Interviewed by Rita Yang.
GGV Fellows is accepting applicants for its 2020 cohort. The program, which is a week-long intensive learning experience in Beijing, provides a fast track for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to become part of China’s startup ecosystem. On top of hearing from some of the biggest names in China’s tech industry, fellows will be equipped with essential skill sets to survive and thrive in their entrepreneurial endeavor and get plugged into the supportive network GGV provides. The deadline for applications is Sept 30th. The program will be in Beijing from Jan 2nd to the 6th, 2020.
*Note that the program will be conducted in Mandarin, so the applicants need to be fully proficient in the language.
After 20 months and 42 episodes, we are taking a moment to reflect and celebrate on this podcast. You will hear from Hans and Zara on the behind the scene story of how this podcast was started, why an English podcast about tech in China and what people can expect for the next season. You will also hear from our listeners’ community asking Hans and Zara a wide spectrum of questions. Special thanks to Kenny Chan, Jacky Shen, Jun Zhang, Huang Zexin, Jenny Niu, Jonas Wolf and Barbara dos Santos, who recorded their questions for us.
Rita Yang: Today on the show, we have two people who started this very podcast you’re listening, Hans and Zara. After 20 months and 42 episodes, we’re taking a moment to reflect and celebrate. We’re concluding this season of the podcast with questions from our listeners community. Welcome to the show, Hans.
Hans Tung: Thank you.
Rita Yang: Welcome back, Zara.
Zara Zhang: Thanks.
Rita Yang: Where have you been?
Zara Zhang: So for those who have forgotten about me, my name is Zara Zhang. I was the co-host and producer of the first season of the podcast. I was an investment analyst at GGV Capital from August 2017 to May this year. And in May, I joined ByteDance in Beijing, and Rita joined GGV as my replacement. And I’m very happy that Rita is now continuing this show and making it even greater.
Rita Yang: Thank you. I’m going to start with some of the most frequently asked questions for this podcast. I even asked them during the interview process. So how did you guys started this podcast in the first place?
Hans Tung: Zara, do you want to start first?
Zara Zhang: Sure. So when I joined GGV in 2017, I think it was probably in my first couple weeks I told Hans that we should start some sort of content that tells the China tech story in English. And at that point I was exploring a couple of different formats like podcasting, maybe videos, or blog posts, or newsletters. And then I settled on the podcast idea because one, I was a huge fan of podcasts myself. I started listen to Serial really early on when the medium took off. And then I’ve always been looking for a good English podcast on tech in China, which is a topic that I’m most interested in, but I couldn’t find one. And secondly, I felt like podcasting as a format really attracts the kind of audience we want to attract.
So, for example, why not make videos, short videos, it’s so popular now. But for me, I feel like videos are for people who have a lot of time to kill. People who watch videos tend to have a lot of time, whereas people who listen to podcasts are multitaskers who commute, who listen to it when they’re working out, in the car, and they want to make the best use of their time. And these are the highly efficient people that we want to attract as audience for our show. And I decided that I think the long form audio format where we interview prominent guests would be the best format. Hans, do you want to add on?
Hans Tung: Yeah, when Zara first asked me – taking a step back a little bit – we went on and recruited Zara, because we felt that there’s a lack of content in English regarding what was happening in China. And so, how to tell a story well? we thought originally, we need to start writing articles about that, and that’s easier for a lot of people to read. I wasn’t sure whether a podcast would be differentiated since there are so many podcasts about startups and venture in the U.S. already. Granted there wasn’t as much on China, I just wasn’t sure if enough people would bother to listen to two of us talk. I’m glad Zara convinced me to do it, and I think that’s part of GGV’s culture of willing to take chances, and that talent, the younger people, to try new things. In terms of asking for interviews from the guests, we know a lot of them already from our past dealings with them, or investments we made in them. So getting the guests wasn’t as hard for a more established firm like GGV. But the ingenuity of this idea definitely come from the millennial Zara, and without her efforts and the care, the thought that she put into it, this podcast and this community would never be what it is today.
Zara Zhang: Thank you, Hans. I also wanted to add on that a lot of people have asked why certain English podcasts on tech in China, why not start a Chinese podcast tech in Silicon Valley? If we want to be a cross-border farm, there are two ways you could approach this, so why do we pick the first one? I think for me, I’ve realized there is vast information asymmetry between China and the outside world. Actually, people in China already know a lot about what’s going on in the Silicon Valley, or outside of China in general, and they’re extremely hungry for knowledge of how different companies do things. And a lot of Chinese people are pretty good at English, so they can access a lot of the English materials or media sources, whereas people in the U.S. actually have very little understanding of what is going on in China.
