How a TV show about a Chinese start-up gave unknown chat app Magic Crystal its big break

  • Messenger app recorded 1 million downloads just 18 days after ‘ Entrepreneurial Age’ debuted
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2018, 6:02am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 December, 2018, 4:07pm

A fictional messaging app featured in a Chinese TV drama about the trials and tribulations of a serial entrepreneur brought its real-world version overnight fame and propelled it to second place on the download charts, just below WeChat and Weibo, two of China’s most dominant social media apps. The apps count over 1 billion and 400 million monthly active users, separately.

Just 18 days after Entrepreneurial Age debuted on October 12, Magic Crystal, as the app is called in both the series and in real life, recorded 1 million downloads. However, its welcome was short-lived – it fell to 113th place in the Social Networking chart after the show ended a month later.

The app’s unexpected popularity echoed the similar fate of another messaging app called Bullet Messenger, that was touted as an upstart rival to Tencent’s WeChat. Developed by smartphone maker Smartisan, Bullet was briefly the most downloaded free app in the Chinese App Store with 5 million registered users within 10 days of its August launch. But just months later, it was pulled from the Chinese App Store following copyright complaints.

The 40-episode drama starring Hong Kong actress Angelababy Yeung and mainland actor Huang Xuan tells the story of how a group of young Chinese entrepreneurs created a social networking app with a “push to talk” feature and “text message reading” function. It was loosely based on the experiences of 30-year-old Chinese serial entrepreneur and co-developer of Magic Crystal Heatherm Huang. Producers of the show claimed viewership reached 4 billion.

Despite wide online criticism of an illogical plot and poor acting, and one-star ratings on review forums, Huang said that Magic Crystal has since attracted “many investment offers”.

The real-world Magic Crystal app is a Chinese version of MailTime, an email messenger app Huang and his team developed in the US in 2014 targeted at overseas users. According to MailTime, its app has logged 10 million downloads.

“I thought it to be a good stunt [to promote my product], because this drama is based on my own previous experience,” Huang said, adding that he had faced difficulties introducing MailTime to Chinese users.

However, its sudden dive in rankings came as no shock to Huang who has promised to add more features and functions to make the messenger app more “fun and interesting”.

“We’ve received many messages from users encouraging us to create something better to rival WeChat,” Huang said. “We never thought to challenge WeChat ... but I’m now rethinking that possibility.”

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