How a former Qihoo VP found success with a mobile startup called APUS
If you’ve got an Android device, you may have heard of the APUS Group. The company’s Android launcher app broke 30 million users late last month, and it recently rolled out a pretty major update too. But what you may not know is that while APUS is jointly based in the US and China, its founder Tao Li comes from the world of China tech, and previously served as a vice president at Chinese web security firm Qihoo 360. I recently had a chance to catch up with Mr. Li and ask him about how his experiences at Qihoo helped shape APUS and where he sees his new company headed next.
Li told me that he first joined Qihoo back in 2009 (for perspective, that was before the 3Q wareven kicked off, so ages ago in internet years). During his time there he says he became known as “the father of the 360 Mobile Guard” and led the charge towards mobile and international markets within a company that, at the time he first joined, was pretty squarely focused on China and the PC. That change was pretty successful. Li explains:
In three years, the 360 Mobile Guard went from zero to 600 million users, owning more than 70% market share and became the first brand of mobile security in China.
Li says that his time at Qihoo helped shape “many of [his] thoughts and practices.” It was valuable experience, and it also gave him the exposure to the industry that helped inspire his idea for APUS:
Building 360’s wireless business gave me the experience and insight I needed to found my own company centered around the mobile experience and the international market. [My role at the company] led me to not only understand the trends and growth patterns of the wireless market, but to also gain insight into the overseas market. I was fortunate enough to have personally visited dozens of developed and emerging countries worldwide, which gave me the first glimpse into the market opportunity for APUS at a global scale.
But life at Qihoo wasn’t perfect. He ultimately decided to leave the company in May, because he felt like things were getting stale. “[Qihoo] has reached a stage and scale at which creativity has become scarce in the working environment,” he told me. “Personally, I appreciate simplicity, freedom, and creativity, so ultimately, that was the driving force behind my decision [to quit].”
Having heard some horror stories about the company culture at Qihoo, I wondered whether that had also played a role. I asked Li what the culture was like at Qihoo, and he replied: “No comment.”
Like he did at Qihoo, Li is working to make APUS a truly global company. It has offices in the US and China, and Li says it’s looking to build additional hubs internationally. In Asia, the app has found some serious traction. Li says about 38 percent of its users are in Asia (not including users in the Middle East), which means that APUS likely has more than 11 million users in Asia already.
Going forward, Li hopes to build APUS into a bridge that can connect China with the rest of the world. “With APUS, we […] want to lead the charge for Chinese mobile apps and services to expand and reach all consumers,” he told me. “We look to be a bridge and platform that connects Chinese mobile tech startup teams and products to the world.”
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