Interview with the man who created 3 top ranking WeChat Mini Programs

Tingyi Chen New WeChat features

​Creating the most popular Mini Program is like an impossible task. Brian Ru, the founder of Xiaoniangao, created not just one, but THREE Mini Programs that ranked on the top 30 list! This is no coincidence.

No. 1 Mini Program – Xiaoniangao

The main Mini Program is Xiaoniangao (小年糕+, literal translation into Little Rice Cake), it kept the record as the No. 1 most used Mini Program according to social listening platform Aldzs.com.

Here is the top 10 WeChat Mini Programs monitored by Aldzs.

Xiaoniangao enables users to create photo/video albums with background music and share them with friends and on the platform.

Here is a typical top-ranking original content on Xiaoniangao:

This is a very typical video on Xiaoniangao: powerpoint slide effect of still pictures; music from the 1980s or prior; inspirational quotes.

You might be surprised that this video got 100k+ views, 23k likes, 1,000 comments, and 100k+ re-shares. A campaign result even the best marketing agency won’t dare to dream about.

Yet on Xiaoniangao Mini Program, viral content is being produced on a daily basis.

Over 50% of Xiaoniangao’s users are above 50 years old.

The same company also produced 2 other top ranking Mini Programs: Xiaobandeng 小板凳群相册, and Zhufuquan 祝福圈. They ranked No. 10 and 25 in March 2018 by Aldzs.com.

Brian Ru, the founder

Founder and CEO of Xiaoniangao. Also co-founder of Shansong (闪送, the leading peer-to-peer intra-city fast delivery platform in China), and VDaifu (a platform to find pediatricians).

Brian was also a venture partner of Matrix Partners China, the VC firm that backed Didi, Momo, 36Kr and more.

The interview with Brian

Despite his great achievements, Brian keeps a low profile and rarely takes interviews.

WalktheChat (W): How did you transit from being a VC to starting your own company? 

Brian:

I started in a VC firm helping startups refining their strategy. I was guiding a few startups we invested in. Then the founder of Shansong found me and I was lucky to help the team for one year defining their strategy. It was a similar story with V Daifu.

After incubating two companies, I found that I needed to act as a fully functional CEO by assembling my own team to experiment with innovative products in a more sustainable manner.

W: How did you start Xiaoniangao? 

Brian:

After I became a dad, I wanted to make photo albums to share baby photos with families and friends. I was looking for a product to build a simple album. There were many products in the market for building photo albums, but they are all incredibly difficult to use, some require desktop login, some have a complicated UX that makes it hard to navigate, even for a deep technology user like myself. I wanted to build an easy-to-use product to serve the mass market.

W: How did you define the user group? 

Brian:

It was built for people like myself at the very beginning. But the data shows early signs that some music photo albums were shared a lot in WeChat groups with special interest, particularly among veterans. The first video that went viral is a video about the fight against the flood of 1998. We only had 40k followers at the time, the video received over 1 million views. Shortly afterward in September 2015, we launched another viral video. This “surprising” outbreak of viewership shaped the target group of Xiaoniangao today.

Video link here.

The first viral video of Xiaoniangao: Video of 1998 flood. Posted on July 2015, 1 million views, 8.8k likes, and 1k comments.

W: You have such a unique user group, how do you build a product serving their needs? 

Brian:

By talking to real users of course. I was the first customer service representative of Xiaoniangao. I answered the customer service requests, addressing their issues and refining our products. It was surprising to realize that some of the features that we as internet savvy users would consider as “intuitive” are actually difficult to master for other user groups. We made a lot of modifications to make the product easy to use.

Even today, we still insist on providing timely customer service. We set a rule for our customer service that we need to answer any request within 3 minutes.

W: Answering such amount of user request is an incredible task. How did you choose which features to leave out?  

Brian:

Yes, one of the harder tasks of a product manager is choosing which features to leave out. The key is to focus on providing an Affordable Quality Service.

