• GGV Just Raised $1.2 Billion; Here’s How It’s Going to Spend It

    0121_IMG_1847Back in February, we told you GGV Capital was raising a more than a billion dollars from its investors.

    This morning, the 16-year-old, cross-border venture firm is making it official. The final tally, says GGV, is $1.2 billion, including a $675 million main fund; a $225 million “Plus” fund to back its most promising companies as they mature; a $250 million “Discovery” fund that will focus largely on seed-stage opportunities in China; and a side, $50 million “Entrepreneurs” fund that consists largely of company founders as LPs and that will invest pro rata across the funds.

    The firm has a lot of moolah to invest, in other words. To find out out where GGV plans to shop, we talked yesterday with managing directors Glenn Solomon and Jeff Richards, who are based in Menlo Park, but who travel to the firm’s Beijing and Shanghai offices frequently.

    Aside from the amount you’ve raised, it looks like what’s newest here is your first dedicated seed-stage fund, 80 percent of which you intend to invest in China. You’ve always made bets of all sizes in China; why break this part of your business into a separate fund?

    GS: Over the last five years, more than 70 percent of our investments have been Series B or earlier and many of them have been in China. But we thought the opportunity in China to do [seed] deals is really strong for us given our work on the ground and the entrepreneurial community that we’ve built up in China.

    Is it fair to say this is largely a marketing tactic so entrepreneurs will be clearer about your intentions in China? 

    GS: I was having dinner in Beijing with a CEO who we’ve backed in the past and in whose newest company we invested at the Series B, and when I told him about our plans to raise Discovery, he said, “Had I known you guys were doing seed investing, I would have called you first.”

    Don’t underestimate how important [messaging] is. Also, for our limited partners, having a separate vehicle helps them look at our seed investing activity and judge how we’re doing [versus when it’s lumped in with later-stage bets].

    How is competition at the seed level in China?

    More here.

  • The Fascinating Rise of E-Commerce App Wish

    untitled-3620Last week, toward the end of a StrictlyVC event in San Francisco, GGV Capital managing director Hans Tung took the stage to interview one of his portfolio CEOs, Peter Szulczewski of Wish. With an increasingly boisterous crowd as their background, Tung managed to ferret out lots of fascinating information from the highly personable Szulczewski, who looked very much the part of busy founder. (Blood-shot eyes, rumpled clothing.)

    We’d been eager to learn more about Wish — a fast-growing e-commerce mobile app that has raised roughly $600 million from investors — particularly because Szulczewski hasn’t talked often with the press or shared much hard information about the company. He did last week, though, including telling the crowd that Wish now has “hundreds of millions of users,” that it saw “single-digit billions of dollars” in gross merchandise volume, and seemingly confirming rumors that the company has seen interest (if not concrete acquisition offers) from Alibaba and Amazon.

    If you’re interested in e-commerce or want to understand merchants in China particularly, this is a must-read.

    More here.

  • Jenny Lee of GGV Capital on What to Know Now About China

    jennyleeBy Semil Shah

    Jenny Lee of GGV Capital knows China. She set up the Shanghai practice of the cross-border venture firm a decade ago, and her performance since earned her the number 10 slot on Forbes’s Midas List earlier this year. It was the first time a woman has broken into the list’s top 10 dealmakers and hers represented the highest ranking ever for a woman in the list’s history. (Among Lee’s prescient bets: Leading an investment in the privately held smartphone maker Xiaomi, which was valued at $45 billion as of last December — a figure that billionaire investor Yuri Milner has said will look quaint soon enough.)

    We talked with her recently about what, exactly, is happening in her vast backyard right now.

    A few weeks ago, the Chinese economy was the talk of the town. Can you summarize what happened and what we should expect moving forward?

    The Chinese stock market, which is largely retail driven, took a dive for a few consecutive weeks and resulted in a series of panic selling. The government had to step in with measures to calm down the market, including putting a temporary halt on new IPOs, halting trading on [other stocks], and encouraging the state-owned companies to acquire shares of “undervalued” listed companies in order to restore confidence in the market.

