Beijing-based question-and-answer platform Zhihu on Friday filed for an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, less than two years after the company closed a USD 434 million Series F round led by Baidu and Kuaishou in August 2019. Details on the IPO have not been disclosed.
Founded in 2010 by Zhou Yuan, Zhihu, which literally means “do you know?,” first started as a by-invitation-only Q&A site, attracting tech gurus such as Tencent founder Pony Ma, Sogou CEO Wang Xiaochuan, and the former China head of Google Kai-Fu Lee. It opened to the public in 2013.
By the end of last year, Zhihu had gathered 43.1 million cumulative content creators, who contributed 315.3 million questions and answers. In Q4, the number of average monthly active users reached 75.7 million, up 33% from 56.9 million in the same quarter of 2019, according to the filing.
The company started to offer online advertising in 2016, introduced paid content in 2018, a paid membership program in the first half of 2019, and launched online education and e-commerce related services in 2020.
Zhihu took in RMB 1.4 billion (USD 207.2 million) in revenue in 2020, up from RMB 670.5 million in 2019. However, the company still generated RMB 517.6 million (USD 79.3 million) in net losses last year, narrowing from RMB 1 billion in 2019.
“We are still in an early stage of monetization, with significant runway for growth across multiple new monetization channels,” the company said.
More than Quora
While Zhihu has been viewed as a copycat of the US firm Quora, Kai-Fu Lee believes that after multiple transformations, the Chinese service has left its peer far behind.
Quora is still a Q&A site plus ads, although still a good tool, but not as up to date as Zhihu, which has grown to a rich-media platform, providing relevant services in the mobile smartphone era, the short video era, the paid knowledge era, and the new e-commerce era, Lee shared on Saturday on his Zhihu account. Lee founded the VC Sinovation Ventures in 2009, which became an angel investor for Zhihu one year later.
Zhihu has grown to a platform that’s irreplaceable in China’s internet circles, with high-quality original user-generated content, said Wang Hua, co-founder of Sinovation Ventures, responding to the same question from media outlet PingWest.
ByteDance’s Q&A app Wukong Wenda, which once competed directly with Zhihu for influential content creators, meanwhile shut down last month.