Meituan is the kind of Chinese technology company few people outside the country understand.
That’s because its services aren’t quite like anything you might find abroad. Meituan has a restaurant review feature sort of like Yelp, but its app also lets you order off the menu from your phone the minute you sit down. You can settle your check with the Meituan app, book a karaoke room across town, select a song list and then hail a car for the trip over.
That makes it a serious contender in the super-app stakes, with capabilities to rival WeChat, an app from messaging giant Tencent Holdings Ltd.—ironically one of Meituan’s most prominent backers. The startup is already the world’s fourth most valuable and is emblematic of a new generation of up-and-comers that threatens a cozy duopoly enjoyed by Tencent and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.
Leading the drive is Wang Xing, a hard-charging 38-year-old who founded the $30 billion behemoth. The inveterate entrepreneur is taking Meituan beyond its base of restaurant reviews and digital coupons into the alien territory of digital payments and even ride-hailing. Meituan already helps more than 4 million merchants hawk everything from food delivery to apartment rentals and travel packages to a user base about the size of the US population.
For now, the giant startup’s careful to emphasize it’s not trying to undermine Tencent, merely testing the waters and harnessing its user base. It’s opening its platform to third-parties and plotting an expansion into at least 10 new verticals, said Chen Shaohui, a senior VP overseeing strategy.
“Our services are location-based, that’s why we want our products to cover all aspects of life,” Chen said. “We are a company that focuses on fast upgrades in our battle strategy. We are very open to seeing what works.” “In any business we get into, we’ll start small. If it works, then we go big,” he added.
Meituan too has come a long way from when it was considered a pawn in Tencent’s internecine struggle against its arch-foe.