Tech Titans of China
Starting with the Big Three titans of tech in China, also known as B.A.T., here is a snapshot of the pecking order in China’s online universe.
China recently clocked in at over 600 Million internet users. While this boom can be partly attributed to social and technological changes that have taken place in China, for every online community there exists a corresponding behind the scenes community. The programmers, staff members, CEOs and founders of internet companies are the unsung heroes who make the web go round.
With companies like Tencent hitting market capitalization in the trillions of US Dollars, and others boasting IPOs in the billions of US Dollars (Alibaba being the most recent, making waves with a record-breaking $25 billion entry), these moguls have not only monopolized the internet sector domestically, but have gained respect and fame internationally.
Read on to meet some of the major players in China’s tech scene:
BAT: The Big Three
The “internet giants” Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, also known as BAT, are typically grouped together given their characteristic monopoly-style reign over the internet industry.
Who: Robin Li
Alma Mater: Peking University ‘91, University at Buffalo SUNY ‘94
Fun Fact: He is a true rags to riches story: Li may now be one of the wealthiest men in the world, but he comes from a family of five children supported by factory worker parents. But you’ll never see him taking all the credit! Li actually attributes a lot of his success to his wife, Ma Dongmin.
Baidu was originally conceived in 2000 as an intelligent and efficient Chinese language search engine. After some major acquisitions and development, they now offer a full range of products, including an encyclopedia, a map service, an innovative translation tool (check out team pengyou’s escapades with that feature here), an app store and much more. Baidu is also the owner of one of China’s largest travel sites, Qunar. In 2007, Baidu was the first Chinese company to be listed on the NASDAQ-100, and in 2014 Baidu ranked 5th place out of the 500 top sites on the web, according to Alexa.
Who: Jack Ma
Alma Mater: Hangzhou Normal University ‘88
Fun Fact: After graduating high school, Ma failed the gaokao twice! Looks like acing the gaokao is not necessarily the secret to success.
Alibaba is the China’s largest e-commerce group, and was founded by former CEO, Jack Ma, in 1999. The impressive group currently runs a variety of platforms such as Alibaba.com, Taobao, T-Mall, Alipay.com, AliExpress, Alibaba Cloud Computing, eTao and 11 Main. Alibaba has also acquired China Yahoo! and is a part owner of the online video company, Youku Tudou. Alibaba has also been recognized for their anti-piracy work because of their ban on the sale of pirated media. Perhaps most notably, in 2012 Alibaba’s two main sites Taobao and T-mall together handled 170 billion US Dollars worth of transactions, more than eBay and Amazon combined.
To learn more, check out this handy infographic mapping out Alibaba’s history up till 2011.
Who: Pony Ma
Alma Mater: Shenzhen University ‘93
Fun Fact: He calls himself Pony because his last name actually means horse! In an effort to keep the Tencent offices relaxed and egalitarian, Ma actually has his employees call him Pony, too.
Tencent’s products may not be as strongly branded as Baidu’s services are (i.e. Baidu Maps, Baidu Translate, Baidu Baike), but Tencent currently holds the ranking of fifth largest internet company in the world. Tencent originally gained success through the launch of its instant messaging service, QQ, in 1999, one year after its inception as a company. However, since then it has expanded its products to include online gaming platforms, a mobile value-added service, the SoSo search engine and the group messaging app, WeChat. At 30 million users, WeChat is China’s most popular app. Additionally, Tencent has begun to enter the e-commerce field and will likely link its e-commerce projects to the Tenpay system, similar to the Alipay system linked to Taobao and T-mall.
Kuai Di Lai le: Online Shopping Giants
Who: Liu “Richard” Qiangdong
Alma Mater: Renmin University of China ‘96
Fun Fact: Before he became an e-tail giant, Liu actually started out as a restaurant owner with a degree in sociology. Talk about a plot twist!
JD.com is one of the largest B2C e-tailers in China, next to the Alibaba group platforms. Formerly known as 360Buy.com, JD.com was founded in 1998. JD.com was originally a platform selling very specific high-tech items, but has since diversified to include everything from apparel to kitchen appliances. Today, Jingdong is primarily used for purchasing electronics. In fact, 85% of their sales come from selling consumer electronics. There is some controversy surrounding JD.com currently, as many are doubting its ability to grow and compete with the likes of the Alibaba group platforms, and pre-existing giants such as amazon.
Who: Chen Ou “Leo”
Alma Mater: Nanyang Technological University ‘05 , Stanford University ‘09
Fun Fact: Jumei was not the first company Chen started. His first success was in the multi-player gaming world – seems like a pretty far jump to cosmetics.
Jumei may not fall in line with the multi-purpose e-tailers and service providers previously listed, but they are certainly worth knowing about. Having chosen just one vertical, cosmetics, as opposed to multiple categories or C2C-model shops, Jumei has been able to master quality control and gain a monopoly in their industry. They are the cosmetics retailer to know: ask any woman in China where she buys her makeup and chances are she’ll say Jumei. In fact, many Chinese men are investing in skincare products, most of which have been purchased from Jumei. In the past four years the site has grown immensely, resulting in the company turning a profit several quarters consecutively, a fairly unique feat in the flash sales sector. Most recently, Jumei made a successful IPO in the United States, which propelled Leo Chen, founder, into China’s billionaire’s club.
