This is the article I had long intended to write. My last (2018) post on US-China became quickly dated because of the trade war in 2019 and then the pandemic outbreak in 2020. The situation is changing so fast that the whole world is merely trying to catch up. There is never a good time to write on this topic, so here it is.
Just when we were grappling with the global economic impacts of the US-China trade war for the better part of 2019, no one had expected it was merely a rehearsal. We had not dared to predict that anything bigger would come.
Came it did. A once-in-a-century pandemic that has, tragically taken over 120,000 lives, impacted millions in losing their jobs, is truly a Black Swan occurrence that will leave its mark on future generations.
At a time like this, it’s important to be a student of history, so that we can get a better, if not a more holistic perspective on things. One may say that our past consists of Black Swan events. To list a few from recent to more distant ones within the last century -
You might be able to see where I’m going with this.
Black Swan events are not always bad — they represent infrequent, unpredictable, major changes. Sometimes changes are for the better like the invention of the internet, but often are disruptive and can be detrimental to society as a whole. Yet we have shown the resilience of the human race, each and every time. And we have always learned and adopted something new from the experience.
The COVID19 pandemic is a once-in-a-century event. One might say it’s a combination of 1918 flu (disease) + great depression / financial crisis (employment loss) + worldwide (war-like) defense. It’s nothing we have ever seen.
So what does it mean for the world going forward?
New World Order: the great decoupling accelerated by the COVID19
Our generation has enjoyed the tailwind of globalization over the past few decades. And now the pendulum seems to swing the other way. As I’m writing this, countries, including the US, China, Japan, and major European countries, have all adopted strict policies of flight travels. Noticeably, as each nation is scrambling to handle its own coronavirus crisis, we have unfortunately seen little global collaboration. Instead, we have witnessed mistrust, misinformation, scapegoating, and interfering.
It’s disheartening for sure, but not surprising. Thanks to the tone set by the trade war, the US and China have started its painful decoupling procedure, followed by the world’s search for new leadership in the global stage. For someone like myself, a Chinese immigrant to the US, it feels like you are caught in the middle of divorcing parents. It has been messy, uncomfortable, and emotional.
China and the US have very different political and societal structures. I can empathize on both sides, as a person who has spent a roughly equal amount of life in both countries. Amidst Covid19, the US and China demonstrated to the world the pros and cons of their systems — China, with the big government, showed impressive strength in containing and stopping the virus by rallying the entire nation’s resources behind one task.
The US, with the democratic system and its current white house leadership, has shown the opposite — the lack of attention from the beginning and then the chaos during. However, the US system shines its advantages during the “peacetime” when it makes sure the decision power is not overly concentrated and (ideally) quality decisions come from thoughtful deliberations.
It might be easy to fall into the heated debate on which system is better. But this post is not about that. I expect that both systems, just like Yin and Yang, can and will co-exist equally in the long foreseeable future.
The keyword at issue here is “equally.”
Future is past rolled into presence
According to the chart below, over the past 1400 years, China had been the #1 for roughly 850 years in terms of global power (starting from 600 AD to 1250, then 1400 to 1600). And it’s no surprise to anyone who studies China’s history that China is coming up and “reclaiming” its global position. On the other hand, the US has been the world’s # 1 power for less than 100 years and is very anxious in retaining its global leadership. Since Trump’s election, the America-centric view has been boosted. The Covid19 development has only accelerated such trend and hardened the viewpoint of the populists. But it is a slippery slope. Closing the border may have short-term comfort, but the long-term damages are yet to come.
China knows it fully because it had suffered from it. To the western world, China appears to be this “mysterious dragon” that just woke up and ready to take over. However, few realized that China was going through a painful nineteenth and twentieth centuries when trading prospered the rest of the world. For much of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, China was steadily declining, being fully ignorant of the emergence of the Netherlands and UK empires.
Until the 19th century, China continued to see itself as the center of the world, with neighboring countries bowing to its Emperor. As time progressed, China became more closed up with uprising nationalism and smug complacency for centries, even as the western world was going through a major tech breakthrough, namely the Industrial Revolution in 1760. We all know what happened afterward. China was left behind for the following 200 years, was invaded many times, and has ever since attempted to catch up.