    It is important to understand that the Chinese stock exchanges are still relatively young, and over the years they’ve been steadily opening up and attracting more institutional investors similar to international markets. However, the transition will take time and investors in China will need to have a strong stomach for such fluctuations. For example, the IPO market has been halted more than 8 times in the last 20-plus years whenever retail frenzy takes hold. But from a long-term perspective, the direction is toward more openness and transparency and on cultivating an investor base that is more institutional versus retail driven.

    How has the correction in Chinese markets affected early-stage entrepreneurship in China? Do you believe it could have any affect on what’s happening in the U.S.?

    Historically, only traditional and local companies –stated-owned, manufacturing, etc. — have been listed locally. The markets have profitability listing rules that have made it harder or impossible for technology companies to fund raise or list in the local markets. But despite past events, early-stage entrepreneurship in China (which, interestingly is largely technology and internet driven) continues to flourish and we see a record number of startups every day.  Good quality companies will always be able to find a listing venue either offshore or onshore when they are ready.

    I believe China entrepreneurship will continue to generate some of the biggest returns in tech history, and for those who are familiar with China and the China-based VC managers who have generated real returns for their investors, the market will continue to be a hot spot for fund inflows.

    On a short-term basis, any impact in the U.S. will likely be felt most by the Chinese ADRs listed in the U.S. whose stock prices see huge downwards pressure when their investors take profits to fulfill their margin calls for their domestic positions in the China stock market.

    What are three characteristics of the typical Chinese mobile consumer that entrepreneurs in the West don’t fully comprehend?

    Chinese mobile consumers are not one homogenous segment but rather highly segmented by age, usage behavior, demographics gender, location, and more. A 14-year-old female teenager living in Anhui province is very different from a 40-year-old woman working in Shanghai. For example, companies can target the “average joe” segment, also known as “diaosi” users, or target the “aspiring” segment, also known as “baifumei.” Both are huge consumer segments in China.

    Another thing: Chinese companies prefer the subscription model, virtual currency/ items, commerce model versus a pure ad-based model.  Most people do not consume ads online, especially on mobile.

    Also worth noting is that a lack of a fully built-out offline retail and services in second- and third-tier cities in China means that many services and products are not available offline. Variety and convience factors are lacking. Hence mobile commerce is a very natural transaction-based value for users.  Thanks to Alipay and Tencent’s further efforts to tie users’ phones to payment providers, the ease of payment has greatly enhanced e-commerce, and anytime anywhere transactions via the mobile devices.

    As a long-time observer of Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, and Xiaomi, do you expect them to be acquisitive in the U.S. as a means of deepening their ambitions in America?

    Yes, you will start to see more Chinese companies expand overseas after they have “conquered” enough market share in China. The question is not whether they will come but when they do come, how U.S. companies will feel about feeling acquired by a Chinese company.

    How does the Chinese startup ecosystem perceive Silicon Valley today? Is it seen as something to mimic, or something that could be leapfrogged given China’s enormous market power?

    It’s seen as place that is driven by innovation and where the tech talent lives in the U.S. Many CEOs see Silicon Valley as a very complementary talent pool to their teams as they try to expand overseas. There’s also a large pool of Chinese engineers and entrepreneurs who have spent the last 10 to 20 years living or working in the U.S., who are now ready to return home to China.

    It’s not about “mimicking” the U.S., since China is already more advanced in terms of mobile user base, mobile adoption and usage behavior. Also, the Chinese don’t view the U.S. as the center of the universe.  For overseas international markets, the U.S. is just one of the markets. They can also address the India market, the South American market or the Southeast Asia market, among others. In many cases, it makes more sense to address other markets first before the U.S. as Xiaomi has done.

  • U.S. Companies Backing Out of U.S. Indices? Maybe Not

    ChinaIt’s been a big story of late. As of mid-June, 14 U.S.-traded China-based companies had received buyout offers valued at a collective $22.4 billion, according to Dealogic. The highest profile of the bunch is Internet services provider Qihoo 360, which, several weeks ago, announced it had received a buyout offer led by its chairman and CEO — one that would make it the “largest take-private deal of a U.S.-listed company,” said the WSJ.

