Episode 36: Tao Peng, President of Airbnb China, on Redefining Travel

GGV Capital’s Hans Tung and Zara Zhang interview Tao Peng (彭韬), the president of Airbnb China.

Prior to joining Airbnb in Sept 2018, Tao has founded a number of companies in the travel space including Breadtrip, a social app for recording and sharing trips, and more recently, CityHome, a management platform for short-terms rentals across China. Before founding Breadtrip, Tao has worked at the network security provider IntelliGuard and has also worked for McKinsey for two years as a management consultant. Tao graduated from the University of Melbourne with Ph.D degree in computer networks and the Huazhong University of Science and Technology with a bachelor’s degree in communication engineering. He is also an avid traveler and has been to over 50 countries across seven continents.

Earlier on the 996 Podcast, we have interviewed Nathan Blecharczyk, Airbnb’s co-founder and chief strategy officer as well as the chairman of Airbnb China. If you haven’t listened to that episode, we highly recommend checking it out here; it was released around exactly a year ago on April 11th, 2018. Airbnb is a GGV portfolio company and our managing partners Hans Tung and Glenn Solomon actively works with the company especially with regards to its China strategy.


HANS TUNG: Hi. On the show today we have Tao Peng or Peng Tao 彭韬 in Chinese, who is the president of Airbnb in China. Prior to joining Airbnb in September 2018, Tao has founded a number of companies in travel space including Breadtrip 面包旅行, a social app for recording and sharing trips, as well as more recently CityHome 城宿, a management platform for short term rentals across China. Before founding Breadtrip, Tao has worked at the network security provider, IntelliGuard, and has also worked for McKinsey for two years as a management consultant. Tao graduate from the University of Melbourne with PhD in Computer Networks, and the Huazhong University of Science and Technology with a bachelor’s degree in Communication Engineering. He is also an avid traveler and has been to over 50 countries across seven continents.

ZARA ZHANG: Earlier on the 996 podcast, we have interviewed Nathan Blecharczyk who is Airbnb’s Co-Founder, Chief Strategy Officer, as well as the chairman of Airbnb China. If you haven’t listened to that episode, I highly recommend checking it out. It was released around exactly a year ago on April 11th, 2018. Airbnb is a GGV portfolio company, and our managing partners Hans Tung and Glenn Solomon actively work with the company, especially with regards to its China strategy. Welcome to the show, Tao.

TAO PENG: Thank you for having me.

HANS TUNG: So, Tao, you have been running Airbnb in China for almost eight months now. How has it been like for you and what are the top three things on your mind right now?

TAO PENG: It’s a great journey. At the moment for me I think still quality, community and a brand are the top three priority for me. For travel everybody wants to have a good travel experience, so we focus a lot for quality because quality is very important to ensure people have a great own trip experience. We launched Plus last year. For Plus we have more than 100 checklists to make sure Plus satisfied users’ travel requirements. Plus is one of the key drivers for us to offer high-quality listing. Second, actually we focus a lot on the community building. We believe human trust is a very precious part for travel, so we want the host to be very welcome to the guest and the guests feel belonging anywhere. The third part actually we focus a lot on building the brands. We believe Airbnb is a super brand, especially to the millennials. Sixty percent of Airbnb China travelers, millennials they travel around the world. They really want some guidance on how they explore the world and Airbnb has a unique position to offer that guidance.

ZARA ZHANG: So, could you talk about the first time you met with the Airbnb team. When was it and what was it like? And how did you find each other?

TAO PENG: That was a very interesting experience and I found that actually is a really kind of destiny to me. Originally it was not for an interview. Actually, while doing that I really find out how Airbnb thinks about managing platform. I just had a chat with Nate. We actually have a chat and we find actually that really, we have very good chemistry. Nate is very smart, successful and humble. It is a very unusual combination. I was really deeply impressed by that. We had a lot of chat. Then Nate went back to the US and decided to say this was the opportunity for Airbnb China. I was very impressed. He just decided flying from San Francisco to Beijing just like immediately that we want to have a chat. We have a five-hour dinner. The next day we have about another five-hour breakfast. I was feeling like, kind of like a moment for me, I said I think
this is a dream I really share. I really want to work for that.

