When Tencent first launched WeChat back in January, 2011, nobody predicted that the bare-bones, mobile-only messenger was just five years away from being an ecommerce and social media Juggernaut with well over half a billion users.
The last half decade saw China’s former social media giants get used to living in WeChat’s shade. Renren, “China’s Facebook,” has seen its valuation crumble to a fifth of its 2013 high as users flocked to more feature-rich apps. And Weibo, while hardly obscure, has long since been eclipsed by WeChat’s gargantuan user base.
What lessons can be learned from WeChat’s rise? To find out, we need to roll the clock back to the stone age year of 2010, when messaging apps were novelties in a world of SMS texts.