Ep. 41: IPO is for Influencers: The Company Behind China’s Kylie Jenner is Going Public


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In Episode 41 of TechBuzz China, co-hosts Ying-Ying Lu and Rui Ma talk about Ruhnn (RUHN), a relatively small yet significant company that filed for IPO a few weeks ago in the U.S. on the Nasdaq. Ruhnn has become the clear leader in China’s fast-growing influencer marketing sector, an area in which — our co-hosts agree — China should be considered world-leading. Lauren Hallanan, a Chinese social media marketing expert focusing on influencer marketing, and a former livestreamer in China with over 400,000 fans, joins us with insightful commentary on Ruhnn and other influencer incubators.

Rui and Ying-Ying begin by explaining that Ruhnn, known in Chinese as Ruhan 如涵, is “China’s No. 1. KOL Facilitator” — with “KOL” standing for Key Opinion Leaders, or the rough equivalent of what in the U.S. are known as influencers. Unlike influencers in the U.S., however, the term KOL has its roots in the advertising industry and is a more professional term that usually implies that the individual is an expert, has a distinct personal brand, and is ready to represent some business interests. In China, one can be  KOL in a variety of subjects, such as business or books. The KOLs on Ruhan are mostly in beauty and fashion; as of filing time, Ruhan represented 113 of these influencers — including now-megastar Zhang Dayi, or Dayi, who also serves as the current CMO of the company.

Listen to find out: Who are the founders of Ruhan, and how did they get the idea to create such a platform in 2012? How does the fact that the current Ruhan CEO’s wife is an influencer herself tie in to the founding story? How is it that the Nasdaq IPO is technically not Ruhan’s first public listing? How do influencers in China monetize, and what exactly are the so-called Platform Services provided by the company? How large is the role of ecommerce on Ruhan, and how does its team use audience preferences and purchasing behavior to guide product development from the start?

As always, you can find these stories and more at pandaily.com. Do let us know what you think of the show by leaving us an iTunes review, liking our Facebook page, and tweeting at us at @techbuzzchina! Thank you also to our listeners over at our partner, dealstreetasia.com.

We are grateful for our wonderful producers, Shaw Wan and Kaiser Kuo; and for our intern, Wang Menglu.

Our sponsor this week is the University of San Francisco. USF’s new Masters in Applied Economics is a STEM-designated program that combines economics training with the practical skills in data analytics needed to understand today’s new digital economy. To learn more, visit usfca.edu/techbuzz.