#AskGGV: On foreigners working, living and starting a business in China

Hans Tung
Managing Partner, GGV Capital
hans tung
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Original question: What advice would you give to a foreigner starting a business in China? Do you see China being as attractive as the U.S. as a place to work and live in tech, for foreigners? Here's my answer.

In the time that I was in China for 8 years, I witnessed more and more foreigners becoming interested in the China model, the China experience.

Obviously, as many of you may know, GGV invested in Alibaba as early as 2003, at a valuation of 170 to 180 million dollars. Now it’s a 500 billion-dollar market cap company! With Ant Financial – it’s worth at least another hundred fifty billion. So when you see that company can grow that much, you know that something was happening at a fundamental level in that society – where the Internet ends up making such a big impact – to allow this kind of value creation to happen.

When you see that kind of growth, you learn a lot about how to help companies to scale overtime. If you have the ability to learn quickly and be willing to help founders, that's the best way to create value. If we can create value for the founders, you end up creating value for yourself.

For foreigners looking to start a business in China, it is not easy to add value in the broad sense anymore. China has caught up. Therefore, as a foreigner, you need to figure out how to bring something unique – that China doesn’t have. Historically, that would be having work experience – regardless of where you went to school. If you were, in the past, hired by Facebook, Google or Amazon, you picked up a lot of product management knowledge, engineering or data science skills – Chinese companies would have wanted you.

Having that hardcore CS experience or product management experience is certainly going to be helpful for you to add value in China. But without the language skills, and not having the ability to speak Mandarin is not easy. It is important for a foreigner to learn how to speak Chinese to add value in China because the talent level is so great. Remember, in China there are over 4.6 million STEM graduates a year. There will be so many people who are good at your fundamental skill sets. So, if you don’t have something unique, it’s a lot harder.

Remember, in China there are over 4.6 million STEM graduates a year. There will be so many people who are good at your fundamental skill sets. So, if you don’t have something unique, it’s a lot harder.

— Hans Tung, Managing Partner, GGV Capital

Remember, in China there are over 4.6 million STEM graduates a year. There will be so many people who are good at your fundamental skill sets. So, if you don’t have something unique, it’s a lot harder.

To the second question – China or U.S.? If you possess the language skill, I think working in China is an absolute must. Chinese business models have much more relevance for emerging markets in Latin America, in Indonesia, in India. These markets have a rising middle class, urbanization is on the rise, high population density – just so much potential. So the experience of China is much more relevant to these emerging markets, much more so than the cities of the U.S, where we also see a more advanced consumer experience.

If you can speak Mandarin fluently, you’re able to bring something unique, and you have the ability to be humble and continuously learn, China will be a great place to work in.

This answer first appeared on an Ask Me Anything session (AMA) with Hans Tung. Do you have a burning question of your own? Submit yours here.

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