WeChat Founder’s 4 Hour Talk: Full Notes

Matthew Brennan Events, Uncategorized

As you might have heard by now, the founder of WeChat Allen Zhang delivered an epic 4-hour late night monologue at the WeChat annual conference in Guangzhou a few days back. I was lucky enough to witness the entire 4 hours live (standing at the side of the stage until midnight, sore feet, I tell you). 

Allen Zhang 4 Hour Talk Live

Chinese media has been ablaze with articles discussing and dissecting the talk. Below is the first complete and detailed English language summary of the talk’s content.

Notes are organized by topic (1700+ words)

Link to video of the full talk (Chinese Language only)

WeChat’s Early Days

  • WeChat has never changed their famous startup splash screen and will not change it in the future. Allen insists, no adverts on the splash screen.
  • The time you spend with WeChat might be more than that you spend with family or friends. If you spend a lot of time together, then it’s your friend. Us choosing to put an advert on the splash screen would be like before you can speak to a friend there’s an advert stuck on his face that you first have to tear off.
  • It’s true that the WeChat project started when Allen wrote an email late at night to Pony Ma in 2010. But stories online of saying he went to a temple (to gain inspiration) are false.
  • The initial WeChat team was just 10 people. Which included two Android developers, two iPhone developers, two Symbian devs, two people doing the back-end, one person doing UI, one person doing product and then Allen himself.
  • For the first half a year, WeChat had a very small number of users. Starting from WeChat 2.0 the growth curve began to get better (user numbers began to naturally increase), so we decided to start promoting WeChat.
  • Allen adheres to the product design philosophy of famous German industrial designer Dieter Rams and his 10 principles of good design, sometimes also known as the 10 commandments. Good design:

1.     Is innovative

2.     Makes a product useful

3.     Is aesthetic

4.     Makes a product understandable

5.     Is unobtrusive

6.     Is honest

7.     Is long-lasting

8.     Is thorough down to the last detail

9.     Is environmentally friendly

10.   Involves as little design as possible

  • “WeChat is not “restrained”, we do not have the word “restrained” in our dictionary.” This comment is in reaction to the common China mobile internet industry criticism of WeChat that they are conservative and restrained in developing new product features.
  • WeChat now has a billion daily active users, the largest number of users ever in Chinese internet history. Every time we make a new version, we’ll face a huge pressure because every day we’ll have probably 500 million users saying they’re not used to it and there are many problems. We know that we can’t decide what to change based on the votes of users. We must keep the product moving forward adapting to this era.
WeChat Annual Conference Building

WeChat annual conference in Guangzhou where the talk took place

WeChat Official Accounts

  • Official accounts weren’t made for everyone. Bloggers and individual content creators have made the best use of them. Over the years there are now more channels for users to access information. If the quality of content is not sustained, user stickiness will decrease.
  • The effect your official account is bad not because we revised the system. We revised to help the user reorganize their reading style, and to improve the user’s reading efficiency. Good content is fundamental.
  • The responsibility of the platform is to allow more people to produce higher-quality content. If there is no high-quality content, then either the platform is not doing well enough, or we’re not attractive enough. WeChat needs to strengthen its ability to attract good content. From a platform perspective, a good platform should encourage more creators to create good content.
  • Early on 70% of the readers of official accounts came from content that was shared on moments, and the rest being directly from the push to subscribers. This is in line with the characteristics of a good product, with 80% of people benefiting from the content selected and shared by the 20%.
  • The original purpose of the separate official account app (launched last year) was to facilitate more people to partake in writing articles, although up until now we still don’t see much of an impact.
  • “Top Stories” is a place outside of moments that is not just for sharing, but a place for reading. 
  • Social recommendations are different from algorithmic recommendations. They have their own internal system of balances. After the introduction of “Wow” (the new social recommendation article feed), “Top Stories” data showed an increase.
Conference Audience Allen Zhang

