Jack Ma 'threatens to take away bonus' from staff who fail to promote messaging app

Alibaba Group chairman wants employees to raise profile of smartphone messaging application Laiwang

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 October, 2013, 1:36pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 October, 2013, 2:51am

Alibaba Group chairman Jack Ma Yun has stepped up the company's uphill battle against internet powerhouse Tencent by asking each employee to collect at least 100 external contacts by the end of November on Laiwang, its little-known smartphone messaging application, China's Caijing Magazine reported.

Ma made the comments on Sunday in an internal memo, calling on employees to raise the profile of Laiwang to compete against Tencent's extremely popular Wechat, and implying that those who did not hit the target would lose their bonus.

“I consider those who fail to reach the 100 mark as automatically giving up their bonus,” Ma allegedly wrote.

Laiwang, launched at the end of last year, offers similar text and voice chat features to Wechat. It allows users to log in using their Taobao account.

However reactions to Laiwang have been disappointing since its launch, drawing only one million users, said a Wall Street Journal report. Wechat claims to have more than 400 million users, according to a People’s Daily report published in August.

Elaborating on his appeal, Ma said 80 per cent of his own communication was done via Laiwang. Some of his high-profile Laiwang contacts includes action film star Jet Li and tycoon Liu Chuanzhi, he said.

Ma admitted the challenge posed by his competitor Tencent was no piece of cake. He referred to the ancient Chinese fable of The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains, calling for patience and perseverance.

The entrepreneur even went so far as to say the success of the app was tied to the group’s upcoming initial public offering.

“If we achieve nothing in mobile networking, we should not consider going public,” he wrote.

Ma’s strategy seems to have worked - at least for now.

Alibaba employees, many of whom say they fear losing their yearly bonus, soon went online to seek external chat buddies.

“Please befriend me if you are on Laiwang, and install the app if you are not using it yet,” reads a Weibo post. “Because I am counting on you for my bonus.”

“I am blocking all my Wechat messages from now on to support my company’s product,” reads another Weibo post. "Please talk to me on Laiwang, “ reads another comment.

China’s online users, however, seemed less optimistic about the future of Laiwang.

“Alibaba is worried about Tencent taking away its users, and its killer platform Taobao doesn’t satisfy users’ communication needs,” Xia Yangbo, a Beijing-based consultant, wrote on his blog. “Even though Ma’s late to the game, it might still be worth a shot.”

Another blogger who said he had worked at Alibaba for five years said he didn’t believe the company was efficient enough to make the app successful.

A spokesperson at Alibaba's Hong Kong office declined to comment on Tuesday.

Interestingly, while e-commerce giant Alibaba is eyeing a share in China’s mobile internet business, China’s largest search engine Baidu has made public its ambition to set up its own wealth management business.

Baidu announced this week that its new finance platform, scheduled to launch on October 28, will offer a product that aims to produce an annual yield of eight per cent for investors, according to a Reuters report.