Name: Sophia Pan
Job: Co-founder of Tantan and P1.com
Hey Sophia! Can you tell us a little bit about you and your background, and why and how did your passion for start ups begin?
I was born and raised in Beijing, and had the chance to enjoy smog-free beautiful Beijing during the 80’s and 90’s.
After graduating from college I went to Sweden for my masters in 2003 (Why Sweden? By coincidence I met the legendary Swedish table tennis world champion Jan-Ove Waldner in Beijing and helped him on some projects and I was really impressed by how nice and humble the Swedes were).
Then I lived in Stockholm for 5 years, finished my masters and worked in M&A in PWC. One day I realized that I liked my job more for the sound of it than for its content. I enjoyed no part of what I was doing.
A friend of mine who also wanted to get quit a good-sounding job talked to me and 5 weeks later we both quit our jobs and jumped on a plane heading for Beijing.
P1 is a fashion community and was for many years invitation only. We had street style photographers who would take pictures of the most stylish people (with their permission of course) and invite them join P1. By joining P1 they would get access to their picture and a lot of other trendy people. By now we have been running P1 for almost 9 years.
However, even though we managed to create a really high quality community (out of 30 randomly invited P1 members to a Lamborghini event, one bought a car) and even though we managed to gather several million users it was hard to get it to scale, as the target group was too small.
4-5 years ago we came up with an idea of a function in P1 that we called secret crush. In P1 when you looked at someone’s profile you would leave a mark as a visitor. Often if both people visited each other, they would start talking. How secret worked was that there would be a button that indicated a secret crush and no one would know you pressed it unless two people pressed it. In the end we decided not to do the function because it would potentially change P1 from a community to a dating platform. We decided to do Tantan last year as an extension of this idea. The reason was partly because we noticed that the function was doing very well in the West. But it was also because we felt that there really was a lack of channels for young singles in China to meet interesting people.
Why do you think Tantan has been so well received in China? Do you think dating in China is less traditional now?
Chinese youngsters are pretty different than in the West. They do not have offline channels to meet people like through clubs/bars or through hobby related organizations. The online alternatives were either too marriage oriented (average age of getting married has increased from 20 to 27 the last 15 years) or too sex oriented, which is much more stigmatized in China than in the West. The problem with the sex-oriented solutions was that girls didn’t dare to use them. This coupled with the format where anyone could message anyone else made apps like Momo very spammy for female users and resulted in guys hardly ever getting any responses.
We believe that dating is hardest for young people mainly between 20-27 that are about to quit college or are in the first 5 years on working, where the vast majority currently end relationships when they leave college and go to a different city to work. They thus also leave their social circle behind. So they are single and very lonely, in a city with millions of people like them that they pass by each day, but there is no culturally acceptable way of reaching out. They are not just looking to get laid, they want to meet potential dates with whom there might be possibilities of further development.
So this is the problem we really wanted to solve. We launched Tantan in September last year and it has grown quickly since then. We recently surpassed 1 million daily active users and the growth is still accelerating. Currently our goal is to become number one in China during 2016.
In 5 words, how would you describe your experience as a entrepreneur?
Best time of my life
What are your thoughts on the start up community and environment in Asia (more specifically China)?
Beijing is in many ways becoming a Silicon Valley of the east. There is a strong startup culture here and tons of skilled engineers. Start-ups has in the last few years become a trend and is now the dream career of young people. New companies are springing up everywhere, for good and bad, and huge amounts of capital has been injected.
As a native Beijinger, what are a few of your favourite places in town?
I do most of the shopping online nowadays including 90% of the groceries. Recommended eating places: Geba Geba (Japanese), Madame Zhu (Shanghainese), Xiao Wang’s Home (Beijing-ese). Favorite gym: Fight Republic (Boxing).