Sometimes, to be honest, I used to be very kind of proud, thinking I can never work for anyone. The only company I worked for is McKinsey and I was a lecturer at Melbourne University. But I feel like I shared a dream with Airbnb, and also, I think the way they redefine travel is really something I feel very passionate about. And more important being an entrepreneur I realized the secret of this industry. Scale is the Holy Grail and Airbnb has the scale. The second actually travel is global. I do think, you know, to work with Airbnb is a better way to realize my dream, and so together we can help Airbnb. That’s the story.

ZARA ZHANG: When you were meeting with Nate was, he pitching you on the role?

TAO PENG: The first time actually we just had a casual chat, find out what is Airbnb. The second time it is. The second time we talked about this role.

HANS TUNG: After he spoke to you, he called me up as well to tell me how excited he was after he met you. We have been helping him for one or two years to look for the right person. It’s easy to start with senior executives in the top companies in China, but I think I give Nate the credit that by talking to a founder who’s looking for a bigger platform it actually makes a lot more sense that you are probably the best fit for them. In your mind, why do you think that the fit has worked out so well for you as well? Because a lot of people in China feel like, I don’t want to work for a foreign company. I have to deal with a lot of people back in-home office. They don’t know anything about China. There’s a lot of local decision making that need to be made. They’re going to be super slow because they don’t understand it, so I want to work for a foreign company in China, especially Internet space. That’s sort of a common complaint we hear about CEO, GM position for China for Internet companies from the US.

TAO PENG: I think there are three reasons for that. First of all, I think as I mentioned before I’m actually lecturing in travel space. I really know the exciting things and toughness about this space. We see lots of companies up and down. For me, I ran in basic change gear for a number of times just to get the right direction. I know for this one is a low frequency, it is especially challenging if you do not have the scale because you don’t have the good unit economics. While Airbnb has more than 6 million unique listings around the world, across 91 countries, that’s an actually unique asset, you can set a good foundation before you do bigger things. The second is Airbnb is very unique. Airbnb, their culture, their value actually helps the business. I think that’s the only company for me. I find the value and the mission directly help the business. I was an Airbnb guest first and then became Airbnb host. So, a number of situations, because I really believe in Airbnb value, I actually resort into a basic understanding of the host if he makes some mistakes.

If the guest requires something, some situation, I just give him a full refund. I think that this happens a lot in our platform. But if not everybody believes in this vision this will become a serious ticket. Basically, people will have to spend time to resolve that bad experience. I think that kind of seamless system makes Airbnb very unique and powerful. Third thing, I think, for me, confidence is directly linked to the founder. I believe we have lots of commonality, the dream. I really believe all the three founders have the passion; they believe in that so that’s something very special to me. Also, they gave me the assurance this can be different. So direct from the founder I see it from their eyes, I see in their eyes they really want to make the success. As I talked to Nate, I said China has 1.4 billion people. If it’s not successful in China how can you say Airbnb is for everyone. And China is so big, if you do not have listing and have homeowners in China how can we say Airbnb is anywhere. I believe that. This is why I decided. Although there are lots of problems, we need to tackle that’s fun problems.

HANS TUNG: Fast-forward to today, eight months later, are you still in the honeymoon period or have you woke up and say, “Oh my God, there’s so much to do and I don’t know if I have enough resources”?

TAO PENG: No. I really enjoy it; I still enjoy it. The key thing is I define myself as a problem solver. I really like to solve problems. I would feel very bored at something too comfortable. I could live in Melbourne. Melbourne is the most livable city in the world. I have stayed there for eight years. I could choose to just stay in Melbourne. I could be a lecturer at Melbourne University. But I really enjoy all the problems. And the most important is the problem solving. I think all this is very tough, but these things are very important to connect to a mission. We want to build a world where there are no strangers and people can travel and have the best experience.

Being a hardcore traveler myself, I think the best experience a traveler can have is this kind of mingle with the locals, to see something like a local. That’s the best thing about travel. I do believe that’s a reason why people want to travel. I think life is like a journey. The lens actually is limited, but the views are defined by yourself. If you want to broaden your views you have to travel because traveling you actually live another people’s life. I fundamentally believe this is why people want to travel. I believe the experience Airbnb is building is actually what will be attractive to people, especially people the young people, to realize this is exactly what they want. This is something I feel every day, although on a very tight schedule, I really feel very passionate.

