Almost everyone in Beijing has felt the enormity of the new wave of entrepreneurship in the city and has also enjoyed many of the benefits brought about by the new technologies and other innovations. These enterprises may be led by talented entrepreneurs like Shen Haiyin, new Silicon Valley highflyers like Liu Tianqiang and Wang Meng, and many more former whitecollar workers like Liu Zimu and Moono….
In 2005, Haiyin joined Lei Jun’s Kingsoft Corp. as a venture partner and established Kingsoft Japan-a pioneer in publishing free antivirus software. In 2009 when Lei asked Haiyin to be Vice President of Kingsoft, he accepted the offer and started commuting between China and Japan. After another four years, Haiyin was persuaded by his old friend Zhou Hongyi to become Vice President in charge of smart hardware at the expanding Qihoo 360 Technology. This new position brought Haiyin back to China, putting an end to his fifteen years of life overseas.
From Tokyo to Beijing
Haiyin is a shy man. He wears glasses, is baby faced and has a toothy smile. His resume is a life account of atypical Internet entrepreneur, starting from designing websites, then software and now hardware. Though he has witnessed and participated in the birth of Internet giants such as those led by Zhou Hongyi and Lei Jun, he is low-key and amiable when talking about his own Internet enterprise. “Starting an enterprise is very enjoyable for me,” said Haiyin. “It’s like indulging in my hobby and it needs one’s passion and full involvement. I like to work hard for my dream. The feeling of participating in something meaningful and worthwhile is great.”
This “something meaningful and worthwhile” for Haiyin is to build a car of his dreams. Every man wants to build his own dream car, but Haiyin wants to build an electric smart car of the future and hopes to bring with it sweeping and revolutionary changes in technology, driving experience and the car retail sector. With this in mind, Haiyin set up a car company called Zhiche Auto in November 2014. The founding members of the company are made up of former professionals from Letv, PSA Peugeot Citroen design, Rosedale products design and Perfect World, and dozens of similarly minded people from traditional car manufacturers and Internet businesses. They are not only developing smart vehicle-mounted terminals but also designing the shape of the vehicle. What they are hoping to do is to replicate the Xiaomi model (Xiaomi Inc. is a privately owned Chinese electronics company headquartered in Beijing, China. Its business is based on the manufacture of mobile handsets and software development. Its innovative operation and production models featuring hunger marketing, a flat organizational structure, online sales and social network marketing have drawn widespread attention in the trade. )in the auto industry and build a customisable electric smart car that is ductile and has individuality, a car that is defined by its software.
Every man wants to build his own dream car, but Haiyin wants to build an electric smart car of the future and hopes to bring with it sweeping and revolutionary changes in technology, driving experience and the car retail sector.
Although he has been very successful in starting businesses in Japan and these businesses are still profitable, Haiyin believes that his chances of success this time is only around 10%, possibly less. But he still has confidence in his first start-up in China as China provides the best environment for start-ups, with a vast pool of talented people and a booming market with unlimited possibilities. On the other hand, the pursuit of a dream is more important than the outcome. “The success of every great enterprise was made possible by its people,” Haiyin said. “We are an ambitious and hardworking team and we believe this is a meaningful undertaking even though we are facing considerable difficulties at present.”
From Silicon Valley to Beijing
At the beginning of 2012, when Shen Haiyin was planning to move back to Beijing from Tokyo, Liu Tianqiang, who was over ten years younger and held a computer science master’s degree, was dining with Wang Meng in the US. Meng was doing a PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and had just completed his internship at YouTube. He told Tianqiang that YouTube, the world’s biggest video-sharing website, is in fact dependent on a text-based labelling system and the problem was that videos could not be effectively tagged. They realised then that the image recognition technology they were researching was able to solve this problem. It was this realisation that prompted them to start their own business.
After deciding on starting an image recognition software business, they were joined by four others including Li Yi, who had previously worked in a US technology consulting company. Together they made a team of six, all Chinese and all born in the 1980s. They called themselves Orbeus because they thought image recognition was like examining a mysterious world through a crystal ball or orb, and they were located in the US. So Orb and US made Orbeus, which they later realised also sounds like all be us, a happy coincidence.
To compete for the best start-up fund, the six of them worked continuously in the university reading rooms for two months. They slept on airbeds when they were tired and had pizza and Coke when they were hungry. In the end they became the first all-Chinese start-up selected by an American seed fund. As Internet entrepreneurs, they visited San Francisco’s Bay Area in order to experience the phenomenon of Silicon Valley. The plentiful Californian sunshine together with the passionate, vigorous, competitive and prosperous atmosphere impressed them so much that they stayed in the Valley in the end. Meng is always emotional when talking about their small home in the Valley. He said that the whole team realised their utopian dreams-beginning work when the sun rose and going to rest at dusk. Their duties were clear-the men programmed and the women managed the business. They were building their own future
Now, among the Valley’s entrepreneurs, the name Orbeus is often spoken of and it is also becoming well known in the field of image recognition, catching the attention of many American media with a unique young all-Chinese team.
