Sign up to receive 5 free days of our daily summary for tech news.

Read this article for free.

Already a subscriber? Log in here

Q&A
Google Facebook

The Hottest Mobile App Startup in the World?

Few mobile app companies have seen faster or more mysterious growth than China-based Apus Group.

The company’s “launcher” app for Android phones allows people to customize their phones and search for apps. It received a million users within the first week of its launch last July and had more than 80 million monthly active users as of mid-January. Last month Apus raised a $100 million series B round from U.S.-based Redpoint Ventures as well as Chinese venture capitalists.

Mobile industry executives say such growth is nearly unprecedented and would have required lots of marketing dollars to pay for app install ads. Its CEO, Tao Li, rejects the notion that Apus (pronounced “ei-pes”) paid to acquire its users. 

Mr. Li, who is 38, started off in sales and marketing at a state-owned telecom equipment maker in 1998 before moving to the Internet sector a year later. He first worked at 3721.com, which offered a plug-in for Web browsers to help Chinese speakers search for information using Chinese-language characters. Mr. Li focused on marketing and building sales channels for the service, which was acquired by Yahoo in 2003.

He then worked on several startups, including a navigation app called Mapbar.com. In 2009 he reunited with some of his 3721.com colleagues at Qihoo, which they had founded in 2005. He became a top executive there, helping to launch and develop some of Qihoo’s biggest mobile products, including its mobile security app and app store, which have hundreds of millions of active users. (For more on Qihoo and its global ambitions, see this article.)

He left the company last year. The reason, according to numerous Chinese Internet executives, related to a strategy disagreement between Mr. Li and Qihoo CEO Hongyi Zhou. Mr. Li says he simply wanted to pursue a “big opportunity” and he finally felt ready to start his own company, which is named after a fast bird that’s also called a “swift.”

Mr. Li, who visited Silicon Valley last week (the company is looking to open a U.S. office), sat down with The Information—and later responded to emailed follow-up questions—for a wide-ranging conversation about how Apus grew so quickly, how its philosophy resembles Apple’s and why China won’t displace the U.S. in terms of innovation. Edited and translated excerpts below. 

What Is The Information?

Notes bb3aa5069205d702dda37fc71dc6f1c59df2310c4379304e9f1199f052af4884

Exclusive Articles

Receive original reporting about the most important tech companies, from Apple to Uber, in your inbox or online.

Notebook b5103017ee163370a1667c9ce59ab0ef023875a17888105d26c185cadf31bb69

Daily news analysis

Every weeknight, we'll send you our reporters’ views on the day’s top tech news—distilled into one email.

Conference calls c9e664e8b96ee347d3e92b8309938f268422b9db98cfabca5c826fbb75054b23

Conference calls

Go deep into areas like crypto and VC diversity—or get real-time analysis of breaking news—via conference calls with our reporters and other experts.

Events 499acedd16cffc41445edd76bfd302b2836c2a27419890f17130a6b10e2aa3df

Special Events

For no extra fee, subscribers get access to dozens of events a year, from intimate dinners to larger gatherings with marquee speakers.

Access the best reporting on the tech industry read by tens of thousands of global executives.

Become a contributor

Share your views and find other subscribers by completing your profile. You’ll be listed in our contributor directory.

Org Charts

Access the only collection of tech company org charts. Our expanding database includes companies like Amazon, Snap, and Uber.

Slack community

Discuss topics and current events with our subscriber-only Slack group and share news about your company with other subscribers.

Share with your team

Subscribers can unlock any article and share it with friends and co-workers through a special share link.

Stay up to date on Silicon Valley

Sign up for Jessica Lessin’s (The Information’s CEO & Founder) free Saturday newsletter and also receive a complimentary week of our daily afternoon tech commentary email.

Already a subscriber? Log in here

Recent Articles

Facebook

For Developers, Facebook’s Messenger Shows Signs of Life

By Sarah Kuranda

Entertainment

Why Snap Should Tap Apple or Tencent for Cash

By Tom Dotan

Media Entertainment

Why Hulu’s Heavy Losses Pose Question for Disney and Comcast

By Tom Dotan

Asia Google E-commerce

Behind JD Deal, a Google Plan to Crack China Through Hardware

By Juro Osawa