    The reason for all the take-private talk? China’s stock market, which has roared along for much of this year, thanks to a series of moves by the Chinese government, including cutting benchmark interest rates, reducing stock market transaction fees — even reconsidering its stance on what are called variable interest entity structures, which are used by China-based companies to list in the U.S. and are hard to unwind.

    China, in short, wants its companies to come home.

    “The government wants to build its own capital markets,” says Glenn Solomon, a managing partner of the cross-border venture firm GGV Capital who we talked with last week. “It wants to see capital stay in China and continue to be invested in China.”

    The question is whether companies are smart to listen.

    (More on what’s changing fast in China here.)

  • Ben Thompson on What Xiaomi Gets Just Right

    Ben ThompsonBen Thompson, a Taipei, Taiwan-based writer with a sharp understanding of consumer tech, has attracted a loyal and growing base of readers to his one-man media company, Stratechery. Thompson has also become something of a thought leader in Silicon Valley over the last year, largely because of the perspective he enjoys from his perch halfway across the world.

    Last night, at a San Francisco dinner hosted by the venture firm GGV Capital, Thompson — who’s in the U.S. for an Apple event this Monday — shared some of his thoughts with investors and entrepreneurs as they sipped wine and enjoyed a series of carefully prepared Cantonese dishes.

    Among the topics raised was five-year-old Xiaomi, the fast-rising Chinese company that became the top player in China’s competitive smartphone market last summer, as well as the world’s third-largest phone maker. Thompson didn’t address the long-term prospects for Xiaomi, which raised $1.1 billion in funding at a stunning $45 billion valuation in December. But he did talk at some length about why he thinks it shouldn’t be underestimated. From his comments last night, edited lightly for clarity:

    “Whether [I’m ‘long Xiaomi’] is a separate question from why I think the company is interesting.

    Xiaomi is very highly valued right now, but they’re a company that a lot needs to go right for them to succeed. Then again, in 2012, if you said a lot would need to go right for them to get to X by 2015 — well, a lot did go right. They’ve executed very impressively to date.

    Why they’re interesting as a company is that tech companies get so caught up in scale, and the efficiencies that come with them, that they tend to treat entire markets the same. Not Apple, which has demonstrated that you can definitely segment markets, [and not Xiaomi, which has done the same].

    If you view the whole world as one market, you have this view that on one end, you have people who really love technology and will spend a lot on their phone and you give them the highest end sort of thing. And [you think that at the other end of the spectrum], you have someone who just doesn’t care, who walks into the AT&T store and buys whatever they’re told to buy and they get some crappy knock-off phone or whatever it might be.

    But too many tech companies treat that [latter] person the same as the person in the developing country who is also buying a cheap phone. And they’re exactly the opposite. If you’re a young person and you’re interested in technology but you don’t have much money, you’re very different from someone who will just walk into a store [with no agenda]. What Xiaomi did was treat that person [like a sophisticated buyer]. “You want something that’s super customizable that you can dig into, and we’re going to meet you at a price point that’s approachable for you.”

    It’s no wonder they just obliterated these other phone companies that are offering a knock-off of last year’s model at a low price. Like, which would you rather buy? A phone from a company that’s giving you what you want, or last year’s Samsung? The low-income market is different, but it’s the same in that there are also geeks there who want something interesting there, and there are people who don’t care there. You don’t think about [customers] in terms of money. There are different segments — people who are on the super cutting edge and people who aren’t — and that’s fine as long as you don’t treat it as one monolithic kind of thing.

    I kind of feel like tech in general is too much in love with scale when often what’s interesting is at the margins — identifying a niche and serving it and figuring out how to scale it later. Too many companies think about scale from day one and they end up making a mediocre product that tries to serve everyone and does it very poorly.”

  • Opendoor Raises $20M for Its Audacious Home-Buying Business

    Eric WuOpendoor, a year-old, San Francisco-based company, is on a mission to make residential real estate liquid by making it simple to buy and sell it online.

    Investors are buying what it’s selling. This morning, the company is announcing $20 million in fresh funding led by GGV Capital, a round that brings the company’s total outside funding to $30 million.

