Beauty obsession drives $3bn selfie app Meitu

China’s love affair with physical beauty is fuelling a selfie-editing app’s valuation of $3bn (€2.63bn).

Meitu is shooting for at least that much in its latest funding round, according to sources, a target that would make it one of China’s 10 largest private start-ups and eclipse household-names, like Yelp.

It is banking on China’s preoccupation with ideals of comeliness, a passion that has inspired countless internet memes and a surge in cosmetic surgery.

Meitu’s apps enable 270m monthly users to slim faces, lengthen legs, and spice up their online appearance — this is essential for image-obsessed social media mavens.

“I never post a photo online without using Meitu first,” said 26-year-old accountant, Pan Nana, from Qingdao, who has used the app for six years to streamline body parts and conceal acne. “It’s the first app I’ve ever used to beautify selfies and I haven’t come across another that has as many functions,” she said.

Meitu, founded in 2008, arrived at an opportune time. Social media use had exploded in the wake of years of hyper-economic expansion, while foreign entertainment popularised new ideas of attractiveness. That ardour manifested this year, through well-publicised social media frenzies, including an online dare encouraging women to cover their waists with a sheet of A4 paper — thus proving they are skinny. Another challenge involved touching belly buttons by wrapping an arm behind their backs.

Meitu’s suite of apps allow people to adjust their photos in every conceivable way and with a single touch, from lightening complexion — fairness is considered attractive in China — to adjusting height and slapping on virtual make-up.

The start-up, backed by IDG and Qiming Venture Partners, is raising $200m in its latest round of funding. It’s also planning an overseas, initial public offering as soon as this year, with Hong Kong a possible listing destination.

Meitu joins a bunch of start-ups that are playing off the country’s newfound mania. SoYoung Technology, a developer of an application that helps users find plastic surgeons based on location, is raising $50m in its latest financing round, the company said in March.

Meitu completed its third round of investment in 2014, gaining $360m, and a valuation of $2bn from backers such as Innovation Works, founded by Kai-Fu Lee, the former China head for Google. Its apps have been installed on 900m mobile devices. It has consistently topped photo-and-video app rankings on Apple’s App Store, in China, this year. Meitu is using its latest round to expand into facial-recognition and smartphones, as it partners with Foxconn Technology Group to expand in Southeast Asia and India.

* Bloomberg


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