BIGO Technology is one of the fastest-growing technology unicorns in Singapore. Founded in 2014, BIGO Technology has gained immense popularity in the world.
The company has two apps, the livestreaming platform Bigo Live, and the short video creation platform, Likee. Bigo Live is a global livestreaming platform which has 31.7 million monthly active users over the world. Users can stream to show their life moments, showcase their talents, interact, send virtual gifts in real time, and enjoy fun live sessions with people worldwide. Bigo Live has announced a number of initiatives and new features last year to help the worldwide social commerce market.
Retail in Asia is glad to catch up with Mike Ong, Vice President of BIGO Technology to discuss the journey of starting a social commerce business, the landscape of social commerce in Asia, how livestream supports social commerce and BIGO Technology’s future plans.
RiA: As a fast-growing tech startup, BIGO Technology gained a lot of attention globally. Can you tell us the secret of developing a technology startup company in a successful way?
Ong: BIGO Technology (BIGO) was founded with the core principle of empowering a new generation of users with an exciting new social language to express themselves. We want our users to showcase their creativity, discover new content and stay connected in a positive and welcoming online environment.
A key ingredient to our success is our commitment to developing technological innovations and investing in R&D capabilities to launch innovative features and enhance user experience on Bigo Live. For example, we most recently launched ‘Community’, a feature that allows users to create and manage online communities and post original content that cannot be easily showcased on a livestreaming session.
We value our users and creators the most; which is why we believe in building a deeply localised social ecosystem with our local broadcasters in every region we operate in. We want to provide a healthy, safe and positive environment for them to express their creativity and create content with ease. This is done through localisation and updating policies that better protect our users. Through Bigo Live, we have democratised access to all users to find their own voice, showcase their talents and content to a global audience with just a tap of their smartphones.
RiA: What is the most challenging part of being a tech startup?
Ong: One of the biggest challenges is understanding the ever-changing needs of consumers and adapting to the rapid evolution of consumption patterns and trends, especially around social commerce and the livestreaming industry.
We are constantly investing in R&D to develop innovative features to enhance the user experience on Bigo Live. We also want our broadcasters to be able to express their creativity and produce content seamlessly. Our R&D team ensures that our features are up-to-date and upgraded to benefit our users and broadcasters, in order to stay relevant in the ever-changing tech industry.
In order to elevate the social aspect of our livestreaming platform, we have also embedded intrinsic social features that enable our users to connect with people around the world through real-time chats, multi-guest rooms, private-stream room and more. In addition, we have our own virtual ‘gifting’ feature to support our growing creator economy ecosystem, providing our broadcasters with an alternative source of income.
In our efforts to provide our users with a more engaging and immersive experience, we have been progressively exploring and pushing out new features such as our recently introduced ‘Virtual Live’ feature that allows users to create personalised virtual 3D avatars to represent themselves and communicate with others online.
RiA: Bigo Live was a livestreaming platform when it first launched. BIGO Technology has since expanded its product offerings to focus on e-commerce in recent years. Can you walk us through the development of Bigo Live since its original inception? In what way does Bigo Live differ from other livestreaming platforms for it to be able to adapt to the social commerce industry?
Ong: At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, we observed the burgeoning popularity of Live Commerce and Shoppertainment – the unique combination of live streaming, entertainment and eCommerce. As a leader in the livestreaming space, it was an opportunity for Bigo Live to provide an avenue for our creators to host similar activities.
During this period, we hosted multiple initiatives to promote live commerce on our platform. One such example is Bigo Marketplace, our new e-commerce initiative launched in Malaysia in August 2021. Through Bigo Marketplace, we helped local Malaysian micro-enterprises and small and medium-sized businesses leverage on Bigo Live’s growing user base, increasing brand exposure and facilitating sales conversions.
Bigo Marketplace was launched after the successful conclusion of our first e-commerce online event, BIGO Pasar Malam, in July 2021 where users were able to participate in live sale broadcasts, simulating the Malaysian night market experience. The event saw over 100 Bigo Live broadcasters selling products from their own businesses.
Riding on the success of Bigo Marketplace, we have introduced a new feature called ‘Shop’ on the Bigo Live app that allows users and broadcasters alike to enjoy a more convenient shopping experience. The ‘Shop’ feature is available to vendors who have signed up for the Bigo Marketplace program and allows them to direct Bigo Live users to their own websites during livestreaming sessions. As the ‘Shop’ feature is still in its beta phase, it is currently only available to registered users, broadcasters, and vendors.
We also launched “Friday Nights Online Shopping on Bigo Live”, a weekly e-commerce online marketplace event held every Friday for our Thai audience. This series of events aims to emulate the experience of shopping at Thailand’s various markets, by allowing users to participate in ongoing livestreaming sessions and interact with broadcasters and business-owners in real-time. This event, launched in August last year, received considerable success, with an aggregated 150,000 viewers weekly.
We believe what makes Bigo Live different from other livestreaming platforms is our unique strength in building a localised social ecosystem with our local broadcasters. We have nurtured a community where users can band together to form communities and lend support to each other as they grow together in strength and passion. As a global community that connects broadcasters to an international audience and elevate them to the global stage, we empower our creators by encouraging a flow of high-quality content on the platform.
RiA: Recently, Bigo Live launched a new interactive “Community” feature, which is a new concept in the livestreaming industry. Can you tell us more about the new feature?