And part of it is because there’s huge language barrier. Because most material, most stories on China are in Chinese, it’s a very impenetrable market for them. So we wanted to be the fresh voice that tells the China story in English, in a way that audiences who don’t speak Chinese and who haven’t lived in China can relate to, and appreciate and learn from. And for me, that was a missing voice on the market, because the China story was pretty much always told by people who have not lived in China – I mean, the China story in English. Because most reporters in Western media have not – many of them have not lived in China for a prolonged period of time. So it’s really hard for the English stories to be authentic. Whereas both Hans and I have lived in China for very long period of time and we know what it’s like to be on the ground, and we know the language, we can relate to the people, to the way of living, so I really wanted to kind of bring forth that voice through this podcast.
Hans Tung: I think the early seed of this project came through in 2011, when some of the smartest Indian VCs and founders came to China. And the question they asked were extremely thoughtful. They clearly studied the portfolio of leading Chinese VCs, and they understood that some of the big problems relate to urbanization that they’re seeing in India – somebody in China is or has been trying to solve it is. So they felt that there’s a lot of learning they can take. And they also ask a lot of question about China and there’s just not enough content in English, like Zara said, about China, to make it easy for them to pick up. So it became incredibly obvious that producing content in English about China, whether it’s voice, video or text could be quite useful to the $6 billion people who live outside of China. And the challenge is always when you take an idea that seems obvious, how to make that into a reality that has a lot of care and insight into it, and that’s where Zara came in.
Rita Yang: So Hans, you were pretty already established when this podcast was published. Why did you decide that you are willing to make time to host this podcast from episode to episode?
Hans Tung: I think GGV and myself were evolving, and we know that, over time, the next billion users will come outside of the U.S. and China. So at some point in the future, that will be important for other founders interested in what China is doing to learn from it. Like I said, the early idea came from watching these smart Indian VCs and founders come in China and asking amazing questions. So for us, we thought both good for sharing our knowledge and helping the community to learn, and also, selfishly, it helps us to build a brand, and to let more founders all over the world willing to pick GGV as a value-added investor. And what I didn’t expect is that the content, whether it is in PowerPoint text or podcast voice that we produced together, is just so well-consumed by people, whether it’s our episode, our write-up on Pinduoduo, on Meituan, on ByteDance, it was just amazingly well-received.
Some of you from different places have come up to me and said, “That was really insightful and really helped me to think through the issues.” At the human level, beyond just making investments in VC, when you see someone else who’s intelligent and smart, that generally felt that they benefited from the knowledge and experience that we have had, and that we were fortunate to be able to share, it is incredibly satisfying to see that knowledge is power and you’re making a difference in people’s lives. And I think that fundamentally that human connection is what keep us up to keep on doing episode after episode.
Zara Zhang: I want to give Hans a lot of credit, because I think you are a person who really likes sharing and is really generous with your ideas. And that can’t be said of every investor we’ve met. And I also think you’re a really eloquent person in general. So for our listeners’ information, all of our podcasts are unscripted. We don’t write out everything we say. But everything that comes out of Hans’s mouth is like perfect. And there are even times when I feel like, “Oh, my God, he just said that. That’s so well said.” So I just feel like the podcasting format lends really well to someone like you who is good at speaking in general, and asking good questions, and bringing people’s ideas forward and asking them about – bringing out how they really feel about things.
Hans Tung: Thank you. I can say the same thing for you as well.
Rita Yang: Share with us some moments where you felt like, “Wow, this is really making a difference in people’s lives.” I know Zara you have some stories on that.
Zara Zhang: Sure. I guess there are a lot of these moments. Every time we host an offline event, we see sometimes over 100 people show up and they’re all fans of what we do. They’ve listened to multiple podcasts. They know some of the content better than myself. I’ve met, for example, Stanford students, an American student in Palo Alto, who came to one of our events, and he said, “Because of the show, it has piqued my interest in tech in China and has changed my perception that China is just copycat and has no innovation.” So now, this summer, I ran to him in Beijing because he’s spending the summer interning in Beijing in tech, and a lot of that decision was driven by what we talked about on the show. So I think, especially for younger people, their ideas about the work, about the world, are still being shaped, and I’m really glad that we’re able to tell stories that inform their perspective and make them more open-minded.
Rita Yang: And much more informative about the world. So how did you come up with the name 996?
Hans Tung: When Zara asked me what to call it, we played with different names. I think 996 was the name I came up with because that’s how I have been working myself.
Rita Yang: No, you work 0-0-7, I think.
Hans Tung: Even to this day, when you’re in – when I visited Bangalore or New Delhi, when you go to these other cities around the world, and you see that people are just extremely driven, not just for themselves, but they want to build something that change and make their society better, that drive, and that passion is very infectious. And when GGV first invested in Alibaba in 2003 and had the fortune to see how that company evolved, sure, you get a share of negative press, especially in Western media, and sometimes even in Chinese media too, but still it is a company that made e-commerce possible in China and become a model for many companies, and inspiration for many founders all over the world.
