I was excited about meeting Joey Rennert, lho works at the American consulate and is a budding entrepreneur. I had seen him at startup weekend and asked Andy Mok for an introduction. Ed met in the hotel lobby, where we were served hot water with lemon. Joey is in Beijing now because his wife works for the State Department. He has worked for the Olympic Committee three (or four?) times well as doing aid work, including running the United Nations workers camp in Haiti, which is where he got his idea. One of the most fundamental problems in disaster relief is distributing the aid that pours in today there is $3.4 billion waiting to be distributed in Haiti alone. One of the key hurdles is that the currency system breaks down and is replaced with bartering, which contributes to the intractable economic mess. His idea is to distribute aid though an alternate SMS-based currency. Theres lots of complexity in almost every aspect of the idea, but it iOS very intriguing. It has the potential to unlock aid for the most needy people in the world in a way that would allow them to ignite their own economy. If successfully introduced, the system could then replace existing money transfer solutions (Western Union) in those areas to become a big for-profit company. I was. Shocked to learn that $1 billion a year iOS transferred to Haiti this way, with an average of $100 sent ten times a year.
Although Joeys idea and market are different from what i usually see, his situation is not. He needs ad prototype (anyone out there interested in building one?) and doesnt really know how to get started. Im hoping to help him, first by describing the idea more clearly then by making introductions.
Next I took a brief taxi ride to an area called 798 to meet Roberta Lipson, an Eisenhower Fellowships selection committee member for lunch. 798 was an old factory area and artists started to rent the large, affordable spaces for studios. Now its going upscale with galleries and shops. I throughly enjoyed the half hour I spent wandering around and wish it wasnt so cold I wold have spent the afternoon.
Roberta has been in China for 30 years and runs a medical equipment distribution and healthcare delivery company, Chindex, that she started soon after she arrived. Today it is focused primarily on building and operating small private hospitals servicing ex-pats and wealthy Chinese. It is traded on NASDAQ, with a market cap of $250 million, up from $8 million when they first went public in 1994. Her perspective on many things was very different than others, the effect of time or personality (clearly shes a maverick and perfectly suited to China) or a mix of the two.
I took a taxi back to the hotel and went out and sat at a cafe. Then Claire met me and we took the subway towards Tsinghua to meet with Eisenhower Fellow Tsinghua Zongkai Shi, Vice Chairman, University Council. He had a car pick us up and take us to an absolutely amazing reception room, in what was a summer palace in the middle of the campus. After passing by huge stone guardian lions and through enormous gates, we walked through a series of courtyards and were ushered into a formal reception hall, with two head chairs and a line along each wall at their side. I cant believe that I didnt take any photos, but I didnt! Heres what I found on Wikipedia:
Jian Gao, Assistant Dean, Chair of Department of Innovation and Entrepreneurship was there already and we sat and talked until Dr. Shi arrived. We chatted for a bit and then David Chen, VP Public Policy & Government Relations, GM China Group arrived. After a half hour or so, we walked to a restaurant in what used to be the University presidents house. Dinner was very good, and the conversation was amazing. David Chen opened China for General Motors with five people in the Holiday Inn (which is a 5-star hotel here). He had great stories and perspective. (Including one about flying to China with the GM chairman in the corporate jet, only to be so foiled by traffic that he ended up taking the subway home. Traffic is democratic.) I tried out a couple of my theories and was thrilled when he said (seemingly quite genuinely) that I was insightful. I was very grateful for a ride back to the hotel after dinner.
Happy Thanksgiving! (not so much in China)
Up at 5 this morning after a solid 8 hours (yeah!), quick visit to the gym then breakfast and off to South Station for the high-speed train to Tianjin. After missing photos of kids on the way home from school on the backs of bicycles, mopeds, etc yesterday, I missed them this morning on the way to school the same way. Here's the best one I got:
The station is new, huge, and beautiful. With 58 RMB and 30 minutes you can ride about the distance from Philadelphia to New York in perfect comfort at 200 mph. Very cool
But to get to the Tianjin Economic Development Area (TEDA), you have to ride another hour in a taxi (100 RMB). It seems like youre in the middle of no where then suddenly another city pops up.
