TikTok lookalike Zynn is a thoroughly modern app

TikTok lookalike Zynn is a thoroughly modern app. It has managed to elbow aside the extraordinarily popular video app to top the US combined Android and iPhone charts. Its business model, however, sounds distinctly old-school. Many social media apps allow users with vast followings to reap some income from their videos. Zynn goes a step further, letting its users earn points — redeemable for cash — for watching videos and bringing new users on board. Genius or foolhardy? Users are divided… Pyramid-style schemes have proved a popular, if controversial, way for businesses to build customers in the past. Even in the tech world, losing cash on what start-ups like to call “customer acquisition” is a rite of passage… The company behind the app is Owlii, which started life just four years ago as a group of PhDs from Beijing’s elite Tsinghua University. Owlii is backed by Shunwei Capital, a mainland-based venture capital firm chaired by Lei Jun, founder and chief executive of Xiaomi telecoms group. That puts it in some smart company. Shunwei’s 300-strong portfolio includes a number of video-sharing apps, including Tencent-backed Kuaishou (whose logo also adorns Owlii’s website), iQiyi, which was spun out of search engine Baidu, and ByteDance, owner of TikTok. Nothing like hedging your bets.