So it’s, for us, we understand that 996 may have some negative connotations, we’re not disputing that. But at the same time, it’ll always have a special place in my heart because that’s the founders I spent time with, and you see them really trying hard to make an impact, to make a difference. That to me, more than anything else, make me feel that a lot of people from outside looking at China, it’s easy for people to assume that Chinese founders are successful because the market is big, there are a lot of users, and the government protects domestic businesses, etc. But as people who listen to this podcast over the last 20 months, you know that it is a lot more than that. And when you can take away all the outside perception and narrative, and talk to that person face to face, work with that kind of founders together and solve issues together, the camaraderie and the connection you build from one human to the other is impressive. And that’s why we use 996 as a way to describe and capture that spirit.
Zara Zhang: I also think from a naming perspective, it’s a great name, because it doesn’t explicitly mention tech, or China, or entrepreneurship, but all of that is kind of captured in the three numbers or digits. And I don’t see 996 as a set of hours, I kind of see it as a spirit. It’s kind of the feeling of hustle and just being extremely motivated to achieve something and being really committed. And I think that extends beyond Chinese tech. We see that in a lot of founders around the world. And also, I like the name because it’s almost like a inside joke. Like if you listen to the podcast, you know what it is. If you ask me what 996 is, it means you’re not a listener. A lot of people ask me, “What is 996?” I’m like, “Go listen to the show and you’ll find out.”
Rita Yang: What are some of the practical tips you would give for people who are thinking about starting their podcast as well?
Zara Zhang: Sure. When I thought about starting a podcast, I had zero experience in podcasting. I have never hosted or produced any audio form before. So I give a lot of credit to Kaiser Kuo, who is the host of the Sinica podcast. He taught me literally everything I know about podcasting. I knew Kaiser back then. I just I went to him in and asked how to actually start a podcast. So he taught me things like what kind of mic you should use, and how do you actually script it, how do you put your guest at ease, ask a question, do research, etc. I think that’s a huge part of the reason why our show sounds really good from an acoustic perspective.
You’ll notice that we actually have a very high sound quality, because we are using very good equipment. So in reality, actually all of our mics fit into a carry-on suitcase, and that’s the amount of equipment we need for each recording. I don’t think there is a lot of entry barriers to starting a podcast, because the equipment is so available on the market right now. Anyone can buy it. But I think the real barrier is really getting access to really good guests and then having a really good value proposition, like who should listen to your show and why should they do it. Because a lot of podcasts want to be everything to everyone, but I don’t think that creates enough differentiation in this world when there’s so much content out there.
For us, it was very clear that we just wanted to be the best English podcast on tech in China, and that was a very clear value proposition to people who were interested in tech in China. And I think we put a lot of thought into the kind of questions we asked our guests and who can appear on this show. So we kind of got out of our way to invite guests who we think meet our standard. And then we think a lot about how to best tell their stories. And we listen to what they’ve said before so that they don’t repeat themselves, things like that – to make them say things that are really original. So that’s a lot of the mechanics. And then a lot of people have asked me, do you and Hans, and the guests need to be all in the same room physically to do this, and how can you make that happen when Hans is traveling like crazy all the time?
So my answer is you don’t need to do that. Right now, we’re actually recording this remotely. Hans is in the U.S. and we’re in Beijing, and it still sounds like we’re together. Because in the post-production we lay the tracks over each other, because we record each person separately with a separate track. So it is actually better for acoustics if we’re all in different places. If the three of us are in three different cities. So actually most podcasts do that. The hosts are not in one place. So that’s kind of a misunderstanding that a lot of people have is you have to be physically in the same place to be on the podcast together.
Hans Tung: I definitely want to add a special thanks to Kaiser. Kaiser has been an amazing friend to both Zara and myself, and a mentor to us on podcast making. He also connected us to other people in his world, some of them are in D.C. and New York, that let us see what we’re doing in China tech from a different perspective. So all that is in a spirit of sharing and building a community of people willing to make the world better. So for that, we highly appreciate what Kaiser has done for us.
Zara Zhang: And another question that we get frequently is, since the podcast gets released on a biweekly basis, do you record an episode every two weeks? The answer is also no, because there is no way we can get Hans to record something every two weeks. The way we do it is by batching. So we might record, I don’t know, five episodes in one week, and then we release them gradually, over the next couple of months. And that’s how most podcasts do it as well. So when you’re hearing an interview it might actually have been recorded a few weeks ago. So that’s just how podcasting works.
Rita Yang: So what should people expect for the new season of the podcast, Hans?
Hans Tung: I think that with you on board, and also, we are seeing that there’s a lot of interest in our content beyond just U.S. and China, I think next season will be much more about the next billion users and how that’s evolving, and what we can evolve – lessons we learn from U.S. and China for that market, those users and those founders. I saw a question earlier, what are our top cities or listeners. And right now it’s Beijing, San Francisco, Shanghai and New York. But we do see that there is growing interest in what we’re doing from LatAm, Southeast Asia and India. So it is has been very rewarding to see how this podcast evolves, and then we are getting more and more interest in sharing lessons beyond what we originally set out to do. And for that, I am grateful for the feedback and the interest from the community that Zara and I have started to build.
Rita Yang: So now we’re going to hear questions from our listeners’ community. It is an incredible community of people who submitted incredible questions. The first question is from Kenny Chan. He works at Grab in Singapore. This question is for Hans.