Who: Peggy Yu
Company: Dang Dang
Alma Mater: Beijing Foreign Studies University ‘86, NYU ‘92
Fun Fact: She called her company “Dang Dang” because it can be read clearly in any dialect, which promotes cultural cohesiveness and would improve the popularity of the site.
Dang Dang was founded in 1999 by Peggy Yu and her husband, then book publisher Li Guoqing. It was originally intended to be a Chinese Amazon look alike, selling books online to Chinese consumers. In 2004, Yu and her husband expanded the site to include general merchandise in order to compete with the other e-tail sites growing in number. Dang Dang was the first B2C e-commerce site to launch mobile purchasing, which is now a huge source of revenue for most online shops. Today, Dang Dang does not perform as strongly as sites such as JD.com, but they are still the top online book seller in China.
Tycoons of Travel
Who: CC Zhuang
Alma Mater: Peking University ‘98
Fun Fact: Zhuang had already learned the basics of programming at age 8, which is before most kids even learn how to type.
Qunar is one of China’s largest online travel sites. The company was founded in 2005 by current CEO CC Zhuang, Fitz Demopolous and Douglass Khoo. Qunar was later bought by Baidu in 2011, giving the company more leverage to break into the mass market. This set the stage for many partnerships between Chinese startups and well established tech companies to help one another. Qunar allowed Baidu to break into the travel industry and expand its services and products, and Baidu lent Qunar more visibility in the market. Since its inception, Qunar has worked tirelessly to bring China’s hospitality industry online. While many Western hotels have online central booking, most of China’s hotels haven’t developed this system. Qunar has filled that hole in the industry by allowing online booking through their site. This applies to not only for hotels and hostels, but also for airfare and other modes of transport.
Who: James Liang
Alma Mater: Fudan University ‘90, Georgia Tech ‘91, Stanford 2011
Fun Fact: Liang has been appointed CEO of Ctrip two separate times, once at the company’s inception, and then again after taking 6 years off to pursue his PhD in Economics at Stanford.
Ctrip has been in constant competition with Qunar as the tourism industry in China grows. Both sites have been regarded at one point or another as China’s largest online travel site, but Qunar’s partnership with Baidu and ensuing traffic influx has propelled it beyond Ctrip. Both sites offer a desktop booking option as well as mobile apps, which have capitalized on the growth in mobile use in China. Actually, China’s mobile travel bookings went up more than 400% percent in the past year according to Tech in Asia.
The debate now is not whether one site will emerge victorious, but rather will they merge into one? There have been rumors of a pricey merger in the future, but this has not been confirmed by either Ctrip nor Qunar’s officials.
Sina – Social Media Superstar
Who: Wang Zhidong
Company: Sina Corp
Alma Mater: Peking University ‘88
Fun Fact: He wrote the first Chinese language PC software.
Sina Corp is Chinese online media company that currently runs four main services: Sina.com, Sina Mobile, Sina.net and Sina Weibo. Sina.com provides news, sports, entertainment and finance information. Much of this is sourced from other groups such as Xinhua News. Sina.com also provides a blogging service as well as micro-blogging, known as Weibo. Sina Weibo is the Chinese equivalent of Twitter and has gained a lot of popularity in the absence of other successful micro-blogging services. In 2010, Tencent launched their own micro-blogging platform designed to compete with Sina Weibo, which has gained some popularity in recent years.
Interestingly enough, in their English language site, Sina offers a Chinese learning service. In partnership with eChineseLearning, Sina advertises for private, online, Chinese tutoring sessions. This is not their most popular tool, but it’s certainly of use to Pengyous!
The Dynamic Video Duo
Who: Victor Koo
Company: Youku Tudou
Alma Mater: UC Berkeley ‘89, Stanford University ‘94
Fun Fact: Victor Koo is one of the only Tech Titan to have studied abroad for all of his higher education. Because of this, he’s now one of the many Chinese labeled 海龟, or Sea Turtle.
Youku Tudou, formerly two separate video platforms serving mainland China, is now the largest video streaming site in the PRC. Youku Tudou can be seen as a combination of Youtube, Hulu and Netflix instant watch except with fewer copyright infringement laws, so much more media is accessible. Before the 2012 merger, Youku and Tudou both ranked around the #10 most popular site in China, and have since advanced their status to largest company by advertising revenue in the online video sector. The two sites have continued to operate as separate entities despite belonging to the same parent company. Most recently, Youku Tudou has announced that they will be broadcasting several site specific internet series, not dissimilar to the Netflix Originals such as Orange is the New Black and House of Cards.
So there you have it! Happy browsing, Pengyous!
Featured image courtesy of Twitter.com/wsj