Startup seeking instant fame? Do not play safe, attack hornet’s nest?

In the era of the internet age, instant fame comes either at notoriety or controversy. That is why recently an underdog startup which actively took a fight head-on with a super unicorn in China has seized the center stage of the spotlight within one night.

The super unicorn is Mafengwo (in the Chinese language means Hornet’s Nest), a social platform for travel. The company has raised a total funding of USD153 million with a whopping valuation of USD2.5 billion and bankrolled by a string of prestigious VCs such as Temasek, Qiming Ventures. For years its bloodline of business has been its user-generated content and review for any travel related experience. 

But today a tiny startup from nowhere is the ultimate whistleblower. It published a disparaging article via WeChat titled “Is Mafengwo, with a valuation of RMB 17.5 billion, actually a ghost platform composed of zombie accounts and bots?”(Check the news link here).Basically, it accused Mafengwo’s 85% of reviews are fake, either copied or fabricated, while dished out a pile of dirty statistical laundry as evidence. 

This Wechat article has spread like wide fire among the public, boosting readers’ adrenaline running high. Mafengwo’s immediate responses are denial, rebuke and eventually a lawsuit against this startup for defamation.

If you dare to attack the hornet’s nest, the wasps are probably going to fly after you and sting you to death. In the process of probably being dragged down to the hell, the little startup named Hooray Data, a Shenzhen-based company specialized in data mining, trend monitoring, sentiment analysis etc, also has gained the pinnacle of its publicity in such short period of time, quoted by major media and read by millions without paying a dime. It is a genius yet wacky stroke of a marketing stunt.

Hooray Data confessed later on that it is in a sense “a deliberate and organized attack” based on facts and truth coupled with its solid data technology”. It is, in fact, a dangerous move done by the startup, however, it somehow played on and ripped out the proclivity that no major internet company in the world can completely refrain itself from data cheating, like married men who could hardly resist the impulse of cheating behind their wives.

The bottom line lies how serious is the fake data problem? In Mafengwo’s own justification, it should be minimal (see news link here); Hooray Data concludes the absolute opposite, nonetheless. Public opinions are still divided into two camps as the understanding of the arcane algorithm of big data manipulation is often escaping from the ordinary brainpower of the normal people.


By: Cecilia Wu