Kenny Chan: Hi, this is Kenny from Grab in Singapore. Thanks for taking the question. As the global economy faces a potential recession and fundraising may become more challenging over the next few years, how do you think this will affect companies that are currently venture funded? And what sort of new market opportunities are there for new startups that might not necessarily have come up if the economy continued to be strong?
Hans Tung: I think for GGV, we’ve been through four crises, ups and downs in our career. Whether it’s the currency crisis of 1997, ’98, ’99, or in the first bubble bursting in 2000, 2001, then the financial crisis in the U.S. in 2007, 2008, 2009, and then some of the slowdown that we saw in China in 2015-2016 timeframe. So every time we see correction like this, we end up investing in the better companies who have what it takes to get through this period. Usually there’s less funding. It also means that there’s less bubble, there’s less companies that shouldn’t be able to raise money. They won’t be able to raise money, and therefore the cost of talent, the cost of user acquisition, the cost of everything goes down, because there’s less bubble and there’s froth.
And the good founders who are focused on building the business for the long-haul, focused on biz fundamentals, end up being able to do more with less cost, and end up building the stronger companies. For example, I invested in Xiaomi in 2010. It was right after the financial crisis in the U.S., when the world was less positive on mobile internet on Web 2.0. And Xiaomi ends up building a company from scratch with social networking, and mobile services and hardware all combined into one. So we consistently feel that whenever there is a downturn, the best companies will end up doing better in the process.
Rita Yang: Second question is from Jackie Shen from Hong Kong.
Jacky Shen: My question is, what is the level of skepticism should you maintain when you make investments into startups? The reason why I am asking this is that early stage startups tend to have very limited information, and some might not even have answers to all questions.
Hans Tung: That’s a very fair question. I think the best investors I’ve observed tend to have an inkling, or some kind of thesis, or when they meet an amazing founder, they’re able to pick up what a founder is saying what’s the underlying societal trend that is causing that disruption very clearly. Whether it’s investing in Uber, in Airbnb, in DiDi, in Xiaomi in any of these companies that have become a disruptor. The investor need to have some kind of ability to see what the future would be like, to see what’s around the corner, and be able to get that, “This is something that’s going to be massive.” I’ve been in situations where I have more conviction than even the founder of what is going on, because you see that the world will just be different, and what is being done makes a lot of sense. So when you have that kind of conviction on certain thesis, then you can rank them as which one will make the most impact.
And if you have the discipline to follow that kind of thesis and ideas, then it becomes easier to judge which deal to do, and which deal to pass. Having said that it’s still not easy, because it is tempting. Either you’re a more pessimistic person to be very careful on your bets, or you’re an extremely aggressive person who just can’t say no. So how to manage your own desire, and fear, and want, and so you can try to be as objective as possible, I think requires 10,000 hours of training and iteration.
Rita Yang: Third question is from Sumit Jasoria. What is your plan for investing in startups in Southeast Asia and how do you plan to create a platform to mentor your invested startups over the region?
Hans Tung: Right. I think led by investments from my partners, Jixun and Jenny. Jixun led our investment in Grab in series B, back in 2013-2014 in Southeast Asia. Obviously has done extremely well. Jenny has made a few fintech bets in Southeast Asia, too. I’m spending time looking at it along with my partner Eric Xu as well. It is a region that some of us grew up in. Jenny and Jixun were born in Singapore. I lived there and got a PR for a period for about four years. And so traveling around the region, we know that Southeast Asia is not one country. There’s eight, ten different markets. And so we see what’s happening in Indonesia, what’s happening in Vietnam, or Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines it’s all sometimes different. So being able to decide which markets to focus on, which trends, which thesis to bet on becomes important in order to focus, and prioritize, and use the time wisely. At the same time, we have built up talent programs in both the U.S. and China, what we call Founders + Leaders. They helped our founders to learn from those who have scale businesses.
So we feel that by sharing what has been built in U.S. and China in selected areas, it is a great way for founders from those regions and other new regions to learn from it. And we will over time probably have events that will invite founders from LatAm, from Southeast Asia and India to join us, either in the U.S. or China, or take our program to them and be able to build a community that can allow founders to share lessons and be able to learn from each other, and learn from experts who have built it and done that before. I think that what’s interesting about the VC job, is the ability to help to form communities, foster communities that allow people to share their life experiences and lessons. And it is incredibly satisfying to see other people benefiting from that and build that connection between people, that kind of human kindred spirit is what makes this job extremely satisfying and rewarding.
Rita Yang: The fourth question is from Jun Zhang.
Jun Zhang: Hello, this is Jun Zhang. My first question is what kind of personal attributes do you identify from a successful CEO and that will make you seem invested to them? And my second question is for GGV capital —what is the investment strategy you’re looking to invest in India and Southeast Asia in terms of sectors? You focus on stages, check size you would like to write?
