Chinese accommodation listing site Tujia may suffer comparisons to Airbnb, but its co-founder Melissa Yang is adamant that the platform offers a different value proposition that manages to cater more accurately to the Chinese marketplace and norms. A cursory glance at their respective performances seem to back up her claims since Airbnb has been struggling a fair bit in China while Tujia has just received another $300m in funding taking its total valuation to $1.5 billion.
This is a scenario that seems to be quite prevalent in China with several other American digital platforms such Amazon and Google not competing too well with their competitors, Alibaba and Baidu respectively. Often at the heart of this rivalry are the not so subtle accusations that Chinese companies blatantly copy proven business models. This is however a bit rich given that the evolution of American platforms also relied on the copying of business models and refining them to suit a niche market or better suit an existing one.
After all, WordPress, the world’s largest content management platform did not invent the CMS concept or PHP, the server-side language it is based on. And neither was TripAdvisor the first travel review site, they just did it better than anyone else. The web technology with which Airbnb, Uber (click on their names and check out their tech stacks) and most other platforms are built is mostly open source which makes their whingeing the equivalent of Henry Ford reaching from beyond the grave and accusing Elon Musk and Tesla of ripping off his idea.
What the whingers seem to forget is that we are in the midst of the 4th Industrial Revolution in which the integration of networked communications, machine learning and large-scale data analysis with existing business and production processes is the real differentiator. Business models will need to evolve constantly to retain a laser-like focus on customer success or risk becoming obsolete in the eyes of ever more demanding consumers. And that’s exactly what the Chinese ‘copycats’ are doing, to their American predecessors’ chagrin.