ZARA ZHANG: Could you talk about your communication with the US headquarters so far? What has encouraged you and what have been some of the challenges?

TAO PENG: I think, how to explain the difference about China. But now actually I own one of the sentences, which is actually now widely propagated in the US corridor. I explain a difference saying that China is like another, different operating system. For example, the US is more like Android, it’s very open and China is like iOS. It is very closed, with everything. Think about if you do something port the program from Windows to Mac, then you just don’t simply redesign the interface, you actually rebuild the code. That’s exactly the effort I try to expand to the US headquarters they should do. This is why we will have a business unit in Beijing. We have engineers. We pretty have a full stack of people here. It’s like a startup. We also ask people to have this startup mentality, and we try to recruit the most aggressive people, aggressive and talented, and give them very ambitious goals. Inspire them by the big goals to go big. I think that’s the only thing you can do, the right thing you can do to be in China.

ZARA ZHANG: I think a lot of US founders have difficulty not seeing China as just another market. A lot of them still consider China as an international market. They don’t understand how you need to start everything from scratch. Do you get the impression that the Airbnb co-founders have been well receptive and open minded than perhaps other US founders you’ve met?

TAO PENG: I think they’re very open minded. I think Nate traveled to China a number of times, and actually still travels with high frequency. I think being physically in one place actually will make you instantly realize, wow, this is a different operating system. In order to make this happen, I also initiated a program called China Offsite. Basically, to bring all the senior folks from San Francisco to Beijing. If you ask all the people what is the biggest shock, the biggest shock for them apart from the big buildings is people here actually travel without their wallets. Everybody is just using mobile phones. They’re really impressed. These people without WeChat Pay they can do nothing. Basically, this instantly makes them realize, oh, WeChat is so important. Before they had us, or the payment functions to do something pretty. For them this is important. Why is that important? This is something that we with communication with people instantly realize this is, WeChat Pay, Alipay it’s just part of Chinese daily life. This is very different from the credit cards in the US. This can help them a lot to understand what’s the difference. I tend to use the operating system to describe the difference so if you want to port a program to China you have to rewrite the code, you just don’t redesign the interface.

ZARA ZHANG: Speaking of WeChat, I think Airbnb now has a WeChat mini-program. Could you talk about how that came about? Is that something you spearheaded after you joined?

TAO PENG: I think we just think about WeChat is virtually another platform for all Chinese. It’s actually a cross-operating system. We told the headquarters this is another way to broaden our top funnel traffic. We designed that. But the hard thing is just to make it work globally. Because Airbnb has lots of global listing. There are a lot of things that are actually not so dirty work at the back and need to be happening. It’s not like a local startup, just build a mini-program and you can do it in one week. We build that and we have to meet all the agreements, and we also need to make sure everybody’s committed to that. That has been a very good success. Now after WeChat program is increasing tremendously fast. We also, while having mini-program we can do lots of Chinese style campaign, like gamification of the red packet, and also connect this to the WeChat public accounts. That actually will be one of the growth drivers for us. We also believe that’s just in a nascent stage. I think there is more to come.

HANS TUNG: Airbnb has been putting a lot of resources as we all know into Airbnb experiences. Could you talk about how Airbnb experiences have developed in China? Are the Chinese consumers embracing it? What are the opportunities and challenges with this in China?

TAO PENG: Experience is our company’s strategy. I think it’s very important for us to provide, to use a magic journey. I think a few years ago we only have 10 experiences in Shanghai. Now we have more than 2,000 experiences in more than 10 cities in China. The experience has grown tremendously. When we design experiences what we do is we actually try to make sure this is something unique to offer to the guest. During the experience, we find out all the Chinese guests, especially young people they want to redefine travel. This kind of experience to them an eye-opening experience, and it’s actually easy to generate word of mouth. We have very good momentum for experience in China.

ZARA ZHANG: What are the most popular types of experiences?