Hans Tung: Sure. I think the CEOs, the ones we back, tend to be the ones that are incredibly thoughtful about what is the problem that needs to be solved and what are the exact pain points. The better ones — the best ones even have experience solving it or know or tried it with different methods before but learned that some innovation into structure needs to happen to make it work.
Secondly, the second characteristic we see in strong founders are the ones who learn and adjust extremely quickly. They’re incredibly inquisitive, keep on asking questions. If something is not well-working, they keep on asking why. So they don’t take just what they see for granted. So they always tend to understand what’s the underlying thesis, underlying dynamics, what’s happened to society that makes this possible, and what are the other technology innovations happening around the peripheral that they can take advantage to solve this problem better than the last time.
And thirdly is that CEOs who has incredible leadership can gather a team of people to be willing to work on their mission together to solve a problem and feel that they’re making a huge difference. Therefore this mission is worth doing if we’re going to stick together and solve these problems. A startup is not easy; it’s extremely hard and sometimes a very lonely job. The CEOs or the C-level officers sometimes stay up late at night and they have problems and there are not many people they can talk to. So having that ability to build a support network for yourself so you can get advice from others, bounce ideas off of each other to help you to make best decisions is incredibly, incredibly important.
So founders who are impressively very knowledgeable what they are trying to do and are very inquisitive at figuring out how to do things better and take advantage of what’s happening around them. Then thirdly, have that amazing leadership charisma, that quality, to get people to want to work with them and work together. Those are three things that jump out as a common successful cases of criteria or factors for successful CEOs.
Now what are some common problems that we saw? It’s very easy to get confident when you raise a lot of money. Sometimes disasters happen right after a company or team brings a lot of money because to them, seemed like an immediate success, overwhelmed them. It’d end up being they’d be more wasteful or not use the money as efficiently as possible — ends up throwing money at a problem and not try to look for the root cause of the problem.
Sometimes not having enough money forces you to be a lot more disciplined and try to solve the problem much more elegantly, and therefore much more effectively.
The second problem we see is sometimes a big things happen and it happened too fast too soon and you simply were not ready for it. Ends up that a bigger player was someone else and are taking advantage of that. So you miss out at taking advantage yourself.
Thirdly is some of the problems are internally inflicted. Founders who initially when there’s not much going on can stick together, get stuff done. But when there is success, there is credit to go around, there’s fame, people start becoming harder to put up with each other and not be able to figure out — each one have their own sense of what the future, the direction should be and not be able to just pick one and stick to it. So a lot of the problems we see are self-inflicted. At the same time, the ones who are not as ready, ends up missing on the turn they’ve been waiting for.
All those I think are unfortunate and actually solvable. So the better founders learn over time from the previous iteration and mistakes, and become much better the second or the third time around.
Rita Yang: This question, from Huang Zexin.
Huang Zexin: This is Huang Zexin from Nanyang Technological University. First of all, I would like to thank you guys for creating the 996 Podcast. I’ve learned so much from it. I heard you guys giving tips to listeners in the U.S. and China, and I would like to ask — is there any tips for a Chinese undergrad based in Singapore that wants to break into the VC field after graduation? And in particular, what kind of exposure and experience would be the most beneficial? Thank you so much.
Hans Tung: I would say most people shouldn’t try to be a VC or you should not be a founder straight out of school. I think that it is important to pick up the right experiences, life lessons along the way. That will prepare you to be a much more effective founder or VC. So I would encourage people that have come out of college, you want to be a VC, get a job initially that will allow you to think critically.
Whether it’s a consulting job, or investment banking job, or even a product manager job at one of the leading Internet companies that teach you how to identify problem and try to solve problem and make recommendations to get things done. So those are all — those kinds of business analysis, critical thinking skills are very good when you have key studies and you have deals you are working on to get a chance to sharpen them.
And learn how to present that to your teammates, your colleagues, present to the clients or internally try to come up with the idea, product you are building to solve a specific problem that your older colleagues at a company will think that is worth solving. So having these kind of critical thinking issues skill sets and be able to prioritize and work within groups to solve a problem, make a recommendation are all incredibly useful toolsets to have.
And then once you do that, if we can also pick up some kind of startup experience to understand how a founder — what kind of issues he or she needs to try to solve, how to put a team together, and how to figure out a way to work together, identify a problem, and come up with the right way to solve it. And try it through trial and error to always use iteration to perfect the way of solving it until you get better at making that work.
Both having the business analysis recommendation experience from a professional job plus a startup experience, trying to make it work with no brand and on your own. Try to make your work with any resource you’ve got, try to be extremely creative and efficient. Having both such experiences, I think, makes it possible to build a successful VC career.
I think VC’s a job that can last a long time because you continue to build a brand over the years. You have better acumen, you’ve learned from your track record. It’s not something you should rush into. I think the most successful VCs tend to be the ones who have prepared themselves well early on. So by the time they start doing it, they are more ready for it.
If I look at my own career, the first 9–10 years were in investment banking, tech research, and startups. If I didn’t have that first 9–10 years of doing that, I don’t think my my second 10 years as a VC would have been as successful.
