Alibaba, the giant Chinese company set to IPO in the United States later this year, is trying to break into the messaging space.
It launched a chat app called Laiwang in September of last year. So far it has 10 million users, which is tiny compared to other messaging apps. By comparison, WeChat, the most popular messaging app in China, has more than 350 million monthly active users.
Jack Ma, the company’s founder, former CEO, and current executive chairman, pressured Alibaba’s more than 20,000 employees to help boost Laiwang last fall when it debuted in September, according to an interesting write-up in The Wall Street Journal.
“Everyone can help build up Laiwang,” Ma wrote in a memo to the company. “Don’t tell me you can’t.”
Ma told each employee that they had to each find 100 new users outside the company by the end of November, or else they wouldn’t get a “red packet” (bonuses that are given out for the Lunar New Year in China).
A former Alibaba.com chief executive, who had already left the company at the time, told WSJ that hundreds of employees send him invitations through WeChat, email, and every other way.
As online chat services are being used more and more for e-commerce in China (WeChat lets users buy products through the app), Ma has also asked Alibaba engineers whether there are any companies that Alibaba could buy to boost its mobile presence. It bought minority stakes in Chinese dating app Momo and the Twitter-esque site Weibo in the last year.
Laiwang currently lets users form group chats that can hold up ot 500 people, share maps, voice, video, and stickers, and even sending Snapchat-esque messages that delete after the person receiving them has read them.
This bonus policy sounds a bit harsh, but it’s pretty standard. When Google launched Google+, it tied the company’s bonuses to the success of Google+.