China, we all know is the manufacturing hub for all brands of mobile phones. From low-end to high-end all types of phones are manufactured in the country, for the cost efficiencies it gives. So it is only fitting that one of the fastest growing mobile web browser should also come from the country. UCWeb, the mobile browser from China, which claims to have 450 million users across 150 countries, also recently claimed to have beaten Opera in India on the Google Android Store. App Annie, the digital analytics company, showed Opera Mini to be at No.5 position in India and UC Web a close No.7 in ranking on Google Play.
UCWeb has been founded by two friends Xiaopeng He and Liang Jie. Started in 2004, Xiaopeng, co-Founder & president says they spotted the opportunity to build the browser when they saw many people beginning to use their cell phones to surf the internet. However, the user experience was not very good and Xiaopeng and Liang decided to come up with a solution.
Xiaopeng and Liang are both software engineers and had a first-hand experience of the internet boom. Xiaoping graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from South China University of Technology and met his co-founder, while working at a leading software company. “We wanted to do a tech product because with our advantage we wanted to make a product that we can build on our own, and which could benefit the users overall. In addition, China’s technology development was growing rapidly. There has been a great amount of opportunity in this field, and that’s why we wanted to grab on to this opportunity,” says Xiaopeng about starting up.
From what Xiaopeng tells us, the birth and growth of UCWeb seems surreal. The product development took only 9 months and in 2006, after they developed the first UC Browser, they already had 2 million users without any advertising. Users got to know about them through online forums and word-of-mouth – getting such a user base right at time of launch is any marketer’s dream – and Xiaopeng makes it sound easy.
UCWeb is the short form for ‘You Can Web’, which was what Xiaopeng and Liang had set out to do – to help users surf the web through their mobile devices. Despite the presence of other browsers like Baidu, Xiaopeng says they could garner so much mind share because of their ability to understand the needs of local Chinese very well. “One reason for Chinese companies getting more acceptance from users is because they understand the needs of Chinese users’ more than foreign companies. We take pride in being the number one mobile browser in China, because we fully understand our users need and that helps in delivering a product which meets with their expectations,” he says.
While he doesn’t share the revenue numbers with us, Xiaopeng says that with since starting out with 6 employees in 2004, today the company has more than 1,700 employees across 6 offices -- four in China, one in India, and one in the U.S. He says they started making profits since 2009, and for the past several years have been growing at least two folds year on year.
While UCWeb continues to grow within China, they have been aggressively expanding into other geographies. Xiaopeng says they have 100 million users outside of China and claims to have more than 10% market share in 10 countries. They also claim to be the number one overall mobile browser in India with 30% market share. The Chinese company entered India in 2011 and ventured into the US in 2012. Other major markets for the browser are Russia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia. To cater to the varied markets, UCWeb has taken the localization route. Currently the browser is available in 11 languages, including English, Hindi, and Urdu.
Talking about the challenges he faced in his entrepreneurial journey, Xiaopeng says it was to keep the speed of innovation in line with the tremendous speed that the company was growing at. “We are doing our best to keep up our innovation speed, to always bring our users more features and better products to enhance their user experience in the smallest amount of time,” emphasizes Xiaopeng.As they enter new markets, Xiaopeng says they are also learning about the local nuances and culture. He shares an incident that happened in 2010, while they were in the process of hiring for their India office. “Before having our official office, we interviewed and recruited people in our apartment. The first day, there were 5 people who came for the first round of interview; one girl even came with her father for safety reasons. We asked all of them to return the next day for the second round, but none came. We knew beforehand that hiring would be a challenge in India initially, since we did not do any advertising before establishing our office, but we were surprised at how hard it actually was,” he says.
All that is in the past now, and today the India office of the browser has 30 employees and the brand is also being looked at favorably he says. “I have come to realize how much we’ve grown in India, and how much Indian users have come to know us. It also tells me that we must bring better localized products that cater to our users not only in India, but all around the world,” says the young founder.