Rita Yang: Well, Zara got her first job with GGV as a fresh undergraduate, right? Zara, do you want to share your experience from that perspective?
Zara Zhang: Sure. I didn’t really imagine going into VC as a first job and I’m very curious why Hans hired me. Because I think VCs don’t traditionally hire fresh graduates so do you want to answer that?
Hans Tung: Well I think everything you did afterwards, the fact that you helped to build the 996 podcast, newsletter, and community justify why we hired and recruit to hire you in the first place. I think Zara’s ability to think critically, understanding of both U.S. and Chinese environment, and ability, right — to articulate thinking, and quickly process a lot of information in a short period of time makes her an ideal analyst candidate.
I’m very glad that Zara is working at ByteDance now, because now she is picking up good operation experience and exposure to Internet sector. And ByteDance’s one of the best in the company’s inner world. So for Zara, if she eventually wants to be VC, which I’m not sure she does, having this kind of experience will help her whether she wants to be a VC or be a founder at some point in the future. So having these right experiences along the way, I think it’s incredibly important for you to build a successful career almost at anything you do.
Zara Zhang: Yeah. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity. And I think for me, I didn’t really know what I was getting into going into VC and it was very different from what most people outside perceive it to be. And I actually think a lot of the skill sets are very transferable between all the different industries. I don’t think it’s necessarily a good thing for new graduates to go into VC. I think it’s probably better as a last job than a first job.
Hans Tung: I would definitely agree with that.
Rita Yang: So the sixth question is from Jenny Niu.
Jenny Niu:strong> Hi, my name is Jenny. I’m a Chinese MIT alumna based in Singapore and is looking to relocate to China within the next year. One common theme from the podcast is that entrepreneurs in emerging markets are increasingly learning from China and looking to Chinese business models for inspiration.
This is because whatever pinpoints that the emerging markets are trying to solve, China has probably faced that same problem before in one or more tiers of the cities — and someone has found a solution to it. The question is, what about developed markets like Singapore, Japan, Korea — does China have anything to offer to these developed markets? If so, what are they? What can developed markets learn from the Chinese entrepreneurs and Chinese tech companies? Thank you.
Hans Tung: I think if we look at the case of Grab, it is — start off in Singapore, yet Anthony is someone who was educated in the West and understood that there are models that he can learn from, but at the same time innovate on his own in Southeast Asia. So teaching helped to bridge an investment from BD into Grab.
So I think Grab benefited from working with BD as well. And Grab also innovated by setting up an engineering development center in India to tap resources in both China and India to help itself grow in multiple countries in Southeast Asia. So I think that there are things that even developed markets can learn from China.
We look at the Lime in the U.S. that we are fortunate to be an investor in, the two co-founders are Americans but also same time, with roots from China. They saw what was happening in China with Mobike, with Ofo, and then later on with Hello. They learned all the right lessons and innovated and come up with the scooter sharing in the U.S. and now in Europe. So Lime is a great example of a company that knows east and west, and can leverage a supply chain benefits of being in China and the understanding of America, American market and have a global mindset to be willing to go to Europe.
So seeing Lime scooters everywhere in the top cities in the U.S. and Europe, have been incredibly satisfying to see that yes, these are models and ideas that are very global in nature. You look at what Facebook has been trying to do with Facebook Messenger, what Instagram has been trying to do with shopping — a lot of that were inspirations from China with WeChat and social commerce in China.
So it is now incredibly interesting to see the things that are innovating in far more countries, like China, that historically people think is a copycat nation. At the same time, I don’t think that innovation will only happen in the U.S. or China or even in Israel or Europe. The innovation will come from everywhere.
You look at what Oyo has been able to do out of India, expanding globally with their hotel room reservation app. It’s been incredibly interesting and fascinating to see a company coming out of India be able to do that well. And so I think that countries like Southeast Asia and India or LATAM, who knows? in the next five years may produce global champion in their own sector as well. So that makes the world much more flat and fair a place.
Rita Yang: Seventh question is for Zara.
Jonas Wolf:strong> Hello. This is Jonas from AngelHack. I would like to ask how did you pick the podcast theme, content, and also the marketing strategy for it? Thank you so much. Love the content and all you’re sharing . Keep it up.
Zara Zhang: I’ll touch a bit on the marketing side. The short answer is we didn’t do much marketing. I remember when I first started the podcast, I asked Kaiser — how do we make people actually listen to this? How do we attract a lot of listeners? And his answer was simply just consistently produce high-quality content and the people will come.
So I think that has always been the philosophy for this show. We don’t do Facebook ads, we don’t kind of growth hack our way into virality. I don’t think we need to go viral as a VC firm because our goal is not to attract a million clicks. Our goal is to attract really high-quality entrepreneurs and talents that we can invest in and partner with.