History seems to be repeating itself on its early pattern, only this time in the US, not in China. While the US is focusing on its political fights and its close-up “America First” policies, the rest of the world, certainly China, is beaming with 5G, Clean Tech, and AI automation. This early trend ought to worry everyone.
It is my hope that, with its democratic structure, the US will not follow the suit of old China. Hopefully, the 2020 election will help slow the swing of US nationalism and place the US in a non-hostile position with the world.
In any case, we are likely to see a world moving forward with two “parallel universes.”
We are certainly at a historic moment, and it would be fascinating to see how the “parallel universes” dance with each other (hopefully more peacefully) over the next decade.
Like everyone else, I’ve been spending a fair amount of time trying to understand the length and impacts of this pandemic. (I will try to write COVID19’s impact on the new world order in a separate post)
The “hammer and dance”
First, let’s talk about duration. I will be the first to admit that a lot of us were in the phase of denial, thinking that “oh, it’s an outbreak in China” and “oh, it will last only a few months, and things will be back to normal soon.” But in reality, we will likely be living in this “hammer and dance” dynamics for the next couple of years.
At a high level, what the researchers present here is that our social activity will emerge and retreat based on the cyclicality of the virus. Since we can not completely contain or remove COVID19, the situation will continue until the vaccine comes out and is distributed to billions of people worldwide for the next two years.
It’s a very dim vision, I know. But if it’s the truth, we should keep a rational mind and prepare ahead. Specifically, as founders and investors, we should be thinking about the future, what our society needs in which what will change, and what will not.
I will start with something simple — things that won’t change, perhaps never will — the basic human needs. People still need to eat, shelter, work, socialize, feel worthy, love, and be loved.
However, a lot will change, mainly how we deliver/resolve those needs, if not entirely reimagined in the post-COVID world. Whether you agree with it or not, the pandemic is forcing humanity to overhaul our status quo and to reexamine our priorities.
In a way that’s not trying to predict the future, I’m convinced that we are likely to see a few megatrends playing out in the few decades owing to COVID19. I will list the following three as examples.
1. The “stay-at-home economy” would further penetrate our society, taking more values away from the conventional offline economy.
The “stay-at-home economy” category is not new — it consists mostly of the internet companies we see today. Netflix, Zoom, Amazon, Doordash, Facebook in the US, along with Meituan, ByteDance, Alibaba, Tencent in China, were all founded before the pandemics and are all taking the tailwinds.
But that’s not all. Some of the “tougher” categories would be cracked: Grocery, higher education, healthcare, mobile payment, cloud-kitchen, fitness, etc. In a post-pandemic world, how people buy, learn, care, pay, eat, and work out will be changed in an accelerated fashion.
A months-long window of habit-forming is a powerful thing. Just when the global B2C opportunities were nearing to the tail end in 2018 /2019, I expect we might see a new breed of “stay-at-home” companies that will be created in the next few years and completely reimagine the way that we live.
The “losers” owing to the pandemics are the traditional economy consisting of restaurants, shopping malls, gyms, office spaces, and so on. Their values are being squeezed out and will have to find a new place to go. What this means is that the “offline economy” will either have to embrace the digitalization more aggressively or compete harder with new offerings. I don’t think restaurants, theaters, airlines would go away, despite popular beliefs. Instead, they would be “upgraded,” perhaps much more “personalized,” catering for a new type of experience. That takes me to my second prediction.
2. Social norms will never be the same. In-person time will be “luxurious.”
Many years following the potentially two-year-long pandemic, we will continue to keep our distance with each other. Handshaking is likely not going to happen in most social settings. We will start to see in-person meetings much like a “luxurious” experience, reserving it only to those we love, care for, and consider important.
By “luxurious,” I don’t mean the service will be expensive; it may very well be affordable and minimalist — it just means that psychologically, people are going to set aside a special place for the in-person time. And they would want it to be unique, well planned, and about who they are.
I don’t know what format and at what price this new type of service will be offered. And I don’t know how technology would be leveraged to achieve a reasonable scale such that more people will be able to enjoy it. But I know there will be needs for it. And people will pay for it.
3. Digitalization and AI automation will be accelerated
During (and after) this pandemic, most enterprises worldwide are (and will continue to be) pressured on two ends.
