If there’s one thing China loves more than taking selfies, it’s looking good in selfies. And Meitu is all about that.
Meitu is a big reason China fell in love with taking selfies: It offers a wide range of tools to touch up your selfies. From slapping virtual makeup on your face to removing wrinkles and blemishes, to even changing the shape of your features: Meitu can even enlarge your eyes or make your whole head slimmer.
In 2017, it even became a viral hit in the US, as celebrities flooded social media with their touched-up selfies. But Meitu’s US success was short-lived: It came under fire for apparently violating user privacy when people discovered it was sending an unusual amount of data back to its servers in China. (Meitu denies invading user privacy, saying it only collected data to improve the app.)
Its founder, Xinhong Wu, was running a domain-name registration businesses before he created the Meitu app in 2008 in China’s port city of Xiamen. A fan of photography and art, he told Abacus that he wanted to create an easy tool for people to enhance their photos.
But his app has come under fire. People blame Meitu for elevating the importance of appearances, and creating an unhealthy culture that’s fixated on online beauty. Among the country’s selfie-obsessed youth, it’s thought to be rude if someone only “Meitu” themselves in a group picture -- without doing the same for others.
Still, giving people wide eyes and tiny faces online is not enough… because it doesn’t help the company make money. Right now, more than 70% of its income is from hardware sales -- candy-colored smartphones with enormous front cameras and built-in beautifying features.
In a search for other ways to generate income, Meitu says they’re also offering other beauty-related services. One example is an app that can supposedly detect your skin condition, and recommend you skin care products. They’re also want to make more hardware.
Wu says the company’s vision is to be “the tech company that understands beauty best”, and “serve people’s need to become more beautiful.”
But two years after going public in Hong Kong, the company is still not generating a profit, and some doubt whether it will ever make money.
The Meitu app now has more than 115 million monthly active users, about 1.5 million short from the number in December 2017. Its short video app Meipai also lost 56.4% of its monthly active users -- which the company claims was because it voluntarily removed the app from stores for a month in June, after the government criticized it for hosting vulgar content.
Overall, as of June 2018 Meitu’s whole suite of apps have more than 349 million monthly active users, with 107 million of them outside of China -- a decline from last year.