Audience of over a thousand stayed till midnight to hear Allen’s talk

The Driving Force Behind WeChat

  • What is the driving force of WeChat? Firstly, WeChat as a tool, WeChat hopes to be a good product, a tool-oriented product that keeps pace with the times. Second, WeChat can (help us) do more things, and let those who (wish to) create value, express that value.
  • In essence, WeChat is still a tool. It’s more appropriate for WeChat to position itself as a lifestyle tool.
  • Only if a platform can benefit many people, then this platform is alive.
  • Tools are there to help users improve efficiency, rather than let users waste time in their product.
  • Sometimes a user wants to message someone, but the user doesn’t know that person’s name and there’s no solution. But if you could find someone through their associations, then this feature would be very valuable. WeChat wants to do something in this area.
Microsoft Mini Programs

Conference display area. Microsoft has gone all in with WeChat mini program development for Microsoft Office

Regarding Social

  • WeChat’s essence is a social tool.
  • Posting content on a social newsfeed (WeChat moments) is a process of building your own personal brand (status) in the minds of all your friends. Each post that you send represents your own personal brand that you promote. The more you have your own shortcomings you have, the more you post to strengthen things.
  • Until recently (7.0 update) WeChat didn’t have a tool to record people’s genuine real life, that’s why we did WeChat stories.
  • WeChat stories is not another moments. Users don’t need to keep the videos, it’s to encourage everyone to record their daily life. This new feature is completely separate from moments.
  • The number of people using moments has grown continually over the past six or seven years. The number of people using moments daily is now 750million, and the total number of times the feature is opened every day exceeds 10 billion. Moments is the most efficient social tool.
  • The weakness of moments, is that it’s a completely open forum, meaning that what you say in the forum many people can hear and thus there will be a lot of pressure. The greater the social reciprocation, the greater the pressure.
  • More than a 100 million users used the setting so only the previous three days of their moments posts are visible. This speaks to the social pressure that users feel from having that permanent record out there in public. If I was to go back and do moments again, I would separate out a personal private photo album feature.
  • Video holds more information than photos, in the future video will definitely replace photos to become the method through which people record things.WeChat will continue to try and guide users to take videos.
  • Stories is the reverse of moments, it’s not necessarily beautiful, but it’s real. The final direction for the product is to let users freely shoot videos of things with no pressure and record the world around him or her.
Conference Display WeChat

Conference display 

Mini Programs & Mini Games

  • We don’t worry about competition with other internet companies, because the mini programs that other companies do won’t be the same.
  • Why are mini programs decentralized? Because if we don’t do things decentralized, then WeChat will monopolize the traffic and the whole ecosystem will be gone.
  • Allen’s not optimistic about mini programs as a form that can distribute traffic, as this is completely different from their original motivation of doing mini programs.
  • Even companies that Tencent invests in must follow the rules of the platform. In the future, more manpower and resources will be invested in protecting the platform, including equal treatment of companies they have invested in.
  • The key focus for mini programs is acquisition through offline QR codes and online through search and social sharing.
  • They aim to improve the small programs ratings and user evaluation systems.
  • WeChat is not unwilling to allow mini programs to send push notifications to users. In appropriate situations they may allow a mini program to push one to three pieces of information to the user that they need.
  • Mini games have been successful from a business perspective, but they have failed to live up to Allen’s personal expectations.
  • Allen feels there’s a lack of real high-quality games. Most mini games are copying each other and simply focusing on tactics to gain user traffic.
  • Mini games is a platform for creativity, mini games are a format which can bring out all kinds of ideas and creativity.

Other Points

  • WeChat has been investing a lot of energy into AI. Good technology serves the product, AI should better serve users.
  • Allen clarified his previous quotes around “kindness”. We should be kind to the user, not have the attitude of using the same old routines, and it should be a rational kindness, and then the users will use our products more.
  • WeChat has already reached the threshold of 1 billion users.WeChat’s goal is not to expand the number of users now, we have to think about providing services for existing users.
  • Facing the future, Allen does not believe that the threat to WeChat comes from competitors, but from WeChat itself. Can WeChat always have the ability to innovate and break through.

N.B. I would like to acknowledge and thank the WeChat official account 微果酱 WeJam. (For those of you who read Chinese I recommend following their WeChat account. Copy and search the name in WeChat) I used their bullet point Chinese summary notes version as the framework for this version which saved much time. All translation, further editing, annotations, and explanations are all mine. Pictures used are also mine.