Pony Ma: ‘Too Much Competition With Jack is Annoying’
“Jack Ma and I have known each other for many years, since the time when we were still underdogs. Now our competition is omnipresent in the Internet industry.”
SEE ALSO: Pony Ma: Chinese Companies were Technology Followers, Now Must Become Drivers
After WeChat, QQ Finds New Use
With the success of WeChat, what has become of the QQ team? The QQ team is focusing more on new projects for the younger generation of users. Different focus groups have different needs. Many children do not want to be in the same “zone” as their parents and prefer to publish pictures their parents can’t find.
WeChat groups sometimes cause anxiety. Are you worried about working 24 hours every day? I also feel tied to my mobile phone. I am a bit anxious when I have to be on stage without my phone, not knowing who is looking for me and fearing what great things I’m missing. Another down side is overuse of eyes. Over the last two years my eyesight worsened by 50 degrees. I hope the next generation of telecommunication devices can be more sight-friendly, or even better, directly transmit the information to my brain.
How did WeChat come into being? Pony Ma said it dated to the end of 2010, a time when the Internet was shifting from desktop to mobile. We had many mature desktop products in the PC era, and with the mass democratization of mobile internet and cellphone terminals, QQ was faced with significant challenges. There was a worldwide trend to have mobile Internet products for communication and social needs. There were three teams within Tencent working on the development of WeChat, but the QQ Mail team in Guangzhou was the one that stood out. We relied heavily on internal competition. When faced with a big challenge, you can never know whether what you are doing will make history for the whole team. There were already quite a few homogeneous products like WeChat on the market, but it was QQ, which promoted WeChat through all its connections and pushed it to its users, that helped the young product to win.
Today, the QQ Team is focused on young people. It is still developing products to meet the needs of young people. Different communities have different people and different needs. Many kids are super active on QQ but publish very different content on WeChat.
Overuse of eyes when using a phone can worsen eyesight by 50 degrees
Pony Ma: I am a bit anxious when I have to be on stage without my phone, not knowing who is looking for me and fearing what great things I’m missing. This is one downside. It has also caused me to overuse my eyes. For more than a decade my eyesight did not change. But recently, it has worsened by another 50 degrees.
I think online and offline activities should be synchronized. We consider QR codes a way to connect the world. Now if you need to add someone as a friend, you can scan their QR code. After connecting people to each other, we made QR codes a way to connect people to services. That led us to develop mobile payment.
We also developed a mini program for Fortune Forum: a QR code in the shape of a sunflower.
Pony Ma said WeChat has surpassed its prototype. Since 2012, QR codes have been regarded as a link to connect online and offline activities. There are many QR codes seen in everyday life, and WeChat is a bridge to connect people to new services. We also have WeChat payment, which is super popular. In the last two years, WeChat has developed WeChat Mini-programs, and Fortune Forum has developed micro-programs as well. The users only need to scan the QR code to access the mini-program without having to install it. The future will not depend on app installations. There will only be floating codes, and after scanning them users can directly access an application. Every switch and every screen can be activated in real life, and I hope WeChat can start to build this ecosystem, enabling more businesses to develop programs on this platform.
Our world-leading mobile payment solution is a product of cutthroat competition between Tencent Pay and AliPay. The competition was so fierce that mobile payment was massively-adopted almost overnight. AliPay has the advantage in online payment, while WeChat is better offline, like in its distribution of “red envelopes.”
We have been giving “red envelopes” within the company for 18 years, but one day we decided to make an electric version. Now there are more than 800 million people using it as a way to give money. Vendors in grocery markets, temples and beggars are using mobile payment. We can actually go cashless.
Pony Ma: There are tens of thousands of faces uploaded to our platform every day. We have pictures of almost everyone in China and how their faces have changed over the last decade. We can actually anticipate how a person will look like when he or she gets older. This data can help in locating missing children, as our face recognition technology can help predict the appearance of a child even years later.
The third industry is the most active in embracing digital economy and the Internet. From Internet banking and finance to insurance, they are all embracing the digital economy.
Meanwhile, second industry has also started to realize how to leverage the Internet for advanced manufacturing. In the future, consumption and manufacturing will be linked seamlessly without intermediaries. Even some heavy industry enterprises, such as Sany Heavy Industry, have collaborated with us to transform manufacturing into a service. Everything is online – from selling devices to renting devices, and connecting heavy devices to the Internet to monitor their operational status. This can be facilitated with financial services, and developing financial leases. This is a typical case of traditional manufacturing embracing the digital economy.
Competition with Alibaba Again? Annoying
Jack Ma and I have known each other for many years, since we were still underdogs in the Internet world. Now competition is everywhere. Everyone says we are competing too much. Yes, we are competing in more than 10 areas, but the bright side is, reasonable competition can bring mutual development. But people usually focus on the top two companies in any industry without thinking about third place or later.
The downside is there is just too much competition. It can go to an extent that I am surprised to see “What? We’re even competing in this?” Well OK, but sometimes it can be a bit annoying.
In many areas, we are merely “surviving”. We only control half of our fate. The other half is in the hand of our partners in the same domain and ecosystem. We ask our team not to compete with them, but to help them. This is also Jack Ma’s point of view, but I want to elaborate on some differences. The enabling I am talking about is 100 percent within your ecosystem, where you control the profits. This is decentralized enabling. You build the house and the fans and users are all yours. There’s need for monthly rental or price increases.
In a company, the first value should be righteousness. If someone is not righteous, then we won’t hire him or her irrespective of capability.
Secondly, we pay a lot of respect to our investors. We will do our best to not disappoint them. We don’t play financial tricks. If you put everything you have at the table, then investors will trust you. Our investors agree with this notion. The original agreement is to keep the spirit of the contract.
The Next Trillion-Dollar Industry?
Jack Ma thinks the next big opportunity is in education and healthcare. With the development of the economy, families will invest more and more in their children’s education. In terms of healthcare, there could be a several-trillion-dollar market. Tencent is spreading its bets in multiple areas without knowing which will turn out to be a success. Tencent is now investing in AI medical imaging. In the past, we were not sure if AI could read the images as well as a doctor, but now the experiments prove it can – if not better.