And a lot of that has more to do with the depth of our connection with our listeners rather than on the quantity of listeners. So we’re really focused on having the absolutely best guests on the show and getting them to talk about things that our listeners really care about. And we didn’t do much marketing beyond like tweeting out each episode. And I think the community, it just spread organically and most people hear about it through word of mouth.
Hans Tung: Yeah. I think that by picking the — identify the product market fit or the opportunity, having a deficient product, helps to get users to talk about it. And we are quite fortunate in that respect, that by focusing on building the right — having the right content makes it a lot easier to build the right community. So it’s been fun working with Zara on this.
Rita Yang: The eighth question is from Barbara dos Santos.
Barbara dos Santos: Hi 996. This is Barbara dos Santos. I am originally from Brazil, but I am a PhD student in Washington DC. My question is how can founders and VCs in Brazil build strong bridges with Chinese investors and entrepreneurs? Is there something that makes Brazil different than other emerging markets in this sense?
Hans Tung: I think that — we see a number of Brazilian founders and VCs come to China. It’s great to see that happen. GGV loves to host them when they are in China, and share what we know, and introduce them to our portfolio companies in China as well.
And it’s also quite interesting to talk to founders in different emerging markets. I had a conversation with a founder of Loggi in Brazil which is a big portfolio company and the founder of Shadowfax in India. And it’s funny that both have told me that they are almost mirror image of each other — do something very similar in the logistics, warehousing, automation space. And they feel that when they read each other’s PowerPoint, they’re looking at exactly their own company. It’s how eerily similar they are coming with the ideas independently of each other for solving similar problems.
And when that happens, it just further validates our thesis that this world’s a lot more global than people think. The problems, opportunities caused by urbanisation, a rising middle-class are pretty similar and comparable. Maybe the specific implementation may differ, because different conditions in the local countries are different. But still, there’s a lot of similarities and just fun that the people in the same field — be able to exchange ideas with each other.
Rita Yang: The next question is actually from me. I’m also one of the original 996 listeners. How do you guys assess the quality of your decisions. Hans, you want to start?
Hans Tung: Quality of decisions in what context?
Rita Yang: Just in life or investment — do you have a principle in general?
Hans Tung: There is no what-ifs. You live your life. The decisions you make has incredible impact and it affects what you do next. So you can’t just go back and take a do-over like you can do with podcasts, obviously. So for me, I spent quite a bit of time thinking about what will happen in the next 5–10 years, and I constantly use that to guide the way I make decisions.
As Zara and Rita also know, I’ve lived in nine different cities in my life and most of the cities, I lived there, working as an adult. So also means my career has changed a lot, evolved a lot over the years. So it is very easy for people to —especially smart people — come out of school, to compare themselves against other peers — their peers from the same school, same classroom.
And I had encouraged people not to do that, even though it’s very hard. Because if you approach life thinking about what could happen in the next 5–10 years, and therefore go where the opportunities are — and try to do the right thing, try to help people, try to share what you know, try to learn from others by being good and by being helpful, good things will happen to you because you are going to be what the future is. So the pie will get bigger. There’s more to share and it just ends up being much better.
When I went to China in 2005, a lot of my friends from Taiwan, where I was born, and the U.S. where I grew up — both in California and in New York — told me not to. They said that’s a tough place, you’re not a mainlander, when you fo there you’re going to get eaten alive. This is not going to work. It is a very tough market. It is highly regulated. It’s especially not friendly to people from the outside.
So it is very easy to hear other people’s popular wisdom and follow the crowd and do what’s “easier.” But if you have a sense of where the future could be, how the world could be different, you want to be out there helping people and sharing ideas and learn from them. I think good things end up happening to those who are willing to take that kind of calculated risk.
Rita Yang: Ok. So the next question is for Zara. Hans has always suggested Chinese returnees to work in fast growing startup first and then start their own business. You have apparently followed that advice by leaving GGV and joining ByteDance. Now you have worked in ByteDance for a couple of months, what advice would you give to young Chinese people who have studied or lived extensively outside of China like yourself?
Zara Zhang: I think the most important thing I learned from Hans was probably the most exciting opportunity of our age today, for people like myself, is the trend of Chinese Internet companies expanding globally and becoming real global companies. And I heard that message over and over again. Every time I went to Stanford and Berkeley and Harvard — I’ve learned that the world needs a lot of people who can bridge China and the outside world especially in the tax-base.
And for me, I’ve always loved the Internet industry and how it has changed my life and the society I live in, especially in China and growing up with WeChat and all that. So I think my advice is always, no matter what you do, do something that’s China related. Make use of the fact that you’re from China. I can’t believe the number of my classmates from college who, when they are trying to decide what to do for their career, their cultural background is not even in their consideration.
They pick a job where they think to be the standard path or a less risky or seems to make a lot of money, but they don’t think about the fact that what really differentiates us from our American or other classmates is the fact that we’re Chinese. We can speak the world’s hardest language and we have cultural affinity with 1.4 billion people. I think that really should be everyone’s decision making process.
