Women to Watch China 2014

Meet the Chinese Company Putting Ads on Your Smartphone

How a Beijing-Based Programmatic Company Is Helping Chinese Tech Firms Reach Overseas Smartphone Users

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Chinese tech companies are sending ads to overseas smartphones.
Chinese tech companies are sending ads to overseas smartphones. Credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Chinese tech giants have been in a rush to go global. Social network Weibo had a U.S. IPO, and e-commerce giant Alibaba is planning one. Tencent's chat app WeChat has sought users in markets from Argentina to South Africa. Baidu launched a version of its search engine in Brazil.

Those moves made headlines, but in a quieter way, Chinese tech companies have also started putting ads for their apps and games on smartphones around the world.

Si Shen, CEO of Beijing-based PapayaMobile, launched a mobile ad network called AppFlood two years ago to bridge China, the West and beyond.

The programmatic network, whose main business is helping Chinese tech giants and app developers connect with smartphone users outside China, has sent ads to 400 million devices globally. It's growing so fast that she's adding a few new employees a week to her team of 150. (Other mobile ad networks linking China and the West include Google-owned AdMob and India's InMobi).

Though Ms. Shen, a former Google employee, launched PapayaMobile six years ago as a social gaming network, the business' focus has shifted to the mobile ad network. Clients include search engine Baidu, software giant Qihoo 360 and mobile browser Dolphin Browser. Ms. Shen is one of Ad Age's Women to Watch China 2014 (see the full list here.)

"People don't realize how many resources Chinese companies are committing to the western market and other markets, and they also probably don't realize that some of the applications they see every day were actually developed by Chinese companies," Ms. Shen said, citing Android homescreen replacement app Go Launcher as an example.

Si Shen
Si Shen

Though China has 632 million internet users, local competition is fierce among Chinese tech companies, and they have started seeking new users outside China.

"They're looking for the next big opportunity -- there's a saying in this industry that if you add the population of Russia, the Middle East, Southeast Asian countries and Brazil, then actually that population is similar to the population of China," Ms. Shen said. "In these markets there's a huge business opportunity." AppFlood also connects Chinese app advertisers with users in the U.S., who are sought-after because they tend to pay more for later products.

Brand advertising on mobile isn't as big in China yet as in the U.S. But Ms. Shen sees strong potential for her company in the future – for advertisers from outside China who want to reach mainland consumers and vice versa.

The Women to Watch China Questionnaire:

Hometown: Jingzhou, Hubei province.

Hobbies: competitive international ballroom dancing. Several years ago, she appeared on one of China's most popular TV programs, dating show "If You Are the One," because it was "the cheapest way to do PR" for her company. (She has since married and had a child.)

Lived abroad: For seven years, studying at Stanford and working for Google.

If you could have dinner with anyone living or dead: Steve Jobs. Ms. Shen was in the audience when Mr. Jobs launched the iPhone.

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