As the middle class’s interest in maintaining a healthier lifestyle increased in China, the fitness industry boomed. Keep, now China’s number one fitness app founded by CKGSB alumnus Wang Ning in 2014, has harnessed this new enthusiasm for all things fitness. It was the first fitness app to reach 100 million users in 2017, with over 300 million users on its platform today. Wang Ning was only a college student when he started the company. Wang Ning is a graduate of CKGSB’s Chuang Community Program, a start-up incubation program run jointly by CKGSB and Tencent.
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 $1 billion USD 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.
Keep’s Model and Rise to Unicorn Status
Keep allows users to view fitness videos and to share fitness routines and photos on its online networking service. It also has an e-commerce platform where users can purchase sports equipment, sportswear, health foods and other sports products.
Wang Ning launched the Keep app on February 4, 2015 – one week later, it received an investment of USD $5 million from Ventech and Bertelsmann Asia Investments. Since them, Keep has gone through eight rounds of financing, the most recent round being a USD $360 million investment led by SoftBank.
Keep’s model is based on its e-commerce platform (its largest income generator), advertising, membership and paid courses. One of the most effective marketing strategies the company has employed is through KOLs (key opinion leaders), most notably Karlie Kloss, who led a video series on ‘waist and abdominals’ on the platform. Keep has also established a large presence on many of China’s social media platforms, such as Wechat, Weibo and Xiaohongshu. Since March 2018, Keep has gained additional revenue from its “Keeplands”, its own network of gyms. Currently, there are nine in Beijing and two in Shanghai.
Keep caters to a Chinese market which is increasingly health conscious. In 2019, it became the largest in the world, estimated to be valued at USD $17 billion. The success of Keep reflects a trend in China of a decline in traditional gym membership accelerated by COVID-19, and a move towards an online fitness market.
Wang Ning’s Journey
Wang Ning graduated from the Beijing Information Science and Technology University in computer science. In his fourth year, he wanted to lose weight but could not afford a personal trainer. After doing research online, he devised a set of strategies for weight loss, enabling him to lose 20kg.
Subsequently, Wang came up with the idea to create an app which provided the resources to successfully lose weight and lead a healthier lifestyle. He believed online videos were the best medium to enable people to work out anywhere, at any time. Wang then led a start-up team of twelve, consisting of his university course mates and colleagues from his internship at the online tutoring platform Yuanfudao.
Wang has been successful in introducing Keep in a decade where Chinese society has become increasingly health conscious. Wang has discussed the limitations of traditional gym memberships, which are “expensive and take a long time to get to.” Wang therefore targeted his app at white-collar workers in tier 1 and 2 cities with limited time on their hands.
Wang has been instrumental in changing the concept of fitness in China, altering the way people see and do exercise. In 2016, his influence was acknowledged by the Forbes magazine ‘30 Under 30’ list – a list of the world’s top young entrepreneurs.