We’re really lucky to be able to kind of service this bridge. And there are a lot of opportunities in the space even though it may not be obvious in the beginning. I wanted to go into tech, but as someone in the humanities, I had no easy path. I couldn’t code or take up technical jobs but I went around about and went in — I did journalism internships, I wrote about tech in China, and then Hans saw my writing. So I joined VC and now I’m in tech, finally.
So I think if you look hard enough, there are actually a lot of opportunities for this space and especially now that Chinese tech companies are going global. They all need talent who have experience living, studying outside of China, who are fluent in English, who can empathize with users outside of China, to take these companies global. So I would really recommend everyone to kind of take advantage of your background.
Also, at ByteDance we’re hiring a lot of these people so if you are looking to join a high-growth company anywhere in the world, because we have offices all over the world — not just China, U.S., Singapore — but like almost every country you can imagine. You can talk to me. I’m sure we can find something for you. You can either reach out to me on LinkedIn or on WeChat. I’m in the 996 groups.
Hans Tung: Is easy for some of us to see the talent in Zara, because not everyone was born an engineer at heart, a technologist, but at the same time we can analyze and appreciate the impact of technology in society. What Zara had was kind of a sociologist kind of a background. Looking at the world, looking at societies, analyze a system, and then be able to write extremely well to articulate that kind of contrast.
And so part of the job of being a good VC, is to spot talent — not just in the form of founders, but also talent in other areas. And when you can, in life, constantly think of ways to help other people, no matter the age, and put them in the best position where they succeed, in the long-run, you benefit as well. Because when have win-win relationships, it sounds trite, but when you actually do that and do that consistently, the good thing happens to you as well as the people around you.
And so if you have that ethos and constantly try to do what’s right and good, over time it’s like investing. The ones that do well, the relationships that work, really come back and make all the other past failures or mistakes much less insignificant. So in life, you will need to approach that not thinking always about yourself, but to think of how to make the pie bigger and make the world better in a business savvy way. Not just about saving the world and from a purely a deal sense, you can actually build stronger companies, industries, if not societies. So if you have that ethos, I think that it will serve you well and guide you well when you make decisions in life.
Rita Yang: Next question for Zara. Did you ever imagine that you would be able to do what you do now and having the career track you have?
Zara Zhang: No. In college, I didn’t even know what VC stood for. So I think the lesson of me growing up is I should never try to predict where exactly I will be or what I will be doing, because there is no point. Growing up, I had never imagined I would attend Harvard in the U.S. as someone growing up in Changchun in China. I never thought I would be going to high school in Singapore or go into journalism.
I never imagined my first job would be in VC and that I would be at a tech company now or I would be doing a podcast or any of that. I think I kind of just go with my gut and let serendipity guide my journey. So I think I met Hans because he read one of my articles on the information, so that really taught me if you do good work, someone will find you and give you a life-changing opportunity. And for me, the most I can do is whatever I’m doing, give it absolutely my best. And when the opportunity approaches me, just make sure to grab it and don’t let loose and good things will happen in the end.
So now I’ve learned try not to over-plan and kind of just be open-minded and just let things flow, because the world is changing so fast. In 10 years there might be a whole new industry, or concepts, or jobs that we’ve never heard of today that might pop up. And so I don’t think there is use in kind of planning where exactly I will be or what I’ll be doing. But I think having overarching principles for how do you make decisions will be enough.
Rita Yang: What’s your overarching principles for making decisions?
Zara Zhang: It’s constantly changing, but for now I want to do things that are interesting and challenging and kind of different. Yeah.
Hans Tung: Let me add a couple of points. I think Zara probably does not know this. I’ve been looking for someone like Zara for four years, during my first four years at GGV. It was not easy to find someone who can articulate, has that voice — that has understanding of U.S. and at the same time can explain things from a China angle and be able to tell a story that’s more “fair” to China’s experiences — yet, have a key understanding how the U.S. audience or global audience may interpret it.
So I think over time, there will be more talent who can do that. But it’s been incredibly hard to find it. So as soon as when Christine Hinton, my colleague in PR, and I read Zara’s article, it was very obvious to us that she is likely going to be the one.
So I think this is also when we see spot investment opportunities. If you have a prepared mind — that you thought through the issues and you know the pain points — when you see someone or meet someone who potentially can have a solution, that click, that willingness take a chance is almost automatic. We just know that it’s such a hard problem to solve, other people have not solved it. This person clearly has the best chance of solving it, so it’s worth the bat. When you can do that consistently, good things end up happening more often than not.
Zara Zhang: Thank you, Hans. And I want to add on how happy I am that Rita is here. When I thought about leaving, my biggest misgiving was I really wanted this to be continued and I wonder if we could find someone to continue the work we’ve been doing. And I think we’re really, really lucky to have found you, too — was a really good fit for this and I’m really glad it’s taking this to new heights.
Rita Yang: This is a podcast of three people speaking good things about each other by the way. Okay, so that’s a wrap. Thank you for being on the show, Hans and Zara.
Hans Tung: Thank you. Thank you, Rita, for doing this.
Zara Zhang: Thank you.
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