An affordable product is a product that’s easy to use for the user. And this defines how we make product decisions:

  • If an advanced user is requesting advanced photo editing features, we would likely not implement them. If this type of user leaves our platform, it’s unfortunate but inevitable.
  • However, if a typical user complaining about the product being too difficult to use, we would do our best to update the product to address this issue. Because this makes the product more “affordable”.

W: What kind of content is more viral on Xiaoniangao? 

Brian:

The content with “positive vibe”. Ever since 2016, we started to provide viral content (over 100k views) on a weekly basis. Back then, we were still mainly used as a tool.

W: How did you transfer from a tool into a content platform? 

Brian:

We added the content Feeds in May 2016. Now, most of the users would use us as a platform to find good content rather than a tool to make videos. We’ve only added algorithms to our content platform recently. For a long time, the top video was manually selected, and most of the traffic was organically shared among the WeChat users.

W: What do WeChat Mini Programs mean to you? 

Brian:

We started using WeChat Mini Programs very early on. It’s not until early this year that is becoming such a vital tool for us. The advantage of WeChat Mini Programs is providing smooth and stable user experience. The group sharing experience also stands out. It’s one of the key factors for building a platform hosting so much viral content.

However, the drawback of Mini Programs is that they cannot be shared on WeChat Moments (users can share via posting the Mini Program QR code). The majority of our traffic comes from sharing among WeChat friends.

If one-day WeChat opens up the sharing feature of Mini Program for WeChat Moment, it will be game-changing for us.

W: Most companies use WeChat Official Accounts to drive traffic to Mini Programs. What is it like for you? 

Brian: We do have a 30% article view rate on our Official Account (the average WeChat Service Account open rate is 2-5%). Our users are incredibly loyal. But the traffic on our Official Account is not even comparable to the traffic on our Mini Program. The majority of our traffic comes from the sharing of Mini Programs in WeChat groups.

How to build the best WeChat Mini Program?

Learning from the best, here are a few suggestions we conclude on how to build the top product on Chinese social media.

Build a “Simple” product for your target user group

Define your user group and make a product that feels “easy” to use for your target user. It’s easy to add too many features, keep it “simple” may be the hardest responsibility of the product manager. Understanding which features to leave out is the key.

Duplicate success

One of the most incredible points of Xiaoniangao is its ability to duplicate its success to make other products. The 2 other products all shared similar user group or even features like Xiaoniangao. Making 3 products and driving traffic to different Mini Programs diversifies risks.

Focus on monitoring content

One thing the Xiaoniangao Team does extremely well is to closely monitor the legality of user-generated content. The company put a lot of resources into its content review system, both automatically and manually. For any content platform, this is an essential step to operate within the Chinese environment

Focus on building the product

Traffic is money, despite the incredible amount of traffic going through Xiaoniangao, the company is super discreet about monetization. The company is testing with Pinduoduo and JD.COM banner adverting on a small group of users. It’s also considering building other products with e-commerce features and is also testing this idea with a small subset of their user base. Focusing on building the product is how you can build a great company.

Know your user

Despite being the most popular WeChat Mini Program, most of my friends never even heard of Xiaoniangao. It has a very targeted user base and is focusing on serving this group as its only priority.

Be aware of the majority user profile

40% of China’s population still does not have access to the Internet. And this is also the fastest growing user group. As these users will be first-time Internet users, their preference will likely be nothing like those from tier one cities. But the companies who manage to understand this group of users might corner the top position in the competition for traffic for the next 5-10 years.

Internet users over 60 years old have grown over 45% in the past 2 years. More information here.

Conclusion

It may seem that WeChat is becoming a platform that is too competitive for startups to become visible.

Yet, this is only true if you are targeting a very sought-after target user group. Companies who manage to tailor their approach to new user groups (younger, older, living in smaller cities, lower educational background, etc.) can seize an amazing opportunity to generate growth in a systematic and repeatable way.

Want a first consultation about Social Marketing in China? Contact us.