- NASDAQ-listed BlueCity is the owner of Blued, the first LBGTQ+-focused social network to go public
- CEO Ma Baoli began his career as a policeman in China before creating his own social network in 2000
Launched in 2012, the Blued app has played an important role in encouraging LBGTQ+ acceptance in China and beyond
- Ma says the global landscape for tech companies is becoming increasingly complicated
- Because of his work, Business Insider named Ma Baoli to our annual list of the 10 leaders transforming consumer tech in Asia.
- Visit Business Insider’s Transforming Business homepage for more stories.
Ma Baoli made a splash this year after his company BlueCity, best known for its dating app Blued, which debuted on the NASDAQ at a market value of over $600 million, becoming the world’s first LBGTQ+-focused social network to become a publicly listed company. The listing was another milestone in the career of the Chinese tech entrepreneur. Business Insider sat down with Ma to discuss his career, the success of Blued and his plans for the future.
Business Insider: Your first job was as a policeman. How did this come about?
Ma Baoli: I had dreamt of being a policeman since I was a little boy. At the age of 19, I joined the police department in my hometown, Qinhuangdao, a coastal city in China’s Hebei province. When I was 26 years old, I was promoted to deputy director, the youngest person to hold this position at our bureau.
I loved that job and am proud of it to this day. That is why I was very sad when I had to take off the police uniform that I had worn for so many years after making a decision to leave. But I knew I had to do it. Ever since I typed the word “gay” for the first time on my computer around 20 years ago, while hiding alone in my bedroom, my path was destined to be different.
Business Insider: How did you make the transition into the tech industry?
Ma Baoli: When the internet boom hit China in 1998, shortly after my graduation from police school, I started to search online for answers to the questions I’d been asking myself—Who am I? Why do I feel this way? Through the internet I discovered there are other people like me, and that homosexuality was not an illness or a disorder. I felt both a tremendous sense of relief and excitement. After all, I’m not alone in this world. After all, I am not sick. After all, love is gender blind.
The predecessor of Blued is the website Danlan.com, which I founded in 2000, and was one of China’s first and most influential LGBTQ online forums. In 2012, when I saw the big shift from the PC internet to mobile internet was accelerating, I thought it was a great opportunity for us to use mobile technology to connect gay people and help them find love in China. That’s why we launched the Blued app that year.
Business Insider: Since becoming CEO of a NASDAQ-listed company, what has changed for you?
Ma Baoli: Personally, I spend more time on strategy and management, as you can expect, as well as significant business decisions. I also need to attend the quarterly earnings call after our listing. Naturally, I am very glad that we have investors who share our vision and believe in our long-term value.
What has remained unchanged is our commitment to providing products and services that can best serve and strengthen the community. I still talk to the product team if I find anything that needs improvement; the initial impetus to help others find a community keeps me grounded and anchored.
Business Insider: How do you plan to expand the Blued app and its services in the future?
Ma Baoli: We will continue optimizing and diversifying our products and services for the LGBTQ+ community. We hope to refine and expand our current health services, and feel confident that they will eventually reach users around the world.
We also plan to serve different subgroups within the broader LGBTQ+ community, as seen in our recent acquisition of LESDO, a leading Lesbian social-networking app. This will help us to diversify both our business and revenue sources.
Business Insider: What has been the impact of growing restrictions on Chinese companies – in particular tech companies – in the US and other countries? How can you mitigate against this growing risk?
Ma Baoli: Despite the complicated macro environment, we remain optimistic about the company’s overseas expansion prospects, and will continue our brand mission of empowering the LGBTQ community in every aspect of their daily lives.
At the same time, our staff are working closely with external consultancies and stakeholders to make sure that we are fully compliant with local laws and regulations in markets where we operate.
Business Insider: What impact do you think Blued has had for the LGBT community in China and beyond?
Ma Baoli: What makes us different is that we are more than just a social network, dating app or a live streaming platform. Our vision is to become the most reliable and celebrated service ecosystem for the global LGBTQ+ community. This is most apparent in our work to set up healthcare and family planning services for the underserved LGBTQ+ community.
Blued is a safe zone for people in the LGBTQ+ community to obtain public health information especially about HIV testing, prevention and education. Across BlueCity’s platforms, the company counts more than 10 million page views in total of its HIV-related content. But it’s more so about translating those clicks into action. For example, in China, we work with government departments and NGOs to enable our users to find the nearest HIV testing centers and discreetly book the services online.
Business Insider: What excites you most about operating in the tech industry?
Ma Baoli: Tech is an exciting space to be in because it can disseminate critical information at warp speed and has the power to influence social attitudes. Blued is a prime example of how tech has catalysed a broader embrace of the LGBTQ community.
Tech is the tool, the platform that enables and accelerates the transformation. However, your mission and vision still determines where you are heading towards. That’s why “Tech for Good” has become a catch phrase these days, I think. Is your product really meeting the needs of the community? Is your business empowering the disadvantaged? Are you making the society more inclusive and diverse? Those are the questions we ask ourselves all the time.
As long as you stay committed to your mission and bring real benefits and values to the community, no matter how hard the business might be at first, the team, the users, the community and investors, will join you in the course.
Business Insider: What are the biggest challenges you face in the future, both business and personal?
Ma Baoli: Overall, an ongoing challenge is in creating a truly world-class platform that can provide for the yet-unmet needs of the global LGBTQ+ community. LGBTQ+ acceptance varies greatly from market to market, which remains a challenge for our company. However, given the growing voice of and increasing support for LGBTQ people globally, we believe that we will continue to see greater recognition for the community and apps like ours.
Also, technology and data are becoming sources of tension globally. Given this increasingly complicated landscape for tech firms, winning over the trust of local governments and regulators is an ongoing effort, which is also key to our market expansion.
As for my personal life, it is challenging trying to strike a balance between life and work. I don’t see it getting any easier after the listing. But the positive side is that I enjoy both. Time with great and passionate people, and time with my parents and son is time well spent. I am really grateful for what I have because not everyone has the same opportunity. That’s what keeps us moving forward.