- Elon Musk thinks turning X into an everything app like WeChat could make the company profitable.
- But he may be missing a major point: The US isn’t China and WeChat’s success may not be replicable.
- Musk may need to go back to the drawing board if he wants to turn the company around.
Elon Musk may be going all in with his plan to turn X into an everything app in the vein of China’s WeChat. But the vast differences between the US and Chinese markets mean his grand plans could be dead on arrival.
The billionaire made some dramatic steps toward fully rebranding Twitter last week. On July 24, Musk replaced Twitter’s bird logo with the character “X.” He also declared in a tweet the same day that he plans to turn X into an “everything app” that has “comprehensive communications and the ability to conduct your entire financial world.”
This might seem like vague tech world mumbo-jumbo, but it does make sense considering the ambitions Musk once had for PayPal and X.com. In fact, Musk gave us all some insight into what X might one day look like when he expressed his admiration for China’s everything app, WeChat, last summer.
“For those that have used WeChat, I think that WeChat’s actually a good model. It does everything,” Musk said on the “All-In Podcast” in May 2022. “It’s sort of like Twitter plus PayPal plus a whole bunch of other things all rolled into one with actually a great interface.”
“It’s really an excellent app. We don’t have anything like that outside of China,” Musk continued.
But here’s where it gets tricky for Musk.
WeChat was already positioned to become an “everything app” from the start
In China, there are several rules of business. One of them is that, for things to go well, everything from the heavens above to the earth beneath must align. This brings us to the first, most glaring problem Musk faces. The path ahead has not been paved for X’s smooth ascent to the holy grail of everything apps the same way WeChat’s trajectory was.
WeChat had very different beginnings from Twitter, and those beginnings are precisely part of the magic formula that made it so successful. The Chinese tech giant Tencent launched WeChat as a simple messaging app back in 2011. WeChat now has over 1.3 billion monthly active users, per Statista, nearly four times the over 368 million monthly active users that Twitter had in December 2022.
But when Musk looks at these user numbers and simply assumes that adding functions to X will make it the WeChat of the West, he’s missing the point. WeChat is a social ecosystem in itself that’s locked its users in from the get-go, something that Facebook and the entity formerly known as Twitter will likely never be able to achieve.
If you’re a Chinese person, you can’t leave WeChat because your parents, grandparents, childhood friends, teachers, colleagues, and bosses are all on it. It’s the primary mode of communication for the Chinese people living behind the Great Firewall.
And you won’t leave WeChat even if you want to, because you can’t buy anything in modern China without it. Chinese retailers have gone cashless and mostly accept payments via WeChat’s digital wallet service, WeChat Pay. Even foreigners would be hard pressed to make their way around China without using the WeChat app to make simple purchases. In China’s walled garden of apps for cashless convenience, WeChat is king.
Beyond messaging, WeChat is quite simply a ubiquitous part of daily life in the country. People use WeChat to foot their utility bills, pay government fines, and even schedule medical appointments. And they’ve already been doing it for years — Musk is behind the curve.
X is too late to the game and has too many competitors to carve out a dominant position
That’s not to say that Musk can’t find a way to make these features appealing enough to the Western world to lock more consumers into a potential X ecosystem. But it’s worth noting that when Tencent introduced WeChat over a decade ago, the digital space in China was still growing, and lacked a major power player.
Ride-hailing applications like Uber, Lyft, and China’s Didi Chuxing were just getting started. Facebook hadn’t even acquired Instagram and WhatsApp yet — not that this matters to the Chinese consumer, considering Meta’s platforms aren’t accessible in the country without a VPN. But these unique conditions made it easy for WeChat to pitch itself as a gateway to accessing all these services with one click.
Musk, however, is attempting to carve out a space in a crowded tech market. By angling to create an industry disruptor like an everything app, he essentially plans to go to war with all the tech giants — PayPal, Venmo, Meta, Amazon, Netflix, you name it.
Right now, we have yet to see or hear enough about X to know for sure if he even stands a chance of winning. But Musk may be too late to the game for the odds to be in his favor.
It might serve Musk well to recognize the obvious: The US is not China, and WeChat is not X
Even if we were to set aside the above factors, one thing is for certain: Twitter, as we knew it, was fundamentally different from WeChat. And the audience Musk is playing to, a largely Western audience, doesn’t operate in the same way.
For starters, WeChat’s success largely stems from China’s approach toward tech censorship. It is not that difficult to become a leading digital platform when you have no real competition — popular sites like Google, YouTube, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram are blocked in China.
This made it a lot easier for WeChat to fill the vacuum by combining the best elements from these Western platforms.
Considering Musk’s business interests in China, one would think he’d understand just a little more about the country — and have done a little more research — about why and how things work there before placing all his bets on making X the American WeChat.
Representatives for X did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider sent outside regular business hours.
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