DingTalk: The Fight To Become The Gateway To A Trillion RMB Market

“I know a very nice and useful app called DingTalk and won’t easily recommend to you,” a popular Chinese actress told in secret. However, Gao Xiaosong, the Chairman of Alibaba Music Group and a popular Chinese-language songwriter, cut in and said: “It’s no secret at all. As a matter of fact, I found that all the employees had already been using DingTalk when I entered Alibaba.”

This is actually an excerpt of a talk show at Tmall’s Double 11 shopping gala directed by Feng Xiaogang and live broadcasted by Hunan Satellite Station and many other major video sites on the evening of November 10th, 2015. The gala, which promoted lots of less-known brands (including DingTalk) to the audience, has become one of the most groundbreaking events in the history of the Chinese business industry.

“As of the mid of November, over 850,000 companies and enterprises have been using DingTalk, which was released merely near the end of last year. Our goal is to attract 1 million companies to adopt our platforms, and it is probable that we will meet our goal soon,” Chen Hang, the founder of DingTalk, told TMTpost.

The evolution from a tool to a gateway

2015 witnessed tremendous change in the Chinese enterprise-level app market, which also exceeded everyone’s expectation.

DingTalk was designed as an IM tool similar to WeChat in January, but as time went by, it underwent a series of modifications, unleashing an entire new space of imagination.

Chen Hang’s ambition is to help people separate their work from life, improve efficiency and make DingTalk a popular platform for enterprise employees and team members to communicate.

DingTalk rose to fame with “DING”, one of its “notorious” main function. Through this function, your colleagues and boss will be able to send you a message or voice call at fixed time to remind you. This function signifies the fundamental difference between WeChat and DingTalk, that is, messages must be sent immediately to receivers through DingTalk.

When DingTalk 1.0 was first released, its slogan was “The Communication Tool for the Next-GenTeams”. In an interview with Business Value this January, Mr. Chen suggested that DingTalk was designed to fill in the gap of WeChat and meet users’ needs in work, and that he wished to create a “DingTalk work circle” where users could solve their problems in work on DingTalk.

Main functions such as free call, conference call, enterprise phone book and “shower” mode etc. are all included on DingTalk 1.0. Although there are quite a few complaints over its functions, many enterprises, including FOSUN, turned to DingTalk and became the first batch of loyal users of DingTalk, which led to more needs and expectations towards the platform.

On Mat 26th, DingTalk 2.0 was officially released. You should notice that DingTalk’s slogan was changed into “DingTalk, a work style”. In this new version, many more new functions that have nothing to do with IM were added to DingTalk, which enabled lots of enterprises and employees to improve their efficiency significantly again.

C-OA, C-Space and C-Mail are the three major new functions on DingTalk 2.0. To be more specific, users will be able to ask for day-offs, permission and broadcast announcements and monitor the daily report and diary etc. via C-OA. With the help of C-Space, users can get access to files through multiple devices, sync files in a short time and share their documents to colleagues with a click of the button. In addition, DingTalk enables users to send emails directly via DingTalk, open conference calls and notice others via DING function mentioned above.

It is well known that OA, cloud storage and emails are the three most important components for most companies’ everyday work. For Mr. Chen, if DingTalk really want to improve work efficiency, they will have to make necessary change in these three aspects. He added that he had never expected to make DingTalk another social networking app, but rather a potent assistant for enterprises.
“No matter what our customers need, we shall do everything we can and overcome any difficulty to help them better improve their efficiency,” Mr. Chen suggested this May. With the help of DingTalk, many small and mid-sized companies get to manage themselves through mobile office platform. Therefore, DingTalk is widely accepted by the market, which in turn help DingTalk’s team better improve their product and meet the increasing demands from users.
Although Mr. Chen promises that his team would do everything they could do meet the needs and demands of their users, they are actually receiving an average of 6,000 pieces of suggestions every day from companies of all kinds of industries and that figure is still on the rise.

“The fields of SaaS varies a lot(to name just a few): CRM, ERP, OA, HRM, financial management, travelling management, cooperative office, cloud storage, VIP member management, customer service, distribution management, etc. Next, we are going to integrate DingTalk’s functions with our partners’ to better serve the needs of our customers,” Mr. Chen revealed at a recent press conference. Indeed, DingTalk doesn’t have the ability to, and doesn’t have to, meet the increasing needs alone.

During this press conference, DingTalk authorized 13 partners, made them the first batch of partners of Alibaba DingTalk’s ecosystem and announced that DingTalk had already become a SaaS provider and platform.