    Consumers are also buying Opendoor’s pitch. The 20-person company is now buying one house per day – sight unseen — in its test market of Phoenix. Home owners need merely give it their address and some basic details, and using public market information about historical home sales and Opendoor’s own proprietary data about market conditions, the company arrives at an offer price that’s just one to three points below what the seller might fetch on the open market roughly three months into the future. (That’s the average time, it says, required to sell a home in the U.S.)

    The big question now is whether the whole operation is sustainable. Certainly, the risk and reward associated with what it’s trying to pull off is enormous.

    Consider: After Opendoor acquires each home, it must ensure the home is up to code in order to resell it. The repairs alone can likely get complicated, as any homeowner can attest. But each home is also given numerous cosmetic upgrades that will give it so-called curb appeal. Think everything from new kitchen cabinets to light landscaping.

    Opendoor can (and surely intends) to sell its homes at a premium, based on those upgrades. But it’s a lot of work, the kind that involves contractors and lawn maintenance workers, in addition to Opendoor’s growing team of developers. More, hanging on to that inventory in the meantime is a huge risk. Though the company’s equity certainly helps, as does a partnership with a bank that gives it debt to use, the housing market is highly sensitive to interest rates and other macroeconomic factors. In Phoenix, for example, where Opendoor has been testing out its service for the last several months, up to a quarter of the homes that are listed for sale are eventually taken back off the market.

    CEO Eric Wu — a serial entrepreneur who cofounded Opendoor last year with investor-operator Keith Rabois — acknowledges the challenges, but he seems convinced that none are insurmountable. Partly, that owes to the progress Opendoor has made as a software company, whose platform can now (Wu says) seamlessly address everything from property assessments to quickly presenting offers to potential customers to handling the payment of the house to overseeing the infrastructure involved with holding and reselling it.

    Wu also knows that there’s tremendous pain associated with home buying today, and where there is pain, there is opportunity.

    In fact, Wu is already envisioning the day that Opendoor both buys homes, then resells others it owns to those same customers, creating one of those virtuous cycles that the digerati like to talk about.

    “Longer term,” says Wu, “we’d love to have a path where we transact 5 to 35 percent of all homes. Once that occurs, this business really starts to evolve into us solving pain points for homeowners, from [allowing them to easily sell their homes] to helping them [purchase] another with high-quality renovations. We definitely think we can touch both buyers and sellers.”

    The company could even get into the financing business eventually, Wu suggests. There’s “lot of headache and stress in securing mortgages today,” he notes. Opendoor has enough work ahead of it right now, but it’s “something we’ll look at down the road,” he says.

  • China’s Economy Has Hit the Skids; Why Haven’t Internet Investors Noticed?

    China-PBOCChina’s economic growth has slowed to a quarter-century low of 7.4 percent. You wouldn’t know it, though, looking at the gigantic rounds that China-based Internet companies are raising.

    Just this week, Apus Group, a six-month-old, Beijing-based Android app development firm, raised a whopping $100 million; Beibei.com, a nine-month-old, mother and baby-focused e-commerce site in Hangzhou, raised $100 million; and Meituan, a four-year-old group discount platform that’s headquartered in Beijing, pulled in $700 million. There was also that little announcement by the Chinese government late last week about the venture capital fund it’s establishing with $6.5 billion to support start-ups in emerging industries.

    The word “bubble” invariably comes to mind. But there’s something far different going on, insist those bullish about Chinese tech companies.

    Take Glenn Solomon, a managing director at the cross-border investment firm GGV Capital and a frequent visitor to China. Though he acknowledges that “China’s economic growth will inevitably slow as the law of large numbers takes effect,” he says two very different economies in China — old and new — explain the seeming disconnect between that slowing growth and all the money sloshing into tech startups.

    In China’s retail industry, for example, overexpansion has hurt large, established brick-and mortar-retailers who are seeing flat or slowing growth and retrenching. Meanwhile, Alibaba and other new e-commerce players are growing extremely rapidly, says Solomon, noting that “on the ground [in China], there are delivery trucks lining the streets.”