First, the frontend. Following consumers’ demand for digital experience, companies will be replacing a more considerable portion of their “fat infrastructure” (e.g., physical space, human-interacting staff) with leaner tech stacks (e.g., cloud, bots). For instance, certain restaurants might not need to rent a full venue to serve their customers. Instead, they would open shops on delivery apps. Physicians might only see patients in person on a very selected basis, with most people comfortable with telehealth service going forward.
We have seen this consumer digitization trend taking place in China over the past ten years in areas like food delivery, remote health, and mobile payment. However, it would be fascinating to see the US is finally getting on the transformation. Tremendous values will be generated as companies in various verticals are switching to a new “interface.”
Second — probably a more important point — we would expect businesses worldwide to be challenged on the backend- the company operation side: e.g., logistics, manufacturing, warehousing, sales, marketing, recruiting, planning, etc. What it means is that as the economy takes on further downward pressure over the next few years, companies will have to work out a more efficient, automated way to operate on the backend, *while* many of them are forced to adopt a more digital frontend.
This represents a significant challenge and opportunity for enterprise software companies. For one, it will push B2B companies to demonstrate their ROI even more. The nice-to-have “vitamin” B2B solutions would be washed out, quickly. And two, just like a sick patient in need of good medicine, corporate customers are more eager to experience and try new solutions, particularly solutions that can solve their transformation dilemma. But the catch here is that you will have to show results quickly.
On the backend, a mere “digitalization” or “change of the interface” is not enough. For example, with manufacturing, it has never been about making digitalized records but rather how to use that digitalized information to make intelligent decisions, or better yet to automate certain tasks so that efficiency can be created. We are seeing startups like PlusOne Robotics, Kubit.ai that are taking an AI-first approach to demonstrate such ROI through automation, and will expect to see more.
In all honesty, the solutions will continue to come and evolve, but in the enterprise space, market readiness is the key. In a post-pandemic world, most enterprise customers worldwide will not only be ready but will demand a new form of software or solutions that will help with the automation of business tasks. It goes beyond “digitalizing” or “moving to the cloud,” it will push us into a new era of enterprise tech that is enabled by AI and automation.
Like every generation ahead of us who have gone through famine, wars, and the Great Depression, we are experiencing our own crisis. In Chinese, crisis (危机）is written as “danger and opportunity” in a single word. It cannot describe what we are going through any better. It is a tragic occurrence worldwide, but it’s also a forceful catalyst for our society to evolve, improve, and adopt a new, more reflective norm. When we look at humanity’s history, we have always come out the other end, stronger and more unified than ever before.
And this time is no different.
首先，让我们谈谈持续时间。 我将是第一个承认我们很多人处于否认状态的人，认为“哦，这是中国的爆发”和“哦，它只会持续几个月，而一切很快就会恢复正常” 。” 但实际上，未来几年我们可能会生活在这种“锤子和舞蹈”的动态中。
我知道这是一个非常黑暗模糊的愿景。 但是如果这是事实，我们应该保持理性的头脑并做好准备。 具体来说，作为创始人和投资者，我们应该考虑未来，我们的社会需要什么，什么将会改变，什么不会改变。
2020 has caught everyone by surprise. First, the coronavirus emerged and China was taking swift action in shutting down cities but the world was paying little attention. Then the virus spread and the global economy ground to a halt. Now we are all scrambling to adjust ourselves to the new reality that is mixed with fear and anxiety.
It might be easy to surrender ourselves to the overwhelming news and the uncertainties to the future. But if history is of any guide to us, we know that major crises are usually filled with mega opportunities, and that things will return to normal one day.
But for now, enter social distancing.
You have nowhere to go but to stay at home, with yourself. And our minds are not used to that. We were used to grabbing morning coffee with our friends, chatting with the coworkers during the day, and cuddling with the loved ones at night. And now, suddenly, we stare at the mirror and the mirror stares back. We are by ourselves.
Even though I still fill my schedule with back-to-back conference calls but it's just not the same. Somewhere inside me keeps asking me the question: so what truly matters to you.
The COVID19 outbreak provided us the opportunity to take a pause and re-evaluate our priorities. I had the chance to think about several issues in life since I had been working from home for the last week. To remind my future self on what is important and what is not, I want to compose them here:
Health and families come number one.
