has plans to eventually develop an e-store where users can buy the products they see in the game.

Moving into the global market with Pomelo, which goes beyond the selfie to provide different photo filters, and Selfie City, which provides “movie-like” filter effects, as well as English versions of its most popular apps, Meitu faces competition from a whole slew of similar apps out there.

Competitors include filter-focused photo editors such as Camera 360, Afterlight, VSCO Cam, and Snapseed; selfie editing apps Microsoft Selfie (Microsoft’s new selfie editing app), AirBrush, and Facetune, just to name a few. Not to mention Instagram, that giant of image-based social networks. But with its empire of apps, games, and smartphones, Meitu’s existing resources just might give it an edge, if it can figure out how to adapt its products to a global audience.

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