Both traditional service providers such as HEcom and Landray and emerging developers such as Weaver and Tower are included in this first batch. Mr. Chen revealed that these were only the first batch and they were going to cooperate with ISV next.

This must have been a great moment in the history of DingTalk.

The trend for enterprise-level software to turn to cloud computing and mobile technologies becomes more obvious in 2015. In the past, ERP software used to be the major platform for enterprise-level software. A large number of software giants emerged, including SAP, Oracle and Yonyou. In these years, a number of companies have been attempting to become the new platform and gateway to enterprise-level software: from enterprise portals to Enterprise Weibo, from enterprise phone book to IM software, which finally solves the problem.

When enterprise-level software shifts towards mobile platform, the center of these software also shifts from the mechanism to people. Today, person-to-person interaction becomes the center of any enterprise-level mobile app, on which other kinds of software all needs to be based. Whoever provides a communication platform that is efficient and convenient and gathers more ISVs will stand at the gateway of a trillion-level market. To some degree, the importance of such platform can be compared to that of search platforms in the era of PCs.

Let’s have a look at Slack, a US-based service provider that began to earn money within less than a year after its establishment. The company only provides basic communication services and hasn’t develop its own app, but its market value has already exceeded 3 billion USD. While Slack integrate resources from mainstream SaaS software in the market, its users can choose the service provider that fit them best. Up to now, the focus of ISVs that Slack has already gathered varies from task management, storage, email to customer service, management monitoring and messaging, etc. In the near future, an increasing number of ISVs will be gathered by Slack, so that users will be able to find any solution they want via Slack.

It is quite obvious that DingTalk attempts to copy Slack’s model, however, it’s not the only one that wants to do the same thing.

The battle of gateways

“Suppose you are in an emergency and you need to hold a meeting immediately, you can directly open a conference call with your smartphone. We are very close with DingTalk. As a matter of fact, we launched this service only a week later than DingTalk. We just kept a low profile at that time,” Chen Gang, the vice president of Chanjet revealed to the media after the press conference of its GZQ 3.0 held in August.

As a matter of fact, Chanjet attempts to do the same thing as DingTalk does, that is, to open its platform to ISVs. Chanjet, a subsidiary of Yonyou established in 2010, is commonly regarded as a symbol of Yonyou’s attempt to enter the mobile Internet market. Chanjet has already listed on the Hong Kong stock market and is actually the first Chinese SaaS company.

“Over 120,000 enterprises have been using our platform, and all of them are pretty active. Indeed, we are developing pretty fast right now, yet we can’t slow down considering the current situation,” Luo Xu, the founder and CEO of fxiaoke.com, revealed to TMTpost.

Fxiaoke.com, founded in 2011, has attempted to develop a cooperative office software. However, it has gradually shifted its focus to marketing management in these years. This July, it just received a D-roudn investment of 100 million USD from IDG, NLVC, DCM. Today, it aimed to develop a professional marketing management platform and help its users solve all kinds of problems they might encounter in marketing via Fxiaoke.com’s software solely.

Mr. Luo admitted that Slack was their goal, and that his company was dedicated to do everything they could in marketing area: linking the front and backstage, upstream and downstream of marketing as well as the inside and outside of a company, linking all the personnel related to a company’s marketing and establishing an entire ecosystem out of it. “Next, we are going to gather some ISPs that are devoted to developing software related to marketing, improve our service to the fullest and win more users. In the future, we can even provide finance services related to marketing and still more. Marketing management is a great gateway to win more users,” said he.

However, DingTalk’s biggest rival is WeChat Enterprise OA, which just held an Internet+ Summit on December 1st in Shanghai. Based on WeChat, WeChat Enterprise OA has already owned over 7 million users, among whom 1.5 million are active per day.

The efforts to become a gateway

“After DingTalk opned it platform to ISVs, it has become a supermarket for ISVs like us to have a place. While DingTalk provides the venue, shelf, light, we are supposed to provide a variety of goods. DingTalk decides which ISV’s goods can enter the supermarket, and solves any problem that occurred meantime, which is a good thing both for ISVs and for users,” Liu Xuecheng, CEO of HEcom explained to TMTpost.