Without health and families, the future does not matter. Early this year, I already lost my grandma and I certainly want to see myself and my families stay healthy.
Helping others matters.
It takes courage to go beyond our egocentric selves and to care for others. In the past, it was easy to brush it away by simply saying that I was too busy but during this crisis, witnessing countless medical professionals and volunteers stepping up had a significant impact on me. We all need other people's help one day. It's all for one and one for all.
Humanity as one.
In a crisis, it's easy for us to turn against each other out of fear and hatred, but let's resist that. The world does not need one or two politicians to lead us. But instead, all of us can start from within to calm the fear and start to embrace the uncertainties.
As a human race, we have to reckon the damages we have done to the environment, other animals and the earth. As we all become adults, we have long put aside our childhood ambitions to become astronauts or to save the earth. But maybe it's time we all pick it up.
Do your job, but with a bigger goal.
Each of us has a role to play in this society. The once-in-a-century crisis offered us the opportunity to examine our contribution to the world and, once again re-appreciate the things we take for granted. Many restaurants we visit are now closed. The over-talkative barber who we once felt overwhelming is now much missed. The noisy bars across the street are not filled with dreadful emptiness.
As a generation who grew up without the Great Depression or severe property, we think the world is always up-to-the-right, with many services available to us, just one click away. The so-far weeks-long social distancing teaches us the lesson of valuing other people's work and rethinking of our own.
I hope when the whole thing is over, we come out of the other end much stronger. Much more energized in building the common future. I certainly am. I know that after the pandemic passes, the world will be the same, but yet not the same.
It is often said that crises are embedded with opportunities. I'm a true believer in that. As a VC, in a way as a societal resource allocator, I will be even more excited to find the next opportunities with resilient founders.
Our world economy mirrors nature. New species and vibrant ecosystems only emerge after a devastating storm. We are in the midst of that. I'm worried as anybody else, but I'm ever optimistic about the future.
My grandmother and I were really close together. She raised me mostly and had made me who I am.
She was diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer in late December 2019, and we had been told there is not much time left. Mom called me and was weeping on the phone, telling me the news. I asked to video chat with grandma. She was lying on the bed, looking tired, but as usual, her voice was loud. She managed to smile while we were talking somehow. Looking back now, she must have made an enormous effort not to let me worry. At that time, I was in Europe, planning to return for the CES and other business meetings in the States. After the call, I felt like there might a bit more time left. Not much, but probably enough to wrap up my US business commitments before returning to China. At least that’s what I had thought.
My mom called again one day later and said grandma wanted to see me. I knew it was different now. Over the years, Grandma was always considerate about my job, my sleep, and even my diet. She must have been suffering from the condition. So I booked a last-minute flight, leaving the very next day for China.
From the Netherlands to my home town in Fujian, as it turned out, it’s about 22 hours away by flight. During those long hours, I was immersing myself in the past. I couldn’t recall much of my early childhood, but I can always remember the bits about grandma and me. She loved kissing me on the forehead, even as I grew taller and as she appeared smaller.
Some memories were so vivid they were just there in front of me when I closed my eyes, like a movie playback.
To make me eat my food when I was about five years old, grandma would make up stories about the shapes of food such as pickles: I was made to believe that some were shaped like Monkey King, and some were like evil monsters — so that a five-year-old boy would find it interesting to eat more. And believe me, I had “destroyed” a lot of those kings and evil monsters. And I was a chubby kid.
Grandma liked to save food, particularly for me. When I was a kid, she always kept me tons of cookies and treats. And I’d shamelessly indulge myself each time I visited her. Over the years, grandma still managed to save snacks for me, even though I am a grown-up man and no longer even enjoy snacks. She would some times hand me molded snacks with a happy face, as she couldn’t see the expiration date well. Each time, I’d just laugh and tell her that’s not healthy. She then brings the snacks closer to her eyes and mumbles, “how weird, why it went bad quickly.” Visibly disappointed, she had to throw away food.
Grandma was fond of music. She was a very outgoing person. She also enjoyed teaching people to dance. There were a lot of memories where I was her reluctant, awkward dance partner. Every time I messed up, she would laugh and say to me, “Silly, this is so simple…. see, just follow me like this…” Memories like this concluded many summer evenings when I was a child.