TAO PENG: I think the most popular are photo walks. Basically, some people take you to walk around the metropolitan cities, to talk about history and have you take some photos. Just like I took an experience in Sydney. I’m just back from a trip from Sydney. That was amazing. Basically, it’s an Australian guy who used to study in China, so he gave us that experience, a group of Chinese guests in Chinese talking about the history about Sydney. All the guests actually feel that this is the experience they never have, and it’s a kind of upgrade of the traditional bus tour. For the young people, right away they try to share the WeChat moment. I think this kind of thing is a way for us how to redefine travel. Other things could be some things about nightlife. For example, you want to experience some kind of pubs so there is some local take you to have some drink. This is another very popular experience in Airbnb.

ZARA ZHANG: For the people joining those experiences, are they mostly foreign tourists or local Chinese people?

TAO PENG: Both. I think we can say more and more actually people use the experience for the weekends. They do not necessarily book the listing, but they actually view that as a way to experience travel. You can see in Shanghai and Beijing they have people within the city or come from the nearby city, they come to Beijing, another way to discover the city. Basically, I think we positioned ourselves, how to help people just live like a local. This is an important ingredient to our accommodation capability. People live there, in the accommodation and they want to find out what to do nearby. Sometimes they also have a dinner. Some people host like a dinner table. This kind of thing I find out that young people really like and it’s very viral, so people tend to be super fans about that. And remember, this is how Airbnb started, people really liked this experience. They were ambassadors. A person who really believes the experience will go very big. Also, we are working on a number of ways how to make booking Airbnb listing and experience very smooth.

HANS TUNG: How do you decide which experiences to select and feature on Airbnb in China?

TAO PENG: For us basically there is a category we have designed for experience. It’s the one I explained before. That is advice based on user’s feedback. They have good reviews, good conversions. The second is actually we also look at what’s the next city which needs this kind of service. People after booking want to look for something to do. All this together we will run some experiments to make sure the experience really fits the user’s needs. All the numbers can tell us which one is on the upward trend, which one is actually not exactly what people want and we need to some work on that. We have a set a very clear feedback loop to improve the product. Ultimately, I think this is something we tackle, the user journey. For user journey, it’s kind of a non-standard experience. We want to be unique. How to make it scalable? We had to break down the non-standard things to the standard components. We will identify what the key component to make up a unique experience is. I think all of this is an advantage or a barrier for us to accumulate, because we know exactly what the host wants and what the guests want, and we will find the things which make that scalable. Actually, some of the experiences now are in the pre-scaling mode, they scale in many countries. I think that’s something I think we find out is very exciting.

HANS TUNG: Wow. Sounds like experiences in China are becoming more weekend driven, which means that this will be a higher frequency of usage because it’s more local anywhere nearby.

TAO PENG: Yes. Recently we did a campaign called 48 Hours. We know travel is a low frequency, we want to create some scenarios to make sure people have a way to travel. This campaign basically gave people some unique listing, plus some experience. Design ways how to make a 48 Hours meaningful. That has been a tremendous success. We have a super strong growth lately, close to 3x growth across all China. In some VR destinations, vacation rental places, we’re nearly four times growth. We are very happy the local tactics took effect. The team is also very enthusiastic because we can move fast so we can capture the gain.

HANS TUNG: Great. We talked a lot about domestic travel Airbnb in China. What’s it like for outbound travel? As you know there are so many Chinese millennials going to different parts of Asia and also beyond Asia. What kind of a unique or Chinese tourist-oriented experiences or listings are there to maximize and make it easier for them to feel comfortable traveling abroad?

TAO PENG: For us what we’re doing now we basically try to talk to our partners all around the world, basically we host our partners. Make sure they can be Chinese guest ready. That could be like a hot water kettle, could be a sleeper. I also offer some congee, something like that. We talk to them say, hey, you get ready for the Chinese guests. In reward, we will give you a tag called Chinese-guests ready. Because we’re a separate business unit. Actually, we can own the ranking score and we can own this kind of tag. This has been very positive. Everybody really wants to embrace the largest travel outbound guest origin so they’re very super excited. This has actually been to a few countries. Or the host community, they are very keen to find out what the Chinese guests would like. In the future you will see, those guests will see some kind of listing that says, Chinese-guests ready. When they book that they won’t worry about communication. They will somehow have a Mandarin concierge and they won’t worry about the check in, check out, the luggage where it is stored. In return we’ll make sure all these houses have a good business. That’s actually what we try to play and try to have more an interaction with our supply to make sure we create a good circle to work to those benefits.

