After 8 hours of sleep, I enjoyed breakfast at the hotel, then met Claire for an amazingly long taxi ride to Baidu. The traffic is horrible much worse than in August and much much worse Im told than a couple of years ago. On one stretch of the ride the driver said that what now takes 45 minutes used to take 10. Bill Bishop told me the drive to pick up his daughters has gone from 20 to 45 minutes in a year. The pollution was horrible too. I cant imagine that it can continue like this much longer.
Once we got to Baidu, I had two excellent meetings. The first was with Zhang Tao, who was in charge of the Baidu paid search API and now runs their certification program. We had a free-ranging conversation about search and the Internet in China. Chinas paid search market is 4-5 years behind the U.S., tough Baidus trying to accelerate the pace. Weibo (Sina.coms service launched a year ago that is essentially threaded Twitter) is, as Bill Bishop mentioned, the most exciting thing happening. A tidbit for search geeks: average position reported by Baidu is incorrect. And for analytics/PPC geeks: because IP addresses are so limited in China, you cant get location from thiem like you can in the U.S. (a problem IPv6 will solve.)
Next up was Kaiser Kuo, a charismatic Chinese-American turned Chinese long-haired heavy metal musican/Baidu spokesperson. He had some very different perspectives on Baidu, Google, and their respective relations with the government than I had heard from others. He was tremendously entertaining and gave us the full tour, even letting me take photos (recall I got in trouble for that last time. Which makes me realize that Ive gotten in trouble for taking photos in China three times, which is probably reflective of a very different ethic.)
Search facts: 30% of searches on Baidu today are for apps! Baidus goal is to provide solutions, not just answers, which they call Box computing. Its like like typing 2+2= in the Google search box and getting the answer 4, or Googles innovations in product results, but more so. In Baidu if you search for a flash game, for example, you can play it right in the results.
Kaisers parting thought was that to understand the impact of the Internet in China you have to hold two contradictory truths at the same time:
1) censorship is real and increasing
2) the Internet is the unstoppable center of culture today in China
The government is very carefully monitoring, controlling, and freeing the Internet. They understand its power fully but dont know what to do about it. (I cant recall who told me, but only 3% of Internet users in China hop the great Fire Wall, its not a major factor in this story.)
After our Baidu tour, we were off to the famous Tsinghua University for lunch, a brief coffee with Mark Ma, and a salon with students interested in entrepreneurship.
Lunch proved more challenging than expected as the electricity was out in the cafeteria building, but we did manage to get something in the main student area rather than the dining room.
After lunch we hung out at a coffee shop (with wifi!) until Mark came by. We talked briefly and took off for our talk. It was in another, large coffee bar. There were about 20 students, including a very able MC Seven Cheng. We each made brief comments, I gave a presentation about raising capital, and we took questions for an hour or more. The students seemed eager and very earnest but extraordinarily young much younger and with very little sophistication compared with the students I speak with at Wharton. There was one woman, however, Min Lei, who has a company with a mobile content system. Id bet on her to succeed
Next was dinner with fellow Tang Zhongha and his colleagues Elton Li and Wendy Li. We were picked up by Eltons car and whisked to a mercifully close restaurant at the Royal King Hotel, which he used to manage. The restaurant features Peking duck from Yawang, supposedly the best in Beijing. The food and the conversation were both interesting. This was the first time a chicken foot showed up in my soup. The duck was served wrapped in a pancake with some vegetable sticks and was very good. Elton, Tang, and Wendy recently bought an elearning company that theyre retooling and we ended up talking about, among many topics, politics.
At the end of the evening Elton drove me back to the hotel, for which I was very grateful since it was 11:00p!
I've started and/or run too many venture capital-backed software companies, plus one ill-fated food startup.