Grandma was born in 1937, before the CCP took over China. Being fierce and brave, She had gone through WWII, the Japanese invasion, the Great Chinese Famine, and then the Cultural Revolution. In my memories of her, grandma had always been a very optimistic person too. She always said, “No difficulty is too big to overcome. Things are going to pass, and life will go on.” I heard she said things like that over the years.
My grandma was one of the very first women who attended college before the Cultural Revolution. She was smart and bold. Grandma told me saddening stories about the Cultural Revolution and how she and my grandpa were persecuted just because they were intellectuals. She told me there were times when the “Red Guards” would just appear in our house and ask to take grandpa out for a “humiliation walk.” Many people committed suicide due to the emotional and physical suffering. But my grandparents survived. Grandma usually ended the stories with some conclusion like: “Things are going to pass, and life will go on,” as it was just a little chapter of her life.
After the Cultural Revolution, grandma became a math teacher in high school and community college. She loved teaching me math too! But as a young kid, I had always disliked these “after-school math sessions”. I wanted to play soccer, basketball, or just fool around with my little friends. So I tried to find ways.
Grandma didn’t have good eyesight. She had to wear glasses when trying to look for things. Most of the time, she just had a good sense of where things were. But it’s hard to track a kid who was determined to sneak out and play. My mom always fondly recalled the stories where I’d sneak out of the house and then only to surprise grandma later when she was yelling my name at the balcony. I wouldn’t say that happened many times, but indeed for the one time I can remember, Grandma was surprised and then rushed me to the dining table half-blaming, half-laughing. It was just like yesterday.
Then I went abroad. Grandma and I would talk over the phone or even video chat from time to time, but we hadn’t been spending much time together. Sometimes I would manage to visit my home town and grandma once a year but often it was usually once every few years. Each time when she saw me, she was so excited, hugging me tight, just like a little kid. The saying seems true — as you’ve grown up to be an adult, your parents and grandparents become like kids.
Each time when I’m home, grandma would give me a small piece of paper where she wrote down her “new friends” numbers and ask me to input them to the phone. Without me asking, she usually fondly told me where she made these friends, who they were, and all the gossips that related to it. There were times when I was impatient and didn’t heed the stories. But she didn’t mind — she was just happy to talk to me. Now looking back, grandma must have waited a long time to tell me all the tales of her new friends. Much like when I was in kindergarten, eagerly waiting to share my day.
As I am writing this, all of the fond memories are floating before my eyes. I am incredibly grateful for having such a caring grandma over the last 30 plus years. She had made me who I am.
Thank you; for the unconditional love that you had given me. Thank you; for demonstrating what optimism looks like in the most challenging life situation. Thank you; for teaching me how to be a courageous person, just like you.
My grandma passed away on January 5th, 2020, after fighting late-stage liver cancer.
I love you, grandma. Rest in peace.
As I'm writing this, I just finished a long email with a startup founder. This startup has a stellar team, and they quickly realized what didn't work. The company is going through a pivot. The CEO and I have been on the phone, on the email over the past few months, during which we have discussed, tested, and debated no less than five ideas.
I will be the first one to admit that, at times, as a VC/ advisor, it's tempting to jump in and offer one's own idea.
But that's not the right way to do it.
For one, VCs are generally good at observing the macro trends and betting on it - but terrible at originating great ideas. If we look at the iconic consumer tech companies over the past decades - Netflix, Uber, Airbnb, Twitter, Snap, TikTok, etc - none of those startup ideas come from VCs. Almost 100% of the time, these ideas were products of founders' own life experience and insights, which could be very different from a typical Sand Hill VC. That's why when the majority of great consumer companies get started, they had the most challenging time to convince others to invest. On the contrary, consumer startups who had an effortless time to raise money early on - thanks to VC hype - often turn out to be living short of the expectation and running of gas in the long term.
Secondly, VCs do play an important role and add value to a company's early life. Investors usually have the privilege to observe the macro market and study the ever-evolving dynamics by comparing multiple companies and tech. But VCs have to be very thoughtful about how an investor's insights can be translated into a company's actions. Over the past 10+ years as an investor, I've shared boards with both excellent and mediocre VCs. I learned that a good VC tends to ask great questions to provoke new thinkings from founders, whereas a bad one tends to force-feed his / her thoughts into the company.
