This social network is vying with Facebook in emerging markets

AllChinaTech News

Watching all the live streams of pretty girls singing and chatting lately, I totally agree with what MICO’s CEO says: “there are indeed more people than we imagined who want to spend a lot time online for entertainment”. Even if you are hard-working, you can easily be distracted by new things popping out on the internet.

But that’s not why they started to make a social networking app for countries outside mainland China. “People in emerging markets are still in great need of socializing online, either with their own countrymen or with the rest of the world through mobile phones,” Tom Zhang said.

An app named MICO, which means Mobile, Internet and Connect, is what he and his team built to serve this need. It was launched in February 2015 with around 20 versions of the app catering to different languages. And it has grown at a surprising speed, drawing over 30 million users from more than 60 countries.

The MICO app (screenshot from app store)
The MICO app (screenshot from app store)

In a previous life, Tom was partly responsible for the success of a classic web game with a social aspect in China. Happy Farm, in which users can grow different kinds of vegetables and pick fruit from friends’ virtual patches, was a hot game from 2009 to 2013, with hundreds of millions of users! Zhang worked for Happy Farm’s overseas business operation team, which later inspired him to venture into under-tapped overseas markets.

“A lesson learnt from the decline of such a popular game is: never try to retain users with a game. When they get tired of the game, they run away.”

Eventually, Tom found that platforms are able to retain users.

Besides around 40 in-house employees based in Beijing, MICO has a team of members based in different countries to better localize the app. In Tom’s words, MICO has three functions: to discover, to connect and to share.

This app not only has a location-based social network, but also a function for users to approach online users from other countries where this app is available. In a page of chat rooms, users can send messages, voice messages, stickers and short videos. In order to make it possible for users to share, the app is equipped with a WeChat Moments function, along with recommendations for “latest posts” and “popular posts”.

When asked about how they will find a way to compete with the biggest social network platforms in many countries, Tom asked me whether I would post everything on WeChat Moments. My answer is definitely no. And MICO aims to supplement the needs that can’t be fully covered by Facebook.

For Chinese companies going overseas, America is already a too mature a market to tap. Big companies like Alibaba, Huawei and Xiaomi are ambitiously eyeing Southeast Asian countries like India and Indonesia. Meanwhile, MICO made its first impact in the Middle East and in Latin America,as well as Southeast Asia. Increasing population in these countries and the improvement of mobile internet infrastructure might be reasons why Tom’s team are confident that they’ll acquire fast growing number of users.

Tom, who keeps a low profile, has ample confidence that he can make a huge impact on these barely-tapped markets with huge potential. “Growing a social network is a long and arduous process. The key is to stay one hundred percent focused and to persist,” said Tom.

The company completed its series A round of financing for USD 30 million last year.

AllChinaTech has a media partnership with GMIC. AllChinaTech is a startup media platform dedicated to providing timely news and analysis on the Chinese tech industry in English.

(top photo provided by MICO)

AllTechAsia Staff

AllTechAsia is a startup media platform dedicated to providing the hottest news, data service and analysis on the tech and startup scene of Asian markets in English.

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