Tianjin is growing at 16% a year for a decade. In 20 years Chinas cities will have added 350 million people (thats 2 New York Cities a year!) and it shows in Tianjin
Tianjin is the third of three areas targeted for development in Chinas 10-year plans. One of the many strengths of the authoritarian system is that resources can be concentrated to achieve impact. Deng Xiaopig initiated this approach, and it works. Its possible partly because there is s bone deep difference between American and Chinese culture that supports it: the Chinese see themselves primarily a a part of a whole, whereas Americans see ourselves first as individuals. The Chinese view of the concentration of resources in Tianjin is to be proud of what China is achieving they are genuinely happy to wait for their citys turn because they view themselves first as Chinese, second as a member of their family/work etc and third as an individual. This difference is in evidence everywhere every day the Chinese even put their family name first and given name second. In America we see ourselves as individuals first and our democracy ensures that resources are spread widely, if not evenly. Often, the result is that the investment is too small to have an impact.
We arrived at the TEDA International Cardiovascular Hospital and were greeted by Yin Cheng, an administrator, who gave us an exhaustive tour. It was fascinating to see every aspect of a hospital the outpatient operations, the radiology and labs, the pharmacy, etc We even got to see the operating rooms, including one in use!
The system is very different. Patients pay for service (although no one is denied serviced in a life-threatening situation). But the costs are extraordinarily low. A consultation, which lasts 20 minutes on average, costs 20 RMB or about $3. An MRI 1500 RMB or $200. One striking difference is the view of privacy we were allowed to see and take photos of everything, including computer screens with peoples test results etc.
This hospital is extremely modern and well-equipped. Its approach is unique, and based on Dr. Lius ideas. He follows two principles: humanity and capitalism. The first leads to programs like free surgery for over 500 orphans a year. The latter to astounding medical suites.
Importantly, regardless of the room a patient is willing to pay for, the quality of medical service is the same. Dr. Liu , who is a cardiac surgeon, President of the hospital and an Eisenhower Fellow, is sincere in his vision and has solid management strategies to drive it towards success. For example, he outsourced everything that is not a medical service. Doctors anode nurses work in teams. Bonuses are based on performance: quantity, quality, difficulty, cost, and satisfaction, each of which has specific measures. Note that revenue is specifically not in the equation.
Our visit to the hospital ended with a banquet and a very enjoyable conversation.
Plus, naturally, a photo op. Not just with my little point and shoot this time, but with a real photographer.
From the hospital we took a short cab ride to the Sino-Singapore Tianjin Eco-City. The project is literally unbelievable. Out of waste land a city of 350,000 is being created.
It was planned to take 10-15 years, but they think it will be completed sooner, and it looks like it. There are cranes everywhere, dozens of them. Its impossible to get a photo to capture even 10% of the feeling of it. While Tianjin grows at 16% a year, the Binai New Area grew 23% in 2009.
The lowlight of my visit was getting locked in a stall in the bathroom. I made a ruckus until someone came, who of course spoke no English, but it was clear that she was getting someone and she also told Claire.
We were extraordinarily lucky to get a taxi quickly in the middle of nowhere and rode 45 minutes to Tanggu station. After an hour wait in the freezing station, we rode the high speed train an hour back to Beijing. I ate room service and was asleep by 10.
After some work, I took a Taxi to see the CEO at Gridsum, a company not unlike my own. We had a terrific sharing of ideas and perspectives and identified four potential ways to work together.
I was very happy at that point not to have a dinner and was in bed at 10:30.
Unfortunately I went back to my jetlag schedule and woke at 3a. At least I had time to work out (which I regretted later!) and watch some Mad Men before a conference call. Then it was off to the Great Wall of China.
I had a private car, which is pretty standard, for 700 RMB (or $100). It took about 1:45 to get there, an hour of which was fighting through the Beijing traffic. At about Ring Road 5 (there area a series of highways around Beijing, numbered 1-6) everything changed and became non-city. I went to Mitianyu, which is supposed to be less touristy. Still, the approach is lined with stalls selling souvenirs with aggressive merchants. I was very surprised to come upon a camel in the midst of the vendors.
It cost 110 RMB to get into the area and ride the cable car up and down
At the top, you can go right a short way to another cable car or left up the mountain to a view of a lake in the distance. I went left, and eventually climbed up to the writing on the mountain
It's a long steep climb
But the views are amazing
One of the things I like about other countries is that theyre overly concerned with safety, for example this ledge with no rail. Its on you if you fall.
At the top I was rewarded with this vista, with the lake in the background. And also with tired legs.
Down was a lot easier than up, and by then Id made friends with a mother and daughter visiting from San Jose, so the descent went quickly. Back in the car I was back at the hotel by 2p.
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.