Like social media, online dating is a network effects business, where bigger platforms tend to perform significantly better,” he told us.
Perhaps, in some ways, Paktor was baggage. It meant “mindshare” between streaming and dating for Phua, and, therefore, was a “distraction”, said Infinity Ventures’ Huang.
“It’s a great business. It’s just that for investors we need to make sure M17 is a home run and that’s gonna be live stream and live commerce,” he said. Before the pandemic emerged, Paktor was said to be profitable.
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M17 no longer holds any shares in it, but remains “emotionally” involved. “These are all friends. They’ve kept the whole management team and we’re still exploring business opportunities together,” Phua told us.
Then there’s HandsUP—the live social commerce service that M17 introduced across Taiwan, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam, in that order—last year. Unable to localise properly, it has already exited the last two markets, said the ex-employee quoted above. The closure saw the layoff of about 60 staff, the person told us.
HandsUP launched a year after M17 acquired FBBuy—a service that lets influencers, brands and merchants sell products during live streams on Facebook—in 2018. Unlike FBBuy, HandsUP is integrated across different social networks. Both services, which start to charge a fixed fee or a small commission on sale once a merchant reaches a certain scale, account for less than 1% of M17’s revenue.
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“The user behaviour in Southeast Asia is very different from Taiwan,” says an executive at an e-commerce business. For example, buyers have the habit of chatting sellers about a product regardless of the information posted on the listing. “Full automation using chatbots doesn’t work. You have to carefully balance usage of human and bot agents.” The individual requested anonymity to avoid upsetting any player.
It’s debatable whether Southeast Asia, one of the fastest-growing markets for Facebook’s family of apps where social commerce has taken off the past few years, was a missed opportunity for M17. (We have written about Facebook’s app domination in the region before.) But Koo said M17 found that live social commerce in Japan has much higher margins and fewer competitors than in Southeast Asia, and so it needed “to concentrate the product in Japan.”
The problem may not have been the Southeast Asian market as much as M17’s focus on Developed Asia.
“Southeast Asia countries do it more like how third- and fourth-tier cities do it in China, then developed countries are more like the first- and second-tier cities. Third-fourth-tier cities are a bit more rural, where people really try to get everything out of live streams and many do it on their own,” said Fabian Bern, founder and CEO of influencer marketing agency UPLAB. “But in first-second-tier cities, streamers are a bit more selective of the categories they are in, they invest a lot in the production value. There’s a whole team behind it.”
In Developed Asia, Bern sees live streams being used to sell expensive products. Brands are going to hire creators to sell things. Or create stuff around experiences, like cooking shows and then directly sell products within those shows.