During a startup pivot, the dynamics could be confusing and sometimes frustrating. And that's when a great founder / VC partnership is needed.
Started about last year, I began working out. Although I went to the gym in college now and then, I completely dropped it after I started working professionally. I was so busy with everything else that I forgot to take care of my body. So around mid last year, I was changing to a new platform at the time, and it came with the stress of further adjustment.
I felt that I needed to take care of my body better. I needed a change.
At first, my weight-lift routine started with only 15 minutes. No more, no less. I told myself that that’s all I’ve got per day. As you can imagine, 15 minutes pass very fast and it sort of makes it fun because I WANTED to work out more. Little did I know, with a small habit I could easily stick to, I was building strength and resilience. And I got better too. From 15 minutes, I finally allowed myself to work out for 30 minutes. And now I find myself easily spend 1.5 - 2 hours in the gym while listening to the music/podcast that I enjoyed.
Not only the 15-minutes starting point empowered me to take care of my body. I now eat better too. And I stress less. Looking back, I’m grateful for the small initiative I made last year, and modest progress does matter.
As I’m writing this, the president of the United States has been sending out tweets that he claimed as “not racist.” Of course, it has stirred many debates - from the ones who are deeply offended and from the ones who are defending the president. As a first-generation immigrant who was sworn in when Obama was in office, I’m very disturbed and offended by Trump’s words and behavior. I was born in China, though not an “sh*t hole” country in Trump’s list (yet), but I can understand what “go back to your country” mean. They are the words of “us v.s. them” and they are words of division.
America was built by immigrants from the founding time of this nation to the modern age of US's tech leadership. And it was exactly the fundamental valuing of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” that draws many immigrants to this country, including myself. However, unlike many other immigrants, I have been a lucky one. I got the chance to receive a full education in the US, not have to work in hard labor, and to have met and worked with many wonderful people in the US. On a day to day basis, I meet entrepreneurs from all over the world who come to Silicon Valley to pursue their dreams. Some are foreigners / soon-to-be immigrants, and many are US founders who are first or second or third generations of immigrants. They might be holding different passports, but they have one thing in common: they are determined in life. They are convinced that they are changing the world.
Changes can be scary - even the positive ones. Just like many progress have taken place in human history. The world is moving towards a place of unity, not division. And we must embrace that. Fundamentally, no matter where we come from, we all want the same thing in life - that in 50 years, 100 years, our children and our children’s children are living in a clean world that has peace, happiness, and prosperity.
And we can only achieve that by embracing the human race as one.
I was invited for a panel on cross-border A.I. along with Lu Gang, Founder of Techcrunch China and Sophie Yao at Fenox Ventures. We discussed many topics, including how over-valued A.I companies have been due to the hype of the space. It quite predictable to see all of us agreed that investors need to very cautious in investing in today’s AI companies.
However, it’s worthwhile to point out that we are at a unique time and space where A.I. is packaged just right for its commercial applications. And the packaging is everything.
Mobile internet was talked about and being invested in as early as the late 90’s but none was viable until the wireless speed caught up and the iPhone showed up in the late 2000s. Similarly, A.I. is not a new thing. It was talked about roughly 40 years ago as an academic topic. But not until decades later when a) data accumulated to a high volume for A.I. training and b) cloud/ AI computing advanced further, it is now possible to have A.I. “package ready.” Ready to be efficient, accurate and invisible for the main applications.
I often say that the startup ecosystems in China and the US are very much like Yin and Yan. They are parts of the global innovation hub but they provide different flavors. It’s the same with A.I. innovations.
The US’s A.I. companies often come from top universities such as M.I.T, CMU, Stanford and Berkeley. We have seen some incredible innovations coming from these campuses/ labs. These companies are backed by well-known VCs, doing frontier A.I. researches and related breakthrough tech.
