The success of the most popular Snapchat filters are generally down to one of two things - either they’re funny or they make the subject look more attractive than they are. The former has the shorter shelf life, and when the ephemeral messaging app finds a subtle enough but flattering filter, it tends to stick. And this is where Chinese selfie app Meitu comes in.
Essentially a more accessible, streamlined Photoshop, Meitu allows the user to airbrush their photos - whitening teeth, brightening eyes, smoothing skin, erasing blemishes, etc. - with all the ease of editing an Instagram post. Importantly, when used properly the finish is natural enough, and there are bloggers and influencers in China who wouldn’t consider posting a photo without putting it through Meitu first. The creators will doubtless be hoping that, as more people adopt the app, fewer will be inclined to post pictures without having had them retouched first.
If we set aside the slightly problematic topic of what these selfie filters say about beauty standards in China, the startup’s valuation is eye-watering. According to CNBC, ‘the company was valued at around $3.8 billion in a private fund raising round this year and was seeking an around $5 billion valuation from its IPO.’ The company is looking to raise up to $1 billion in a list which is, interestingly, set to be on the Hong Kong exchange, in part to see if the market can rival the traditional choices for Chinese tech companies - the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq Stock Market.
According to the Wall Street Journal, the company hopes that the relative lack of tech companies on the Hong Kong exchange will make Meitu a more attractive prospect to investors within the market. And a successful float on it would benefit both the startup at the city-state; Hong Kong is attempting to encourage the likes of phone-maker Xiaomi Corp. ($46 billion) and Uber-style ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing Technology Co. ($36 billion) to float themselves on the burgeoning market.
The likes of Baidu Inc. and JD.com Inc. both trade in the US, something Hong Kong would like to make less of a formality for Chinese tech companies looking for investment. Even $60 billion online marketplace giant Alibaba was reportedly considering a Hong Kong listing before taking it’s incredible $25 billion IPO to New York in 2014. Meitu’s one billion downloads and hundreds of millions of monthly active users will doubtless fetch it an incredible valuation, just what the Hong Kong market needs to compete with its western competition.
Meitu is targeting a world takeover. The startup has set its sights on mass expansion and is looking to crack one of the fastest growing economies in the world - India. Meat’s BeautyPlus Me app is similar to its Chinese offering, if with slightly fewer features. ‘We spent months working with consumers to help us develop BeautyPlus Me, a lighter app experience that brings zero compromise to our most popular selfie editing features,’ said Ravish Jain, Country Manager, Meitu, India. China’s 700 million web users make up about 20% of the world’s internet users - if Meitu can build a solid enough user base domestically, it will put it in an incredibly strong position for expansion. The company now has offices in London; Santa Monica; Palo Alto; Mexico City; Tokyo; New Delhi; Singapore; Hong Kong; Taipei; Taiwan; and Sao Paulo.
There are reservations over Meitu’s ability to resonate with audiences in countries with differing beauty standards, a challenge the company calls ‘fascinating,’ but analysts have noted that even without breaking the US market, for example, Meitu could still become the world’s biggest beauty app given the huge growth in internet users in Asia. If the IPO - expected in the fourth quarter of this year - is a success, expect to hear far more from China’s vainest app.