HANS TUNG: In which cities you have the most number of Chinese-ready partners?

TAO PENG: At the moment I think it is more in Japan. They have a number of Chinese-guest ready listings, but we talk more in Thailand and in Sydney.

ZARA ZHANG: In the early days of Airbnb China you guys were more focused on the Chinese outbound piece than the inbound piece. Is that still the case and how are you balancing the two right now?

TAO PENG: For us, I think we do not differentiate what is outbound or domestic. For us, travel is across the border. We are a global company so our only goal is to make sure the global network effect can play to its full potential. Everything just happened naturally. The first wave people don’t know Airbnb, they go outbound. They have a very good experience. They come back, they become maybe a host in Shanghai. Then some people from Suzhou, they come to Shanghai, they find there is a beautiful listing in Puxi 浦西 so they have a great experience. They come back to Suzhou and they have a listing as well. This is how it goes. Basically, all the network effect is very strong, especially where community driven. We always have the first visionary users, they’re co-host, they really believe in this culture, because they believe in this kind of human interaction. For us, I think it’s more to make sure this network effect won’t be blocked by some market conditions. We want to educate the market. We want to help the host to grow. So, we will offer some tours and offer our support to make sure they are not alone, that there is some people, we work together to provide this kind of guest experience. That’s our strategy.

HANS TUNG: What’s it like for you in the inbound market with foreign tourists coming to China? Do you need to do anything special to help them to get comfortable or acclimated to the Chinese environment sooner, quicker, faster?

TAO PENG: Yes. Inbound also happens naturally so for us some page, especially our host that would translate their page to English, they just make the inbound guests more welcome. China is set to overtake France as the world’s number one tourist destination by 2030, as the growing middle class in Asia is looking to spend more on travel. I remember the report, the foundation is that because Asia gets in more developers, people choose China as a destination more likely we will probably see lots of guests from the APAC region. That’s actually also good for the network effect. For example, you can see rich people from Malaysia, or rich people from Vietnam, middle class. They want to explore; they might travel to China because it’s closer.

HANS TUNG: A lot of people don’t know that more than 50% of the population lives in China, India, and Asia-Pac in the world. It’s an impressive user base for you to grow.

TAO PENG: I think a high-speed train is another game changer. Basically, you can very easily move around. Many travelers, especially inbound guests, they’re very impressed about the infrastructure in China. They really have a good time here. We will see this is the trend become more and more obvious. We will attract more and more inbound guests.

ZARA ZHANG: I wanted to talk about your earlier experiences. How did you go from consulting to working for a network security company, and to starting your own travel startup?

TAO PENG: That’s a very good question. I think for me sometimes life is random. Opportunities just come by itself. Then, I think the only thing that if you summarize all the experience, I think I have a very strong curiosity about life. I’m just very curious. This is a way that brings me to overseas studying. I’m very curious in network security so I did a PhD there. And then actually I had a chance to have funding for a startup. Then I just find that the opportunity in China is so big that I’ll go back to China and bring my network security startup back to China. Then, some kind of financial crisis happened that make me have to make a choice go back to Australia or stay in Beijing. I made a choice to stay in Beijing. Then McKinsey moved to the same building of my previous startup. That’s how I know that there’s a company called McKinsey. Then we interviewed, I get in there.

I think McKinsey broadened my education, broadened my horizon. Before them, I’m really like a hardcore tech. That’s actually helped. At the end I think I just feel like I have a passion to build a business from zero to one. To grow a business always was something I feel very passionate. Especially in the place I love, for example, travel. Basically, from my own personal travel experience, I feel like if you can have a good travel journey that will be a precious memory for you. I think that can bring people happiness. Actually, that’s why I founded Breadtrip, because we all remember the precious moments. People feel very happy in the trip journey. This is step by step. We find out. We get in the travel industry. Then we know that in the travel industry the most important problem to tackle is accommodation. That’s what people have to have, and they know this how it is in Airbnb. I feel like it was some kind of destiny, and also everything works pretty well in line with your mission and you know the industry well to solve. I think the goal is to bring happiness to people. This energized not only me or my colleagues in China.

