How Zhihu became the start-up with all the answers

China's equivalent of question-and-answer website Quora has hit unicorn status and is looking to add value with a LinkedIn-style jobs service.

Zhihu, the Chinese equivalent of US knowledge-sharing platform Quora, is perhaps one of the most underrated home-grown unicorns – start-ups valued at over $1 billion. 

The question-and-answer website earned its unicorn status in January this year after securing $100 million in series D funding from the likes of Tencent, Sogou and Kai-fu Lee, a former executive of Google and Microsoft.

Some people believe Zhihu is not worth the hype because the company was
unable to monetise its services until as recently as last year. However, we believe Zhihu is one of the few companies that will benefit from China’s internet boom.

Founded in 2010, Zhihu currently has 69 million registered users on its website and mobile applications; users share information and knowledge through raising and answering questions. Partly censored, like everything in China, Zhihu does allow users to discuss both sophisticated topics such as religion and philosophy, as well as causal topics like lifestyle, games, movies and TV programmes.

The huge number of users Zhihu amassed over the years helps create a big information database similar to Wikipedia. In particular, the large user base and its internal screening system allows it to collect high-quality and professional answers and solutions, differentiating itself from other Q&A websites.

Like many free-to-use digital services, the big question is: how can it make money? Having solved this riddle, one of the services it launched last year was Zhihu Live, a platform that allows users to attend live one-on-one sessions on a certain topic with experts. The fee paid by the user is split between the company and the experts. At the same time, it also generates revenue from institutional accounts, advertisements, and partnerships with bookstores and agencies.

Zhihu’s founder and CEO, Victor Zhou, has said the company is not pursuing explosive growth, but will look to gradually expand its user base by offering more services.

The company has recently dipped into the job market by offering LinkedIn-style job searching functions, leveraging its large database of high-quality users. Employers will be able to get a brief idea of the strengths of potential candidates through browsing their history of answering questions on the platform.

Some of the other possible value-added services include online seminars, publications as well as business incubators. It can also profit from sharing its rich content base with media and publication companies.

Zhihu is also one the few Chinese start-ups that has overseas exposure – it is used by many Chinese readers across the world.

Zhihu is one of 10 hot startups FinanceAsia will profile as part of a new series running the rule over exciting companies that are changing the game across Asia. We'll publish more such profiles in the days to come.

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