Ep. 44: So young, more beautiful — the allure of China’s plastic surgery market


In episode 44 of TechBuzz China, co-hosts Ying-Ying Lu and Rui Ma talk about So-Young, an internet company that markets and facilitates plastic surgery and other medical cosmetic procedures to Chinese customers. The six-year-old company has a stated mission of bringing “health and beauty” to everyone, and its stock priced at $13.80 per American depositary share (ADS) last week but is now trading at about $20. Prior to listing, So-Young had raised over $250 million in venture capital funding, including some from Tencent. Last year, it claimed to have made $8 million in net income, plus a market share of 82 percent based on user time spent on similar apps.

Rui and Ying-Ying begin by giving an overview of the scale of the plastic surgery market in China. In China, the industry is broadly known as “医疗美容” (yīliáo měiróng) or “医美” (yī měi), roughly translated as “medical cosmetology,” which includes procedures such as hair removal, hair transplants, and various kinds of laser- and ultrasound-enabled operations — thus enabling So-Young to argue that it is going after a larger market size. Indeed, by this broad definition, China is the second-largest market in the world, and it is poised to become the largest by 2021.

Listen to find out: Who is the founder of So-Young, a former developer and lifelong tech geek who has himself undergone many reconstructive and plastic surgeries? What does he think is the real problem with the plastic surgery industry? As a platform, what are some notable aspects of So-Young’s revenue and business model? What types of controversies has the company been involved with, and what are some of its risks and legal issues? Regarding the industry, what are some of the societal and deep-seated belief factors — including some that may be surprising to our listeners outside of China — that help fuel its growth, and how do these affect the demographic breakdown of those who opt for procedures? Ultimately, do our co-hosts believe that platforms such as So-Young are a part of the “problem” or the “solution”?

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 rock-star producers, Shaw Wan and Kaiser Kuo, and our interns, Wang Menglu and Mindy Xu.

Co-host Rui Ma will be in New York City on Monday, May 20, for SupChina’s third annual SupChina Women’s Conference. Come join her! And, listen to top leaders discuss how women are impacting China’s tech, business, financial, and consumer trends. Jeremy Goldkorn and our producer Kaiser Kuo will also be hosting an on-site live recording of their excellent Sinica Podcast.

Our sponsor for this episode is the University of San Francisco. USF’s new master’s degree 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.