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Cheetah Mobile Taps Partnerships to Fuel Growth Beyond China

The fast-growing mobile software company is working with phone makers and carriers as it expands beyond its home base.

Cheetah Mobile

Though still not well known outside China, Cheetah Mobile has been rapidly growing its global business.

From essentially nothing a year ago, foreign revenue accounted for 10 percent of third-quarter sales and represented an even bigger slice last quarter for the maker of utility software, says CEO Sheng Fu.

“It grows very fast,” he told Re/code, adding that the China business is also growing fast, but still being outpaced by overseas growth. The company, which went public last year, reports quarterly earnings next week.

Cheetah Mobile

Cheetah Mobile’s free software is widely downloaded, with its flagship Clean Master product used to free up precious space on smartphones packed with photos, videos and music.

The company is also working to get its name out there by getting its technology pre-loaded into devices. Xiaomi has a feature on its phones that is powered by Clean Master, as does Samsung on its new Galaxy S6. Fu says that Cheetah Mobile worked with Samsung for more than a year on the partnership, which originally seemed targeted at Samsung’s mid-range phones rather than its flagship.

“I think it is a good proof to tell the industry that Cheetah Mobile’s technique is very good,” he said. In the past six months, more than 50 phone makers and carriers have signed deals to install Cheetah’s technology. Fu said.

But, ultimately, Fu says, Cheetah Mobile wants to be more than just a maker of hum-drum utility software.

“Utility and security is a way to approach the user,” he said. “It’s a way to reach our user so our user can know who is Cheetah Mobile.”

The company has planted the seeds of a larger business, having launched a cloud service, CM Backup. The service focuses on storing full-size backups of mobile photos, with smaller versions kept on the phone for posting to social media. Already, 30 million people have registered for that service, Fu said.

The company has also added a social component to its products, allowing users to talk about different issues they are having with their phone. It has even dabbled in launching its own hardware, releasing an air purifier — a much needed gadget in China. Fu said the move was an effort to better understand the hardware business as it prepares for a world of Internet-connected devices.

Xiaomi also launched an air purifier last year. In fact, Xiaomi founder Lei Jun was skiing in Lake Tahoe with Fu when the two got to talking about their device strategy. Ultimately, they decided a little healthy competition was fine. And of course, there is enough bad air in China to go around.

“The air purifier is just our test for smart products,” Fu said. “We think we have a plan to do something about the Internet of Things market. I think we already know what we should do. It’s not just launch the hardware. Maybe it is to do something about the security of the IoT.”

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