China’s social network market is different from the rest of the world’s. Facebook, Twitter, and other global staples of social networking are blocked by the government. For most people in the country, WeChat reigns supreme.
But there’s still space for niche social apps like The L. Co-founder and marketing director Sammy Wu calls the app “somewhat like Facebook among lesbians” in China.
Originally designed as a social network for lesbians in China, the company has since dipped its toes into everything from lesbian-focused films to dating services to international gay-friendly travel.
The internet has played a large role in Sammy’s life for more than a decade. Originally from Kunming in Southwest China, Sammy got interested in messaging boards on the web in the early 2000s and realized she wasn’t alone as a gay woman in China.
In the years that followed, China’s gay community has become increasingly active online – but in the real world, the LGBTQ community has remained fractured. Cities like Shanghai boast annual pride events, but they’re low-key compared to their international equivalents. Smaller cities have very few organized LGBTQ gatherings.
Founded in 2012, The L is more than just a dating service. As with a handful of other such apps, it provides a way to bring China’s LGBTQ community from nebulous online forums and into the real world.
Blued, a popular dating app for gay men, was launched in China in the same year. The L has not seen the same kind of success as Blued, which last year raised a US$30 million round of funding, but it hasn’t been following the same flirt-and-hookup path, either.
After receiving a seven-figure RMB (the amount was unspecified, but at least US$150,000) investment from an angel investor last year and hiring a full-time team, Sammy and the crew delved into projects to take The L beyond its initial social networking goals. In addition to that investment, The L received about RMB 10 million (US$1.57 million) in a pre-A round in late 2014. The company is eyeing a series A round and is hoping for financing worth about RMB 20 million (US$3.13 million).
The L’s app includes the functions that you might expect – the ability to post images, chat, meet people in your area, use hashtags – but also a few you might not. It’s also a portal for movies, literature, and other resources, ranging from event information for lectures on LGBTQ topics to contact details for overseas marriage services.
The market for lesbian-focused apps in China may not be as large as the one for gay men, but it’s nothing to scoff at – The L numbers its monthly active users above 200,000.
That figure is only part of the equation. Aiming to become more of a cultural touchstone than simply a dating app, the startup has produced several short films about gay and lesbian life in China, and has even released a sitcom.
“Movies or TV series for lesbians are hardly seen in the domestic market, so you can understand how much we could do,” says Sammy. “In China, there are more than 35 million lesbians and bisexual females, who for so long remained an ignored market.”
Its 18-minute short film X-Love has raked in more than 3 million views on Chinese video sites (the Youku version with English subs, can be watched here). The L Bang, the startup’s new sitcom, is broadcast exclusively on The L app.
“Diversity is our slogan,” says Sammy. Based in Shanghai, The L now counts 16 people who work on the app full-time. “We are young, energetic, curious, and cool.”
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