Chinese photo-sharing app Kuaishou planning U.S. IPO later this year

We’re hearing from sources that Kuaishou — a hot photo-sharing application in China — is planning to go public in the U.S. later this year.

Sources tell us the app has more than 40 million daily active users against 100 million monthly active users, and was most recently valued at around $3 billion. The app is in some ways similar to Instagram, with photos (some of which load into videos) layered in a grid on the main page of the app. It’s available in the U.S. as the app Kwai. Naturally, it’s not that big in the U.S., but it’s huge in China.

The IPO is targeted for the back half of the year, though things could of course change for any big deal like this. Investors have been buzzing about Kuaishou for some time, where we first heard the company had taken money from Sequoia and has risen to a valuation around $3 billion. DST, Baidu and DCM are also investors, according to our sources. With mobile photo- and video-centric communications apps being one of the most attractive companies for investors right now, Kuaishou seems like a natural candidate for investor interest. Kuaishou users can buy “coins” for the app, giving it another way to monetize.

Hitting $3 billion with those investors isn’t necessarily that outlandish. Snapchat — with 150 million DAUs as of its most recent report — is expected to go public at a valuation of more than $20 billion. Marco Polo, another new and fast-growing video walkie-talkie app in the U.S., has also hit a reported $100 million valuation as investors have picked up on its rapid growth and thrown some money into it.

kuaishou app

Snap is expected to go public in March after publicly filing last week, which will set the tone for tech IPOs this year. Already its revenue growth is impressive — hitting around $400 million in revenue last year and up from $59 million in 2015. But its costs are also very high, and a mediocre reception for Snap may temper expectations for messaging and photo services like Kuaishou. Snap lost around $515 million last year and its costs continue to grow.

Kuaishou currently has the luxury of not having to compete with Facebook and Instagram in China, which has clearly given it a lot of breathing room to grow. It also doesn’t have to contend yet with Snapchat, which could give it the ability to grow into new similar features. While the engagement on the app — 40 million DAUs to 100 million MAUs — is high, it’s not quite at Facebook’s 66 percent overlap for DAUs and MAUs.

But for Kuaishou, this may be even more of a blessing. If Facebook or Snapchat are ever hoping to get into China they are going to have to contend with the ever-growing Kuaishou. While Facebook is massive, its growth continues to slow and eventually it will probably have to make its way into China. There, it’ll be competing with messaging apps like WeChat, and a successful app like Kuaishou will provide even greater inertia for Facebook or Snapchat to become popular there.

We reached out to Kuaishou for more information.

Update: A spokeswoman for the company claims the story is “not in accordance with facts,” but would not clarify which details of the story they are denying.