Shen Si: Queen of the Social Gaming Kingdom

August 27, 2012
By Yi ShengEditor: Zhao Liangfeng

Shen Si is trying to establish her own social mobile gaming kingdom. [forbeschina.com]

Shen Si is trying to establish her own social mobile gaming kingdom. [forbeschina.com]

If Shen Si had not participated in a popular Chinese TV dating show last year, she and her social mobile gaming network, Papaya Mobile, might still be unknown to the Chinese public, despite the fact that her network has 25 million registered users, most of who are not from China.

Although Shen failed to find her Prince Charming, who she hoped would be 'smart and mature' and 'able to accept a woman who runs her own business', her three-month stint on the show made her famous as 'the most beautiful woman in the Internet industry'. For Shen and her social network, what better way was there to advertise their presence?

The past 10 months have seen Shen and her team reap the rewards. Their users have more than doubled to 60 million and Shen has now moved on to a much bigger plan. "Our network has become the largest Android games network in the world," she said. "Next, we are going to develop it into the largest mobile social network. Our goal is to become the largest mobile version of Facebook."

Shen showed her talent at an early age. At 16, she was accepted into Tsinghua University's computer department. After graduating, she went to the United States to study at Stanford University, and received two master's degrees in computer management and engineering.

In 2007, when Shen was just 26 and working as a manager at Google's headquarters in the United States, she formulated the idea of starting her own business, focusing on a mobile network.

Having joined Google a few years earlier in 2004, Shen was the first assistant product manager from outside of the United Sates. She participated in Google's acquisition of the Android developing team and took charge of the development and marketing of Google's mobile product.

"In order to learn about the Android system that Google planned to buy over, I talked to many people and asked them for their opinions," said Shen. "Something that cropped up again and again and which gave me inspiration to start my own business was that many of them said that the future of the industry belongs to mobile networking."

In 2007, she returned to China to work at Google's Beijing office. Later, she told her boss that she wanted to leave to start her own company. However, her boss persuaded her to stay by offering great conditions. One, she would still earn her salary in U.S. dollars and two, she would be her own boss. Attracted by these terms, she decided to stay and built the Google Maps team over the course of a year.

In 2008, Shen finally quit Google to found Papaya Mobile, a social mobile gaming company inspired by Japanese companies DeNA and Gree.

She quickly realized that her target market was in America and Europe. "At that time, few people in China used the Android system," Shen said.

But on the other hand, she couldn't discount China's human resources edge. The cost of hiring one American engineer was enough to hire six in China.

Luckily, she soon hit on a solution: basing her company in China to make use of China's low cost human resources, while developing products suitable for American and European markets.

At the outset, Shen's team designed games for both the iPhone and Android and wanted to build a platform that allowed users to play all their games and buy virtual goods.

Their first hit game was a social farming game for the iPhone that was in the top 25 for two months on the Apple Appstore and attracted 1.5 million users. Since users could jump from game to game and all were cross-promoted, Papaya was able to attract another 4 million users over 12 games.

In 2011, when the number of users reached 30 million, Shen announced that her team would shift their focus from developing games to supporting third party developers, indicating a move towards a mobile social network version of Facebook.

It was a highly risky action and there was no turning back. But Shen thought it was worth it. "Although we lost some profits," she said. "We are gaining more opportunities."

She believes that it is the best time for her team to focus on the Chinese market now as it has been estimated that the number of people using Android mobile phones in China will increase to 200 million this year.

"We are the leading pioneers exploring the Chinese market," said Shen.

(Source: forbeschina.com/Translated and edited by womenofchina.cn)

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