It’s almost as hard for Chinese companies to break out of the country as it is for Western companies to break into it, which is why there are so many massive companies that dominate a specific market in China but have next to zero success outside of the country. WeChat is the perfect example of this, because it completely dominates the Chinese messaging app market that so many other companies have tried and failed to break in to, but why is this so common? Well, there are several reasons for this, but a lot of it boils down to one thing: the Chinese government.
When Tencent first launched WeChat back in January, 2011, nobody predicted that the bare-bones, mobile-only messenger was just five years away from being an ecommerce and social media juggernaut with well over half a billion users. The last half decade saw China’s former social media giants get used to living in WeChat’s shade. Renren, “China’s Facebook,” has seen its valuation crumble to a fifth of its 2013 high as users flocked to more feature-rich apps. And Weibo, while hardly obscure, has long since been eclipsed by WeChat’s gargantuan user base. What lessons can be learned from WeChat’s rise? To find out, we need to roll the clock back to the stone age year of 2010, when messaging apps were novelties in a world of SMS texts. WeChat today is such a unique, innovative platform that it’s easy to forget that it was originally framed to be China’s answer to Kik. According to a New York Times piece from a few years ago, Tencent R&D head Allen Zhang formed the first WeChat development team after being “inspired by Kik messenger, which he worried might eventually threaten Tencent’s dominant, PC-based QQ instant messenger.”