Kuaishou operates one of China's most popular short-video sharing apps with more than 200 million users logging in every day. Yet its founders worry that the Beijing-based start-up is at risk of sliding into irrelevance.
In a call to arms to its more than 8,000 employees on Tuesday, Kuaishou's founders, Su Hua and Cheng Yixiao, set a target for the company to reach 300 million daily active users by February 2020 and to shake off a laid-back corporate culture that sets it apart from its peers in China's fiercely competitive internet industry.
"Behind what looks like good numbers, we see deep, hidden dangers," Su and Cheng said in a joint memo to staff, obtained by the Post. "We're no longer the team that runs the fastest. Somewhere during the growing-up process, our muscles are losing their strength, reaction times are slowing, and our connection to users is weakening."
The call to shake off the "Zen attitude" and switch to "combat mode" comes as China's short-form video industry becomes increasingly crowded. It also follows calls by many other tech bosses, including Baidu chief executive Robin Li Yanhong and Xiaomi's Lei Jun, to step up their game amid growing uncertainties on the domestic economy brought on by the trade war between the US and China.
Lei urged Xiaomi's employees to seize the opportunities brought on by ultra-fast 5G telecommunications networks. "Win or lose" will be determined in the coming three years, he said on Tuesday in an internal meeting.
Still, there is a growing pocket of tech workers who are protesting against the hard-charging, long-hours culture, labelled 996 as shorthand for 9am to 9pm, six days a week. Underlying the tensions is often the growth model transplanted from Silicon Valley, the so-called "blitzscaling" model of build massive scale at lightning speed to seize market share before competitors and achieve network effect, often through cash-burning subsidies to consumers.
In China, users spent an average of 600 million cumulative hours watching short-form videos, according to the 2019 Internet Trend Report. Kuaishou, founded in 2012, is popular with residents in rural areas and by working-class users and some of its viral videos include farmers showing of their carpentry skills and Navy sailors recording life out at sea.
Despite a later start, Bytedance's Douyin, which is known as TikTok outside China, has quickly risen to become China's top short-video app with over 250 million active users since its launch in 2016. Haokan, a relative late arrival to the short-video market and operated by Baidu, ranks third after Kuaishou. Baidu is also among Kuaishou's early investors.
In the letter, Kuaishou's founders said the company will revolutionise the company organisation, optimise structure and upgrade products.
"What can stop our progress? Only ourselves."
Additional reporting by Yingzhi Yang
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