Bytedance Lark

Lark—Bytedance’s Plan B

Sophia Yu

posted on August 20, 2019 4:11 pm

Unlike Bytedance’s Snapchat clone app Duoshan, its productivity tool Lark kept low-profile since launching in early 2019. Nonetheless, Lark has been keeping growing—It is updating and evolving, the team is expanding, and it is developing its potential customers and ISV (Independent Software Vendors).

Despite that G Suite, Slack, and Office 365 have been the default names in the productivity software market overseas, and DingTalk and Enterprise WeChat dominates the Chinese market for a long time, Bytedance is still fighting its way out.

Not Simply an Instant Messenger

Positioning itself as an “all-in-one platform with messaging, schedule management and online collaborative documents in one place,” according to the app’s profile on Linkedin, Lark is different from DingTalk, Slack, and more similar apps.

The advantages of this “one-stop” productivity tool is to build connectivity. For example, a user can tag a colleague directly in an online document and the latter will receive a notification.

Lark also comes with cutting-edge features, such as inserting voting polls, videos, or even maps into the document.

Moreover, users can reply to a specific message, giving an attitude status, such as applauds, instead of sending new messages below it. This helps when there are several issues being discussed in the group.

An enterprise using the trial told PingWest that “Lark is distinctive among Chinese productivity apps. I can tell it is developed with meticulous efforts.”

The Mission of Lark

Bytedance had used several different productivity tools before developing Lark. “The company used Slack at the earliest stage, but soon gave up, because the latter did not adapt well to Chinese markets. For example, group name can only be in English, providing an inconvenience to Chinese users. Bytedance then decided to switch to Tencent’s enterprise WeChat, but found that Enterprise WeChat update little. Besides, Tencent did not give Bytedance access to the port. Thus, Bytedance changed to use DingTalk,” a source close to the matter told PingWest, adding that Bytedance was a loyal user of DingTalk for a while in the past.

PingWest found that Bytedance started to hire talents since 2016, posting job openings for product managers, engineers in tech-related BBS. The recruitment posts said to look for talents to develop a productivity tool in aims to better management work and communicate within an enterprise. The new talents take Toutiao, a prominent news and information aggregator owned by Bytedance, as an experiment object.

The project is led by Xie Xin, vice president of Bytedance. Xie was a colleague of Zhang Yiming, CEO and founder of Bytedance, at an online travel services search engine company, named Kuxun. Zhang Yiming worked as a project manager at Microsoft and a core search engine developer at Baidu, the search engine giant in China.

While Xie was working at Kuxun, he was in charge of IT management, product management, Search Engine Optimization (SEO)/ Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Business Intelligent (BI), and more. His rick working experience in diverse business units enables him to be the chief HR in Bytedance.

Xie said in his self-introduction that “As a computer science engineer, I am also interested in the company’s development, team management, culture development, and IT system evolution within Bytedance. I like to analyze different growth tracks and features of different companies, followed by drawing strength from them…I also hope to break the routine in team management and culture development, and absorb valuable and innovative company culture into Bytedance.”

Lark was born under the guidance of such philosophy. One post by Zhang Yiming on Weibo said that “Develop a company as a product.” This sentence was once used as a pop-up slogan of the Lark app.

Fast Growth

Lark had been keeping updating frequently in an early stage after launching. “Lark was updated two to three times a week back then,” said people close to the matter, adding that “many new features were added bit by bit.” The app still keeps three-to-four times update per month currently, relatively more frequently compared with other similar apps.

In addition, besides its IM features, calendar and online document were gradually added in Lark to replace Google calendar and third party online document tools.

While Lark is updating, the Lark team also saw growth to 800 currently. A person close to Lark told PingWest that the Lark R&D team plans to expand to 1,000 as of the end of 2019.

The growing pace of Lark is much faster than its competitor DingTalk. “DingTalk kept its team of 200 employees in the first two to three years after releasing, and it is composed of 1,000 employees currently,” a person close to DingTalk told PingWest.

The 800 employees are spread across China and abroad, such as Beijing ,Shanghai, Shenzhen, Chengdu in China and the UK, US, and India outside China. “Lark will recruiting R&D people locally in those overseas countries. International hiring is probably a preparation for global expansion, and global giant enterprises are in need of customized features.”

Targeting Both Domestic and Overseas Markets

Lark was originally registered overseas in Singapore, instead of China. In March 2019, Bytedance registered Lark Technologies and adopted Amazon Web Services (AWS) as Lark’s infrastructure. A month later, Bytedance launched Lark overseas, and invited target companies to sign up with Lark.

The person close to Bytedance mentioned above said that “Overseas enterprises are more willing to pay for productivity tools compared with mainland companies, and hence DingTalk and Enterprise WeChat are free for users. As for Bytedance, Chinese domestic market is non-negligible.” In fact, Bytedance has been promoting Lark to Chinese domestic small and medium-sized enterprises.

Unlike Toutiao and TikTok which revenues are generated from ads, Lark adopted a different model—“Freemium”, a portmanteau of the words “free” and “premium”. The free version provides limited services but aims to attract users to upgrade to the premium subscription plan. All the competitors of Lark, such as Google Suite, Slack, and Office 365 (including free Microsoft Teams), adopted the “Freemium” business model.

Subscription fee of Lark is relatively lower than that of its competitors, since it is still developing. It prices at $2.5/user/month, compared with $6/user/month for Google suite, $6.67/user/month for Slack, and $8.25/user/month for Microsoft 365.

Beside, Lark emphasized privacy when promoting abroad. Its Privacy and Cookie Policy says that “We provide the Platform from Singapore, and the Personal Data that we collect from you will be transferred to, and stored at AWS in United States.”

In comparison, in Chinese domestic market, the brand Bytedance provides a strong endorsement of Lark. While Lark has not been officially launched in China, the team has been keeping seeking Independent Software Vendors (ISV). PingWest learned from Lark that “one benefit that Lark can provide potential ISVs is helping them expand abroad.”

“While Lark is low-profile currently, it would make some moves in the near future, because the team hired a good number of people,” the person close to Bytedance mentioned above told PingWest.

Editor’s Note: This article is translated and edited from PingWest’s Chinese article. Original editor: Decode

Translated and Edited by Ran Yu

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