ByteDance’s Slack-like tool generated $100M in 2022

Feishu, ByteDance’s workplace collaboration app, surpassed $100 million in annual recurring revenue last year, Xie Xin, the chief executive of Feishu, told staff Thursday, according to a person familiar with the matter.

In late 2021, the workplace tool became one of the firm’s six individual business groups, meaning it was given the same strategic importance as other BGs at ByteDance, which include TikTok, Douyin, Dali (the education BG), BytePlus (B2B AI and data infrastructure) and Nuverse (video games).

The milestone was first reported by the Chinese tech news site 36kr, just a few days after a controversial article by Leiphone, another Chinese news outlet, questioned Feishu’s cash burn. ARR generally measures a software company’s subscription-based revenue.

Feishu, which has an international version called Lark, is an all-encompassing work communication messenger with handy features from automatic notetaking for video calls and shared calendars to collaborative documents. Feishu spent plenty of resources building these functions itself, a contrast to Slack’s open platform that integrates with myriad third-party applications.

Doing everything in-house is conducive to delivering a frictionless user experience, but it comes at a huge cost. At its peak in 2022, Feishu had a headcount of 10,000 (including outsourced workers), according to the Leiphone article. The Wall Street Journal reported that Feishu currently has 7,000 people.

For comparison, Slack reported 2,545 full-time employees and an annual revenue of $902.6 million in January 2021.

ByteDance’s heavy investment in Feishu is telling of the state of enterprise software in China. At a time when Silicon Valley investors are heralding product-led growth — services that convert users through their products, as exemplified by Calendly — software in China still largely counts on sales, marketing and services to recruit users.

As a handful of founders lamented to me over the years, the culture of paying for SaaS hasn’t really arrived in China yet, so many of them are now stepping up overseas expansion. On the supply side, competition is fierce. A generative AI founder shared their dilemma of operating an enterprise tech startup in China, where the return of investing in less skilled labor still trumps that of spending on tech talent:

“In the U.S., you can do fairly well by building product-led software, which doesn’t rely on human services to acquire or retain users. But in China, even if you have a great product, your rival could steal your source code overnight and hire dozens of customer support staff, which don’t cost that much, to outrace you.”