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Sifting the tides of mobile data: an interview with Leo Cui, CEO of TalkingData

At work, it is more persuasive to talk about “what the data shows” than “what I think”; in life, your most used app may have “known” you better than your family members. That is why TalkingData – China’s leading third-party big data service platform, similar to America’s Flurry – was founded in the first place in 2011, to catch the tides of data that are reshaping our lives.

Big data for smarter business decisions

“Many Chinese entrepreneurs were making decisions off the top of their heads at that time, but we believed that more and more company leaders would turn to data and make well-informed business decisions,” said Cui Xiaobo or Leo Cui, CEO of TalkingData.

Headquartered in Beijing, TalkingData focuses on the mobile app marketplace, providing a variety of products, including mobile app analysis, mobile ad tracking, and mobile market intelligence.

It tracks activity on approximately four billion devices and processes over 10 terabytes (10240 gigabytes) of data every day.

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Its diversified corporate clients vary from corporate giants – such as China Merchants Bank, Tencent, and China Citic Bank – to app developers, with 80% of the top 50 app developers in China using its products, according to the TalkingData website.

A mobile analytics powerhouse in China

There are two leading data-analytics companies in China, Umeng and TalkingData.

Umeng, a Beijing-based analytics provider, was acquired by Alibaba in 2013, as part of the latter’s effort to move from the dot com era to the mobile internet era.

Outside China, TalkingData has a powerful rival Flurry, which was acquired in 2014 by Yahoo. However, Flurry has never launched its products in China.

TalkingData closed a Series C financing round in January, with backers including Northern Light Venture Capital, SoftBank, and Milestone in its three rounds of financing.

“TalkingData has fended off investment offers from tech behemoths. As an independent analytics provider, we are, and will continue to be, a third-party big data service platform,” said Cui.

Rising along with mobile Internet

The growth of TalkingData has synchronised with the development of mobile Internet in China.

According to a report by CNNIC, China’s state-run Internet research institution, the number of people using mobile phones to go online grew from about 388 million in July 2012, to 656 million by July 2016. The report also pointed out that in 2016, 92.5% of Chinese people access the Internet via phones.

With the smartphone market becoming more and more saturated, some people think the heyday of mobile Internet has gone.

But Cui is skeptical of this. “There have been less phenomenal apps pop up since last year. But what we see is that recently mobile Internet is starting to be truly integrated into life and work, and to alter Internet users’ daily habits,” said Cui.

The managing team

TalkingData management team members have mainly come from international companies such as Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft, as well as from China tech giants including Tencent and Baidu. They therefore excel in both R&D and working with corporate clients, according to Cui.

Leo Cui, TalkingData CEO (Photo from Yijian APP)

“A fast-growing company must be inclusive so that talented people want to join the company and use their expertise to help it develop,” said Cui.

That has been said and done. By “talent” he referred to the management team, including co-founder Lin Yifei, who was an executive and the boss of Cui in Oracle before he joined TalkingData, and the chief strategic officer (CSO), William Plummer. William Plummer was originally TalkingData’s investor from Milestone and a former Goldman Sachs director.

Going overseas

“Big data is a global business. It will not be limited to within a particular country. That’s the reason why we have set up two funds, both in Silicon Valley, where we help top-notch technology companies, and in China, where we pay close attention to companies that apply big data in areas such as finance and retail,” said Cui.

Currently the company has invested in startups scattered around the world, from Silicon Valley to Amsterdam and London.

Additionally, TalkingData partnered with leading local data analytics companies in its exploration to go overseas. In March, TalkingData and Kochava, a major American app marketing tracker, jointly launched Ad Tracking International, a tool that empowers Chinese companies to track their ads outside China.

“We predict the business model for the future will be America’s technology plus China’s operational experience,” said Cui.

(Top photo from Baidu Images)

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