After deciding on starting an image recognition software business, they were joined by four others including Li Yi, who had previously worked in a US technology consulting company. Together they made a team of six, all Chinese and all born in the 1980s. They called themselves Orbeus because they thought image recognition was like examining a mysterious world through a crystal ball or orb, and they were located in the US.
They have substantially increased the accuracy of computers in the recognition of scenes, objects and human faces, and their technology has been placed in the top 10 globally. Orbeus can recognize many specific objects and when shown a green coloured food item, for example, it can recognize it as a vegetable and furthermore as a broccoli. In 2014 they developed Their first killer app PhotoTime, which is able to automatically classify, label and reorganize photos in mobile phones. When it was released, it figured in Apple’s App Store as one of the best apps of 2014.
This all-Chinese team endured much more than you would expect in order to establish their business in the US. Some of them stopped their PhD programmes and some declined full-time job offers from companies such as Google. It was difficult for entrepreneurs to apply for a green card and there was a risk that they might have been refused work visas. However, what these twenty-somethings were not short of was courage and persistence. “When I was unsure, the others were insistent and when others were unsure, I was resolute, so we encouraged each other and stuck to our beliefs.”
This year, this young team of entrepreneurs from China has moved their attention from Silicon Valley back to Beijing. They established an office in China with a new team in Beijing. With the new wave of emerging Internet entrepreneurs, scores of Chinese investors and competitors, Orbeus continues to strive for their dream of “bringing change to daily life with image recognition technology”.
From Beijing to Beijing
Liu zimu, a young man born and bred in Beijing, worked at China International Capital Corporation LTD after graduation, wearing a tie to work every day, following the investment manager to make billion dollar business deals. But the stress of work made him depressed and he even suffered from mild anxiety for a while. In 2013 he decided to leave this glamorous business, a line of work that others would fight to join. By coincidence he got to know about the red-ringed kiwi fruit and from then on he has devoted himself to the organic agricultural business.
As they worried about the sale of their kiwi fruits, Chuwei’s web address was forwarded over tens of thousands of times by their friends and relatives, and orders came in one after another. Then, a women’s app called Dayima wanted to work with them because kiwi fruits are said to be the best fruit for pregnant women and this brought another peak in orders.
Zimu, an accounting major, bought a 70mu (about 12 acre) orchard in Pengzhou, Sichuan, with his savings from his old job at the investment bank and the investments from his friends. He began to learn the skills in the culture of red-ringed kiwi fruit seedlings and picked up his knowledge of online marketing at the same time. While waiting for the fruits to grow, he registered the brand Chuwei ‘Original Taste’. “Our advertising slogan is ‘restoring the natural essence of food’ and we aim to provide fresh natural tasting food,” he said. Moono, Zimu’s business partner, is actually his friend from middle school. Moono, who has always wanted to be an advertiser, had sole responsibility for marketing and came with their marketing strategy, logo, packaging design and online advertising webpage. After discussions between the two friends, they decided to target mobile users as their main customers.
In August when the fruits ripened, Zimu and Moono rented a big walk-in refrigerated storage unit and stored their tenton harvest. Then they contacted another friend to make the outer packaging material in the outskirts of Beijing. They used every resource they could find to help them sell the fruits, including help with photographing, packaging, transporting and promoting through their WeChat public account and other social networks
As they worried about the sale of their kiwi fruits, Chuwei’s web address was forwarded over tens of thousands of times by their friends and relatives, and orders came in one after another. Then, a women s app called Dayima wanted to work with them because kiwi fruits are said to be the best fruit for pregnant women and this brought another peak in orders. Very soon all of their kiwi fruits, which they had expected to last till the end of year, were sold out on “Double 11 Day” (11 November), an online sales day originally aimed at people who were still singles. Without investors and without making an app, they sold all their fruits using mobile phones, with just the help of Their friends. Recalling that period of time, Moono said “We were very tired but felt fulfilled and also learnt and gained a lot.” In 2015 Zimu and Moono have decided to stick with the agricultural business-they are going to strengthen their marketing and make their brand wore widely known.
Since last year, almost everyone in Beijing has felt the enormity of the new wave of entrepreneurship in the city and has also enjoyed many of the benefits brought about by the new technologies and other innovations. Statistics show that in 2014, around 200 enterprises on Chuangye Street in Zhongguancun, Beijing, have obtained investment totalling nearly one billion RMB These enterprises may be led by talented entrepreneurs like Shen Haiyin, new Silicon Valley highflyers like Liu Tianqiang and Wang Meng, and many more former whitecollar workers like Liu Zimu and Moono…. They have gathered in Beijing with the same goal and will add a new chapter to the history of this ancient city. This wave of entrepreneurship is expected to continue mingling money and ambition with success and failure, but it will also be accented by youthfulness, high ideals, and undaunted endeavours.
Published in Confucius Institute Magazine
Magazine 39. Volume 4. July 2015.
Read in the print edition