On the other side of the world, China’s A.I. companies are good at figuring out business applications for A.I tech. Look at SenseTime (TCL Capital is an investor), Face++ and Bytedance — all three companies utilize AI in true commercial use cases and gain business traction because of it. More importantly, China, being a huge market it is, seems to be more willing and quicker to adopt newer tech and bring it to scale. Another factor is the speed to gain data cost-effectively and at scale. Due to regulation and culture differences, China’s A.I. companies seem to have a leg up here too.
China is in at a unique crossroad of the history in that — on one side, China still craves for top talents and deep researches to fuel such tech needs; on the other side, China is experiencing a societal upgrade where the economy is shifting from labor-heavy production economy to a high-tech economy.
As cross-border investors, we are at a very unique timing in the global tech evolution. The US and Silicon Valley will continue to be the center of gravity of tech innovation, as it always has been. However, just perhaps, the next Google and Facebook will be more global, more AI-driven, and may be created in China. YC made its bet in China by convincing Lu Qi to found and run YC China. I think that’s a brilliant move.
The optimistic side of me is very intrigued to see how the next iconic A.I. companies are founded in this new era global economy. That will be the topic of the next post…
I just returned from a two-week long business trip from China. It felt like it has been two months. In a good way.
A lot of activities were jammed in those 14 days. Starting with speaking at SLUSH conference in Shanghai to meeting many China entrepreneurs, the trip was packed with much energy and many late-night meetings (and many high-carb meals!)
It was first formally introduced to the valley community via Sequoia’s Mike Moritz article on China earlier this year. It was controversial and I understand why. China shares a very different work culture than the US, in that it is (still) very top-down driven with a blurred line between work and personal life. For example, it’s no secret that in China, people conduct business conversations over after-work meals and over Wechat. As a result, the business response cycle is much faster. However, as a regular tech worker in China, it’s hard to take a real break.
In addition, on a higher level, China has the so-called 996 (9 am to 9 pm, 6 days a week), which I heard it’s now evolved into 007 (0 am to 0 am, 7 days a week). I think that’s just too much and it compromises productivity. But many companies are doing it.
You can perhaps interpret it from two angles:
Which one is it? Probably China has both. And the next Google, next Uber for China will have to come from the companies who view work from the 2nd angle. Just like how the valley has been over the past decades.
"You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future." — Steve Jobs
I’ve been thinking about the past a lot lately. Some meaningful events of the past often define who we are today.
I read two (old) books last year and this year. One is called “eboys” by Randall E. Stross and the other is “Startup” by Jerry Kaplan. Both are fascinating stories — the former is about starting the legendary VC firm Benchmark while the latter is about starting the first “pen computing” industry and lessons learned. Both stories took place during 1980s to 1990s.
Strangely enough, I can relate to the tech background of both stories, even though I was half the earth away.
In mid 1990s, my parents, both business persons, were among first ones in China to adopt the pen-computing “palm assistant” — I couldn’t remember the exact brand or name but I recall how cool it was that I could write on the device and it would just recognize the letter that I draw. Of course, most of the time, I used it to play simple games like Hangman Words, which I never mastered.
In late 1990s, not too long after Jack Ma made his first visit to the US, China was embracing its first wave of internet. Again, my parents were among the very few who were willing to spend 10,000 RMB (roughly $2,000 USD) at the time to buy a personal computer — a Lenovo desktop.
To put things in perspective, 10,000 RMB equated to roughly 5 months of salaries in the small town where we lived. It was a BIG investment. So big that dad was at times paranoid and insisted that we keep the “computer room” clean so that it would not catch “viruses.”
This is a 3D program by Lenovo to help people understand programs better. One might say it’s the first VR program in the 90s. Nonetheless, since I can’t find the real photo of my computer, this one should do the justice — and yes, I do usually paint while I work on my computer stuff, just as the pic showed :)
I loved my first computer. I loved that you can simply “dial-up” and be connected to the world.
From there, I joined BBS (Reddit of stone age if you will), feeling like a big shot. I created by my own email address, exchanging “deep thoughts” with people who I had never met. I learned to program my first website and showed it to my mom — she was so proud that she just keep refreshing my site to help me boost up my “visitor count number.” (thanks mom!)
Little did I know that I was so fortunate being able to play with a computer, being able to connect to the internet at a very young age. Little did I know that from there, I would commit my career and the rest of life time to technology.
Looking back now, those dots were connected beautifully. To that, I’m thankful.