On April 1, Luo Yonghao, founder of Smartisan and a very unlikely Chinese internet celebrity, went live on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok. The broadcast of the stout middle-aged entrepreneur gathered 48 million viewers and generated over 110 million yuan (about $15.5 million) in revenue. The three-hour-long online shopping extravaganza was announced roughly a month ago by Luo himself, who envisioned the project as a way to deal with his mounting pile of debt that placed the businessman on China’s notorious debtor “blacklist”, banning him from buying plane and train tickets, among other restrictions. Chinese internet users have already dubbed Luo’s selling spree the “Luo New Year.”
A high-school dropout and a former English teacher, Luo became a celebrity in the early 2000s when some of his students infatuated with his humorous manner of teaching, uploaded videos of him online. Capitalizing on his fame, Luo left teaching in 2006 and founded one of China’s earliest blogging platforms – Bullog.cn. Yet, his most famous venture so far has been Smartisan, a smartphone brand that Luo aggressively promoted, picking online fights with the founder of Xiaomi Lei Jun and even blustering that he would buy Apple.
Luo has proved himself as an entrepreneur of extraordinary charisma, which is, however, hard to say about his business sense. One of Smartisan’s launch events set a Guinness World Record for attendance despite the fact that Luo made people pay for entry, which is not usually done at such events. Nonetheless, failing to grow the brand and accumulating debt, Luo had to sign a deal with ByteDance in 2019 as part of which Smartisan transferred some of its patents and talent to the TikTok-owner. The two companies also collaborated on a smartphone, the Jianguo Pro 3, that was quickly christened “the TikTok phone.”
Paradoxically, once a huge opposer of Xiaomi, a month ago Luo was rumored to have joined Lei Jun’s company. And while these rumors haven’t been confirmed, during his live broadcast the entrepreneur sold a whole range of Xiaomi products, including the new Mi 10 smartphone that he premiered with Lu Weibing, Xiaomi’s President of China Region and General Manager of Redmi Brand. As soon as Luo premiered the phone, the comment section exploded with hammer emoji’s, referring to the Chinese name and the logo of Luo’s own smartphone brand (锤子[chuízi], lit. Hammer).
Despite Luo betraying his own brand and advertising for a competitor to repay his debts, his showmanship and flamboyant persona did the job quite well. By the end of the 3-hour broadcast, here is how Luo did: 24 products advertised, 180 million sales, 900,000 orders, 48.92 million cumulative viewers, and a total turnover of more than 110 million yuan. Some viewers complained that the broadcast was boring and rolled their eyes when Luo’s long stories detached from the selling agenda (100,000 fans left the broadcast within 2 minutes after Luo started telling a story about his life in Korea), but regardless, the entrepreneur made considerable sales for Lenovo, Xiaomi, Netease and other smaller brands that he partnered with for the broadcast.
At the same time on Taobao, Viya, a more experienced e-commerce live-streamer, sold five Kuaizhou-1A carrier rockets for 45 million yuan each. What might sound like an April Fool’s joke, is apparently real. The rockets were developed by an aerospace science and technology company in Wuhan. However, according to the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp: “We’re actually selling the launch services. Anything can be launched theoretically, but requires administrative approval from the relevant state departments.”
There isn’t much Viya can’t sell. The livestreamer has previously sold cars and blind dates and is currently preparing to become the first e-commerce anchor to sell houses online. Going into broadcasting, Luo Yonghao joked that although he is not fit to sell lipstick, he could be a great seller for many products, referring to online lipstick dealer Austin Li. Yet, it seems like Mr. Luo will need to step up his e-commerce game if he wants to try and sell rockets online.