In early October, HEcom’s marketing SaaS product RedCircle was added to DingTalk, integrating three simplified functions (data analysis, visit plan and customer information) to the platform as plugins. While DingTalk already can provide basic mobile office and internal messaging service, RedCircle only needs to provide the above three basic mobile marketing management service.
While DingTalk charged its users in a settled price, RedCircle charged it users based on the number of employees in the company (1,500 RMB per person and per year). In this case,, RedCircle made a compromise and charged DingTalk’s users with 4,980 RMB annually no matter how many employees in the company will use RedCircle.

A week later, 13,000 new users began to use RedCircle, much higher than the previous growth per year. By the way, before their cooperation, 35,000 users used RedCircle. The growth rate was a surprise not only for RecCircle but also for DingTalk. A great product and a great distribution channel conspired to make that happen.

A week after ReCircle’s addition to DingTalk, Tower’s services were also added to DingTalk. 1,000 sets of enterprise trial product were gone within less than six minutes. With the help of Tower, users will be able to start a task on DingTalk and share it to other colleagues and groups, so that everybody can monitor the progress of the task till it is completed.

Landray, one of the first batch of partners that agreed to integrate to DingTalk, has been doing this business in the Chinese enterprise-level SaaS industry for 15 years. The majority of its 10 million users are mid and large-scale enterprises, and 100 out of the Top 500 Enterprises in China are using Landray’s platform.

“We get quite anxious in face of the rise of mobile Internet, since not only the cost to win new users are rising, but also users’ needs also more diversified. We are left in a dilemma: whether we should change or not?”Xu Xia, CEO of Landray admitted during DingTalk’s press conference. For Ms. Xu, the mobile Internet was both a challenge and an opportunity for Landray.

Although Landray has accumulated lots of large-scale enterprises in the past ten years, it failed to make much profit since its users only need to pay for the first version of their customized SaaS product and low maintenance fee afterwards.
In addition, it becomes too difficult and expensive for brands such as Landray to win new customers since many enterprises have already adopted to SaaS systems provided by some ISVs and wouldn’t bother to change anymore.
Ms. Xu and her team have no choice but to change.

In 2001, the limits of PC office grew more obvious, so Ms. Xu came up with a mobilization plan to better adapt the trend. Traditional SaaS developers used to focus their attention mainly on PCs, so they’ve got to develop mobile products to cater to the growing needs for mobile office platforms. Many developers failed because they simply changed their PC version product into mobile versions. It became quite a headache for them to find an appropriate gateway.

“Compared to providing users with settled services, it’s better to leave the choice to users. Next, DingTalk will do our best in basic services, ISV services and cross-border services, since we wish to make DingTalk a more transparent and reliable platform for ISVs to enter,” Chen Hang told TMTpost.

In mid October, Alibaba changed the name of its social networking platform Laiwang to Diandianchong, determining to focus on the 90s and young people. Chen Hang’s team emerged directly from Laiwang and has already become a separate division of Alibaba. Although DingTalk’s office is outside of Alibaba’s headquarters, Jack Ma and other heads of Alibaba have all promised to set no limits to Alibaba’s investment into DingTalk, as long as DingTalk can develop a good product. As a matter of fact, Alibaba supports DingTalk so much because it predicts that enterprise-level SaaS market might become another market worthy of trillions of RMB and because DingTalk might be able to fulfil Alibaba’s unfulfilled dream to develop a popular social networking platform.

Up till now, over 300 ISVs have registered on DingTalk, 50 ISVs have started to cooperate with DingTalk, and 10 ISVs have already moved into DingTalk’s new two-storey office building and .cooperating with DingTalk’s staff in developing new functions in new user scenarios. The office building takes up an area of 1,500 square meters but is already filled with 150 DingTalk’s own employees and its partners.

Recently, DingTalk’s advertisements appeared in several airports in China. On November 24th, Uber and DingTalk co-announced that they would help employees provide commuting services, which would not only attract Uber’s users to DingTalk, but also better improve its own services.

Liu Zhen addressing the audience at the strategic cooperation press conference
In addition, DingTalk has been providing discount for its users when using Xiami VIP services, buying fresh produce on Tmall Supermakret and takeaway food on Taobao Koubei, in hopes of attract more users to DingTalk. Indeed, DingTalkk has started to grow into a potent platform and gateway.

“This is the best time for the Chinese SaaS market. Either DingTalk or WeChat Enterprise OA will become the next Salesforce in China,” Luo Xu predicted, “it is likely that Fxiaoke.com will also cooperate with DingTalk in the future since it’s our common goal to help this market boom and expand.”

Originally published at www.tmtpost.com.