HANS TUNG: Your left side brain has done well because you have a PhD in computer engineering. Then the right side of your brain you like to travel, and you’re passionate about travel building the community. How has this combination helped you to win, establish credibility with folks in headquarters back home and Airbnb in San Francisco?

TAO PENG: I think first one. I think Airbnb is a company that I really believe in their value, the way I think. It’s a natural fit in Airbnb culture. It’s a very interesting experience or funny experience. I joined here, the first day I just feel I belong here. I don’t feel like it’s something I’ve got to get used to. I talk to people and I just feel like we’re the same people. That’s really very unique. You don’t need to have people to jumpstart, like to educate a culture why I think like that, because I have always been thinking like that. The next part is basically I think the training I did in McKinsey is very helpful. How to do some structures, thinking, communication, be analytical.

So, everything should be backed by logic and numbers. That can gain some kind of credibility, so people think you’re not just like very passionate without thinking about the reality. And the third par,t I have close to seven years internal experience in travel. I learned a lot, good or bad. It’s a really great learning experience and I think that helped me a lot to think straight to the problem. Basically, there is no something, basically right to the problem. I like to communicate directly because I want to solve the problem. I think all these three things help me to communicate. I feel people here want to realize a mission, so they really commit to solve the problem. I have no problem communicating directly. Especially now I have this trust from the founders so I can just speak right away what’s the problem. I don’t worry about whether I should rephrase it because I know everybody believes, we all have the same vision and that we just need a quicker way to solve the problem.

HANS TUNG: A lot of people in Airbnb in San Francisco like you a lot so you’re definitely doing something right.

TAO PENG: Thank you.

ZARA ZHANG: When you were starting a startup in the travel space why did you pick content sharing as your starting point?

TAO PENG: I think when I started, I knew nothing about travel, to be honest. I had this kind of mission that the precious memories are a very important part. But with all this getting on I think I realized what’s the best way to deliver that. So, the learning, seven years of learning, lots of interaction and also being entrepreneur, you grow the business. I think all those things actually get you to know deeper the industry. Another reason of doing from content is actually that’s another wave of mobile Internet. At that time, I choose to be an entrepreneur, wanting to travel and use the mobile internet. Mobile internet is easy to get viral and you have good content. We designed an application basically distributed by Apple. That’s actually how I got started. During the learning experience from what you see, the numbers, and from what you see the user’s requirement actually make you realize what is the core ingredient of travel and the what challenging and also the secret of travel. That’s actually I think what I believe Airbnb, the most important for people to belong anywhere is accommodation. You have to offer that. That kind of belonging is what people are really looking for. That’s how we ended from there here.

ZARA ZHANG: What was the biggest challenge you encountered while building Breadtrip and what are some lessons you learned?

TAO PENG: You need to build a super team. I think the team is very important. You need to empower the team. You need to set the right culture. I think you should treat the team like a sports team. Everybody has to grow. The growth is the most important for the employee and the tough love to give. Very easy mistake to make is you think you’re very nice to people, but you don’t think about their growth. For me, I will focus a lot on how to grow the employees, make people everybody to their full potential. I encourage them just like a coach sometimes. This is something I learned.

HANS TUNG: Great analogy. That’s our experience as well. What kind of talent are you looking to add to the Airbnb China team, and how can our listeners reach out and get in touch?

TAO PENG: For the talent team we want to have in China, basically first that they believe in our vision, the ways we want to be. The second is actually they have to be really down to earth. They can solve problems. The next thing we want to grow is actually we want to build our offline capability to enable we have a good offline experience. The third thing is, the candidate that comes here should come with a growth mentality. People should have a very strong desire to grow, and also should get used to change. Any reorg, any change, for them, they should view that as a growth opportunity. That’s something like the core criteria I’m actually looking for.

HANS TUNG: How can applicants apply?

TAO PENG: At the moment we have opened, there’s a website where they can subscribe their CVs. Second, we also have a different kind of WeChat accounts so there is a link like Airbnb 爱彼迎, there are articles and also, they have the link, you click and supply. Thirdly, we also work with different kinds of recruiting websites. They also have job ads like LinkedIn. You can see these ads. I think this is all the channels. If they’re good candidates, they can reach out to us. We’re always hungry for talent.