Ong: Bigo Live’s new “Community” feature was designed for users to build virtual communities that allow them to form connections with people of similar interests. It is an extension of our platform’s focus on building an interactive and community-based platform where people can meet, socialise and build authentic relationships with like-minded users.
The launch of “Community” marks the first feature of its kind in the livestreaming industry and is part of our ongoing efforts to promote virtual self-expression and enable users to form deeper connections with the platform’s global network.
This new feature accentuates the social aspect of social media, by providing a platform to drive free discussions in a wide variety of interest-based groups, all while adhering to our content and community guidelines.
“Community” aims to be a safe space for users of diverse backgrounds to express their individuality, be themselves and develop a strong sense of belonging in Bigo Live’s online communities, ultimately allowing users to feel supported and connected.
We hope that with “Community”, we can continue providing our users with not only an immersive and holistic livestreaming experience, but also experience synchronous social interaction that is an extension of the physical world.
RiA: The pandemic fuelled the acceptance of e-commerce from consumers and businesses. The numbers of new internet users and digital consumers are soaring in Southeast Asia. Do you see the same trend for social commerce? How has e-commerce evolved to meet the demands of consumer behaviour fuelled by the creator economy?
Ong: Social commerce has experienced tremendous growth in recent years. The social commerce market has nearly doubled since 2021.
Its popularity in Southeast Asia has been accelerated by high rates of mobile internet penetration, a mobile-first generation that spends a lot of time on social media, and high engagement.
In the same vein, businesses big and small have capitalised on the explosion of digital creators in the creator economy, tapping on influencers such as broadcasters to not only reach wider audiences, but connect with consumers authentically, on a level that traditional advertisements cannot. For example, small brands can increase their reach within a short time period through livestreaming sessions, as broadcasters introduce their products and services to a large audience base.
Through our localised social ecosystem within Southeast Asia, BIGO understand the trends as well as the needs of users in each market, which led us to launch successful initiatives such as Bigo Marketplace in Malaysia and Friday Nights Online Shopping in Thailand.
RiA: In the world of livestreaming, how are content creators and virtual livestreaming impacting consumer behaviour through immersive experiences?
Ong: Livestreaming has changed the way people consume content, as users shift to video-first social experiences. Livestreaming affords interpersonal connection, brings people together and builds a sense of community as users can directly interact with different broadcasters and users around the world. This has led to the rise of social commerce, an offshoot of e-commerce focused on social media platforms. The concept of social commerce relies heavily on providing audiences with an immersive experience, mostly through its seemingly limitless accessibility and convenience. Social commerce provides increased engagement compared to traditional e-commerce experiences due to the unparalleled capacity to enable seamless real-time engagement. Livestreaming offers individuals and businesses a means to increase their brand visibility and customer engagement.
Through livestreams, consumers get a first-hand look at the product and can have their questions answered in real-time, while broadcasters provide their own recommendations on how best to use the product. This enhanced visibility and engagement is also complemented by stream-exclusive limited-time offers and discounts, creating a hot-selling loop that accelerates the conversion of the “I want” customer to the all-important “I buy”. Providing consumers with real-time interactivity between sellers and buyers has made the online shopping experience much more immersive. Livestreaming helps creators and sellers build communities, highlight new product features and provides them with an edge in commercial opportunities. Combined, the immersiveness of livestreaming platforms like Bigo Live has significantly altered consumer behaviour and driven up online purchases, which places our livestreaming platform Bigo Live in an ideal position.
RiA: Apart from the business side, we can see that BIGO Technology is trying to contribute to society by offering different social wellbeing programmes, such as providing free online courses and the Likee creator academy. What does BIGO Technology want out of this?
Ong: At BIGO, we remain committed to bringing the community together to raise awareness, make an impact in society and make the world a better place by harnessing the power of creativity. Creators are at the core of our ecosystem; we have strong and close ties with our local users around the globe and have also been actively reaching out in terms of social responsibility campaigns and efforts. We have invested in setting up various online courses and the Likee Creator Academy which includes a comprehensive course package dedicated to empowering creators with the tools that they need to thrive on our platform.
We are always looking for opportunities to give back to society, as seen in our numerous corporate social responsibility campaigns over the past five years. For example, Likee collaborated with local NGO Ignite Foundation during the holy month of Ramadan to raise money for and support the education of underprivileged children in Bangladesh and the MENA region. The event attracted more than 200,000 Likee users and raised over USD20,000 for various charity projects.
Outside of Likee, we have also successfully launched a series of initiatives on Bigo Live to support the communities we operate in. For example, we hosted the ‘Global BIGOer One World Together’ fundraising campaign in May 2020 to contribute to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. The 24-hour fundraising event featured performances from a diverse pool of global talents, singers and musicians from Australia, Asia, Europe and the United States. The event was a great success, achieving a viewership of over 3.7 million, with USD 100,000 being raised for the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.
Through various corporate social responsibility projects, we aim to demonstrate that livestreaming and short video platforms are not merely tools for entertainment—they can also be an engine for change and a booster of social wellbeing.
RiA: What’s next for BIGO Technology in terms of social commerce?
Ong: Given the rising popularity of social commerce, BIGO will continue in its efforts to enhance its features on Bigo Live to enable businesses of all sizes to reach a wider customer base.
Bigo Live aims to become the platform of choice, especially for micro-, small, and medium-sized businesses as well as independent sellers to have a safe and reliable space to create authentic, interesting and engaging content for viewers around the world, and expand the reach of their businesses.