From Xiaomi to Musical.ly, Chinese tech companies are riding a global wave of hipness and success.
Wang “Renee” Xiaoyu wants to surf that wave.
She’s the founder and CEO of an app and community for fans of podcasts and spoken word content. Castbox was inspired by Wang’s stint at Google Japan two years ago (which came after two years at Google in Beijing), where, as an expat, she struggled to find stuff to keep her entertained.
“I’m not a big fan of music. I like spoken audio. So I wanted to listen to audio to keep informed or kill time,” she tells Tech in Asia. That was “the moment” she decided to create something – and thereby quit corporate life and all the perks of Google to begin her first #startup.
Aside from being a good way to stream podcast-land favorites like This American Life, Serial, and TED Radio Hour, the app allows users to upload their own content. “We’re like the Youtube version of podcasts – the Youtube of audio,” Wang says.
The app has already gone global, with 7 million users in 135 countries. 30 percent of them are in the US – but none are in China.
Like Musical.ly, which is made in China but a huge hit primarily with North American teens, Wang wants Castbox to be a worldwide app – even if that means her home nation is left out of the fun.
Castbox doesn’t have Chinese servers, so its streaming service is unusably slow on China’s borked internet, which throttles outside connections.
“We were inspired and learnt a lot from [Musical.ly],” says Wang. “And we have two investors in common.” Indeed, Qiming Venture Partners and IDG Capital have backed both the Chinese startups.
Wang’s startup is announcing today that it has secured US$12.8 million in series A funding – co-led by those two big names – and also revealing that it earlier attracted US$3.2 million in seed funding.
It has already grown to 35 staffers – 30 in China, with the rest in the US.
With all that cash in their pockets, the team will now focus on two things.
“Original, exclusive content will make our app more attractive, so we are co-producing some content with producers in the United States – which is why I’m in San Francisco now,” she explains.
Stitcher, arguably Castbox’s closest rival if you ignore the badly struggling Soundcloud, made the same move into originals back in April.
The second thing is working with content producers on cross-promotion within the Castbox app.
The team is today rolling out an ambitious new podcast search engine that scans and analyzes the words spoken within all its audio content, giving people a way to find content that goes beyond the often perfunctory text descriptions that podcast and audiobook creators come up with.
Coming later this month is a Netflix-style subscription. Until then, Castbox makes money from display ads plus its VIP membership within the Android app.
Aside from Android and iOS, the app is available on Amazon’s Echo.