ZARA ZHANG: In July last year Airbnb invested $5 million in CityHome, a platform for managing short rentals in China, and the company that you co-founded. Could you talk about the synergies between CityHome and Airbnb, and how have the two companies worked together since then?

TAO PENG: The synergy is that CityHome more provides good supplies. The reason investment is that Airbnb wants good supplies. They want to build a good ecosystem. For some cases, you have this professional company running, you just make some kind of low-frequency maintenance issues more scalable. The way Airbnb works with CityHome is just with the ecosystem in mind CityHome is just one of the ecosystems. We work closely with CityHome to try out some kind of techniques, how we work with our downstream suppliers. We take this learning and apply it to all ecosystems because we have this kind of like relationship. We can build a trusting relationship and we can run something quicker. That’s basically is something we do with CityHome.

ZARA ZHANG: Next we’re going to a set of quickfire questions. Just say the first thing that comes to your mind. The first one is who is an entrepreneur you admire the most and why?

TAO PENG: I like the founder of Bridgewater, Ray Dalio. I think he’s an amazing guy. I like his book. I put his book on my desk all the time. I think what he writes summarizes a lot I learned during the past seven years. I wish I could have read his book earlier but I’m not sure-

HANS TUNG: You would not have learned as much.

TAO PENG: At the time maybe I wouldn’t have believed it. I really like the book and I like the author.

ZARA ZHANG: I realize all self-help books you just draw a new level of meaning from it once you become an operator.

HANS TUNG: That’s right. You learn a lot more because you’ve experienced it. I know it helped me a lot when I was a founder.

ZARA ZHANG: What’s something you read recently that you recommend, besides that book?

TAO PENG: I’m reading a book called The Score Takes Care of Itself. It’s is a legendary coach.

HANS TUNG: Of the 49ers.

TAO PENG: I also like that book because I played basketball before and think the sports analogy reminds me a lot of some concerns with management issues, how to encourage a team, how to build the right team culture and how to actually make people proud, that it’s something they feel is worth fighting for. I think that book is great. I’m somewhere in the middle of that.

HANS TUNG: I’ve read the book. I agree. Glenn has read the book as well. He highly recommends it and I can see why.

ZARA ZHANG: What’s a habit you have that you think has changed your life?

TAO PENG: I think the habit that changed my life is reverse thinking. I used to have something like a hypothesis I want to prove is right but now I actually for a hypothesis try my best prove to prove it’s wrong. It sounds very counterintuitive, but I think I made a lot of mistakes because I tried to prove a hypothesis right. It’s not scientifical, but I realize it’s a thinking fraud. Now actually when I have something, I always think the worst scenario so what could go wrong. If you find one out you just do not do that, then you’ll be right. That habit changed me a lot.

ZARA ZHANG: And not making pre-assumptions about things.

TAO PENG: If you make assumptions, you want to prove right you can do lots of cherry-picking. It’s very easy to prove it right and then you claim success. Because the reality is the world is so complicated, you only simplify it for a reason. But if you make big decisions, if you’ve simplified, cherry-picking some stats to support your judgment, you can easily claim success for yourself but it’s not for the reality. At the end, the reality will tell what it is. It’s better to have this kind of reverse thinking mindset. You try to challenge yourself or ask your team to challenge yourself. We want to build a culture where everybody can challenge me. Maybe challenges can just make you think. Maybe the challenge might vary, but at least you see there’s a blind spot. Everything has blind spots. That habit helped me change a lot.

HANS TUNG: I’m going to ask you the toughest question in this interview. What is your favorite travel destination?

TAO PENG: Africa.


TAO PENG: People migrated from Africa. Every time I travel to Africa somehow, I just feel connected. I just feel like I belong because this is how humans started, right? They just started from East Africa. They still have a particular fashion or love East Africa. I’ve been to East Africa a number of times, see the safari, climb Kilimanjaro. I don’t know, I just feel like it’s a very unique place to me.

HANS TUNG: Great. Cool.

ZARA ZHANG: Thanks, Tao, for your time.

HANS TUNG: Thank you. Really enjoyed it.

TAO PENG: Thank you.