Alumni Stories
Li Haibo

The Audiophile who Created China’s Leading Podcast Platform

Li Haibo is the founder of China’s largest audio platform, Ximalaya FM. It possesses 73% of the audio market in China, consisting of podcasts, audiobooks, livestreaming, online radio and personal radio stations. He created a platform which connects content creators with 600 million users. Li Haibo is a graduate of CKGSB’s Executive Education – Culture and Creativity Program, a program which combines business management with the creative industries.

In this new alumni series, we track down CKGSB’s most influential graduates, many of whom have gone on to lead unicorn companies – privately held companies valued at USD $1 billion or more. According to CB Insights – a global platform which provides authoritative and up-to-date information on the world’s billion-dollar private companies – China has created a total of 217 unicorn companies between 2017 to 2021. Thirty-nine (or 18%) of these companies are run by CKGSB alumni, including 35 companies where CKGSB alumni are founders or co-founders, and 4 companies where they serve as the chairman, CEO or president.

As China’s leading business school, it’s not surprising that CKGSB has been able to produce so many business leaders playing a pivotal role in China’s economic development. More than 18,000 successful entrepreneurs, industry leaders and executives of multinational corporations have chosen to study at CKGSB for the original China insights, world-class faculty and peer-to-peer learning with China’s movers-and-shakers. More than half of CKGSB’s alumni are at the CEO or Chairman level and, collectively, lead one-fourth of China’s most valuable brands.

Li Haibo was a liberal arts student studying at Xi’an Jiaotong University. During his college years he founded the first publicly issued college student magazine in China. Later, he joined the French Huxie Publishing Group, dedicated to popular scientific reporting where he oversaw the content of the New Exploration Magazine.

Later in 2014, he founded Haiqu.com, which designed Hi-fi products for the company Linkwitz. His first project was one he worked on for seven years from 2007-2014 – the Pluto audio speakers. Despite starting out at a high price, the second generation of these speakers brought greater audio quality to a wider audience in China. Li Haibo told CKGSB, “The reason Pluto became so successful was because I returned to the essence of the product. Customers are smart and will instantly recognize your product value.”

After meeting with the Ximalaya founder Yu Jianjun in December 2015, Li thought he could combine their knowledge in the respective fields of technology and audio. He believed the future of audio would not be in hardware but in software. Therefore, he decided to merge Haiqu.com with Ximalaya, serving as Ximalaya’s vice-president.

How did Ximalaya FM Become a Unicorn?

Ximayala, a product of Beijing Nali Huiju Network Science and Technology, was launched in August 2012 with the target of reaching 10 million subscribers. By the end of 2014, it had become China’s largest audio sharing platform with over 100 million users. It completed its Series A financing in March 2014, receiving USD $11.5 million, creating a foundation for the development of the company. Since then, Ximalaya gone through six rounds of financing with its major investors being Tencent, Baidu, Xiaomi and Sony Music Entertainment.

During the pandemic, its active users increased significantly, spending an average of 128 minutes a day on the platform. Ximalaya is now looking to branch out beyond mobile audio content, developing artificial intelligence for voice technology in other areas. Its Xiaoya OS operating system is already being installed on information systems such as smart home appliances.

In the interview with CKGSB, he discussed how Ximalaya has been able to stand out in the market: “Ximalaya today is a world apart from other Chinese audio companies. Many of these companies simply do FM broadcasting – transmitting and publishing audio content. But Ximalaya is embracing the Internet of Sound, connecting listeners with audio content creators through more enjoyable and accessible audio products using AI and big data.” 

Li Haibo capitalized on an undeveloped audio market with Ximalaya FM. By focusing solely on audio, he had the advantage of few competitors, since most companies at the time were competing in the visual media sector. Today, Ximayala has become a huge player in China that Li Haibo now regards his competitors to be technology giants such as Baidu and Google.

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