Miranda Qu is the founder of Xiaohongshu, a community e-commerce platform. Since founding the company in 2013, she has led Xiaohongshu to unicorn status that is valued today at USD $18 billion. Qu has been instrumental in developing a unique business model that operates as a lifestyle community as well as an e-commerce platform. Miranda Qu is a graduate of Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business’ Chuang Chuang Community Program, a start-up incubation program run jointly by CKGSB and Tencent.
Building a Model for Success
The app was founded by Miranda Qu and Charlwin Mao in 2013. The idea came from both of their travel experiences abroad. Knowing that Chinese travelers love to shop when abroad, “often leaving with an empty suitcase and coming back to China with two,” they believed the gap in the market lay in providing insights into the best places to shop.
While traveling in Hong Kong, Qu stated that the idea for Xiaohongshu (in Chinese: the “Little Red Book”) came to her after waiting for three hours to pay for an item at a retail store. She realized it was time for a new way to shop. In 2013, she decided to walk away from her job at Bertelsmann to set up Xiaohongshu.
Initially, she and her co-founder, Charlwin Mao, sought out local shopping gurus and gathered their experiences to draft a thick shopping guidebook, which became the name of the company – Little Red Book.
Xiaohongshu subsequently became a platform for shoppers to share their shopping experiences online and to review products. When she started the user-generated content shopping platform, what she did not know was that within four years it would have 50 million users and would become the world’s largest e-commerce community platform.
Later in 2014, she set up its e-commerce platform, connecting global retailers with the Chinese market and providing a platform for consumers to buy overseas products. What makes Xiaohongshu stand out from its competitors is that users cannot sell directly on the platform, in contrast to other e-commerce companies such as Alibaba. Xiaohongshu works directly with brands who must have a license to sell on the platform.
Purchasing from brands directly also enables the platform to uphold high product quality and avoid the problem of fake goods which other e-commerce platforms are susceptible to. Xiaohongshu also combines e-commerce and lifestyle sharing on one platform, allowing it to accumulate a wide range of consumer data.
Xiaohongshu became one of the world’s largest e-commerce platforms in 2018 when it raised USD $300 million in a round of funding from Tencent and Alibaba. Despite being in a sector which is dominated by giants such as Alibaba and JD.com, Miranda Qu has managed to carve out her own path in the industry.
Today, Xiaohongshu’s content is not only related to shopping, but various lifestyle videos from travel blogs to book reviews. The user-generated content also ranges from influencers representing brands to anyone wanting to record their lifestyles. The app has become a reflection of mainstream values of Chinese young people.
Miranada Qu’s has said that her mission with Xiaohongshu has been to help people “find the good things in the world.” What led to her success as a start-up entrepreneur in 2013 was an understanding of the post-90s generation (or known as Generation-Z) in China – who make up the majority of the app’s user base.