Sci & Tech

Chinese Startups Eye Iran

Chinese app developers are looking to markets like Iran for future fortunes
Chinese Startups Eye Iran Chinese Startups Eye Iran

With their hands tied in a saturated domestic market, and dwarfed by dominant players, some Chinese app developers are eager to carve out a place for themselves in overseas markets, and Iran is one of their top priorities.

Since 2011, China has been the largest mobile Internet market. In 2015, the number of Internet users in China reached 780 million, which is 57% of its population and twice the US population.

The country’s smartphone users downloaded a whopping 185 billion apps in 2014, 59% of all downloads worldwide, a testimony to their frenetic usage. This is perhaps unsurprising, as China’s 35 million programmers have created apps that cater to an impossibly wide variety of human needs, China Daily reported.

Through years of practice, Chinese app developers have accumulated rich technical and market experience. But a mature market always means powerful players rise to push out the rest.

A few domestic Internet giants like Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu own the country’s largest search engines, shopping and payment apps. Dominant apps in weather, gaming, taxi-hailing, video-streaming and image-and-video have also emerged.

This is why some Chinese app makers have begun to eye overseas markets, making their way to greener pastures and Iran’s burgeoning technology industry offers a veritable garden of low hanging fruit.


SHAREit is one of these companies. The SHAREit app enables users to share files between multiple operating systems–Android, iOS, Mac, Window PCs and Windows Phone–with no need for conversion. The app sends a wireless signal to the recipient so the files can be shared without an Internet connection.

The app has been given a lukewarm reception in China, but it has become a must-have in India. Boasting more than 100 million Indian users, its popularity can be matched only by WhatsApp and Facebook’s app.

“Our product fills a void in the Indian market and to some extent all emerging markets. India’s telecom infrastructure is sort of lagging behind. Few public Wi-Fi spots exist and 3G normally works at the speed of 2G. That’s why our connection-free transmission stands out,” said Yan Fei, CEO of SHAREit.

By 2015, only 22$ of adults in India had access to the Internet. But, following the growth of Chinese automakers and construction groups in Iran, Chinese app developers are now offered a new market, with an added advantage compared with foreign competitors and no political hang-ups.

Unlike Iranian expatriates, who are one of the most successful groups abroad but viewed with suspicion by some quarters in Iran, the Chinese have no issues bringing their applications to Iranian users.

They also have the added benefit of being in a market which, according to some accounts, has more than 100,000 Chinese living in the country in 2015-16. Some estimates put this number much higher for those just visiting.

This pool of fellow countrymen in a country like Iran also helps the country develop its apps with the added knowledge of those who have lived here and understand the habits of Iranians.


Another dogged innovator is NewBornTown from Beijing. It was founded in June 2013 by four programmers.

Since the very start, it dedicated itself to capturing the overseas market, believing that path to be the only way a small startup could “make it big” in the future.

By 2015, the company’s star product, Solo Launcher, became the fifth hottest launch made by Chinese developers on Google Play, boasting more than 10,000,000 users from mostly the US, India, Brazil and Russia. Iran’s figures are unknown, as it was disconnected from Google Play in recent years.

“We created our Solo Launcher first, focusing on making it clean, smooth and small. Gradually, we inserted our own search function, news aggregator and cleaner into it. This part involved a lot of efforts to localize, everything from language to customer preferences. Meanwhile, we worked on innovative advertisement models,” said Liu Chunhe, CEO of NewBornTown.

Liu also revealed that his team’s five apps on Google Play, including Solo Notifier, Solo Lock Screen, Solo Weather and Solo Battery Saver, now boast altogether 200 million users.

But one person, Annabelle Long, a founding and managing partner of Bertelsmann Asia Investments, cautioned Chinese tech developers to pay close attention to localization. She warned developers “not to be carried away by a triumphant feeling while exporting Chinese experiences”, but to “respect existing innovations in Iran, Indonesia and Brazil”, and deal with each case according to its own circumstances.


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