PaPa, the Chinese smartphone app that allows users to tweak photos like Instagram and send voice messages that sound like a robot or hip-hop star, has seen its user-base surge as celebrities use the program to interact with their fans.
Li Bingbing, who stars as Ada Wong, a gun-wielding femme fatale in the movie “Resident Evil: Retribution,” urged her millions of followers to lead a “healthy lifestyle” and do something every day for the environment, in a recent post.
Actor Zhao Yuheng recently sang the song “Me” in a tribute to the late Hong Kong musician Leslie Cheung on the anniversary of his death. Zhao distributed his a capella version of the song via PaPa to thousands of devotees.
PaPa, which means a loud snapping noise, like a firecracker, had 10 million downloads from iPhone and Android users within its first five months and the company released an English-language version, Wave, on Apple’s iTunes on March 10.
PaPa founder Xu Chaojun and a four-member team developed the app in one month working out of a fifth-floor office in Beijing’s 798 Art Zone. The building, which is reclaimed from the grounds of a 1950s era factory, is splattered with Chinese and English graffiti and bikes and electric scooters line the halls.
Xu projects his app may register 50 million users this year and 200 million within three years. That would be faster than Instagram, which reached 100 million users in February, almost two and a half years after its launch.
That may sound optimistic but PaPa is closely integrated with Sina’s Weibo Microblog – one of the most popular Twitter-style Chinese services that has more than 500 million accounts. The relationship helps drive users to Xu’s app.
That has in turn helped raise capital. Xu has garnered over $10 million in seed money from firms including Innovation Works and Sequoia Capital.
But intimacy may be the biggest key to the app’s success. While personal assistants can ghost write a blog entry, fans feel a more direct connection when they hear a celebrity’s voice, according to Xu.
“You go to a Chinese restaurant and it’s very noisy, you go to an American restaurant and it’s very quiet,” said Xu. “We live in a crowded environment so we are used to noise, we like noise, we like to use our voices.”
–To contact Bloomberg News staff for this story: Edmond Lococo in Beijing at firstname.lastname@example.org