    That divergence is “pronounced and growing” across other industries, too, says Solomon. “Companies in the Xiaomi ecosystem focused on home automation are rapidly going direct to consumer, while traditional players in this area are seeing a slowdown.”

    Travel, mobile commerce, and companies whose apps aim to improve their users’ offline experience — among them the GGV-backed Tujia.com, a site similar to Airbnb that raised $100 million last June, and Didi Dache, a taxi app that closed on $700 million in December — are also trouncing weaker, traditional offline players, he says.

    Yet there are other reasons to rationalize those big investment rounds, suggests Michael Feldman, an independent consultant based in Hong Kong who advises on cross-border technology investments from China to Israel.

    Feldman notes that unlike, say, Facebook, which only recently began reaching into new businesses, the “tentacles” of China Internet giants like Tencent Holdings and Alibaba stretch into everything from car service apps to their own mobile payment services, including Tencent’s Tenpay, and Alibaba’s Alipay.

    That growing reach is a scary prospect to startups and would-be entrepreneurs. “In almost anything you do online, you could potentially be competing with them,” notes Feldman. But in their race to compete with one another, such behemoths have also grown more acquisitive than they used to be — creating once-scant M&A opportunities. “It used to be that they’d either copy your product or pay a team to join their company, then they’d destroy the competing company,” explains Feldman. “Now that they’re kind of globalizing, they’re beginning to behave differently.”

    China is also seeing its first generation of battle-tested tech entrepreneurs launch companies, which is emboldening investors to back them with big checks, notes Feldman. “Everyone knows the PayPal Mafia and Google Mafia and Facebook Mafia. China now has its own mafias,” including those to spin out of Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu and Xiaomi, among others.

    If that development is leading to some froth, Feldman, like Solomon, doesn’t seem terribly concerned. As in the U.S. and elsewhere, he suggests, China’s tech economy isn’t as closely tethered to the country’s broader economy as one might imagine.

    “Ultimately, it’s about the adoption of mobile,” Feldman says. “As in most of the world, it’s just totally changing society. At this point, the mobile revolution seems to be an unstoppable force.”

    Sign up for our morning missive, StrictlyVC, featuring all the venture-related news you need to start you day.

  • As China’s Internet Giants Look to U.S, GGV Makes Introductions

    images (2)GGV Capital knows China. The 13-year-old, expansion-stage venture firm, with offices on Sand Hill Road and in Shanghai, prides itself on a U.S.-China strategy that sees its partners spending healthy amounts of time in both countries. With China now the world’s second largest economy and, as of last year, the world’s largest trading nation, that puts GGV in an enviable position.

    Already, 16 of GGV’s portfolio companies have gone public since 2010, several of them China-based, including the Chinese online travel booking service Qunar, which went out in November, and the entertainment site YY.com, which held its IPO in November 2012. Meanwhile, e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba — which GGV backed in both its A and B rounds, in 2003 and 2004, respectively — is expected to go public this year at a valuation of up to $150 billion. (Asked if it still holds its stake in the company, GGV says only that it “continues to work actively” with Alibaba.)

    Now, GGV is looking to invest alongside China’s Internet giants as they endeavor to expand their presence in the U.S. market. In October, for example, Alibaba led a $50 million financing round in Quixey, a Mountain View-based search engine for apps, and GGV participated in the round.

    Last week, I spoke with GGV managing partner Glenn Solomon about Chinese companies looking to invest here. Our conversation has been edited for length.

    What’s the biggest trend you’re seeing?

    We’re living in a truly cross-border world, so we’re seeing more China companies that want to access the U.S. capital markets and more U.S. entrepreneurs, particularly in mobile, recognizing that China is a really important part of market.

    Why are Alibaba and Tencent and others so keen on backing and acquiring U.S. companies?

    First, the big players are very cash rich. And while they’ve been peacefully coexisting in China for the last couple of years — Tencent [Holdings] is really a social and entertainment gaming company; Baidu is search; and Alibaba has largely been e-commerce — the intensity of the competition amongst them is increasing as the China market matures. Particularly around mobile, where they’ve all been pretty aggressive about finding ways to increase their business, they’re bumping into each other more and more.

    So they see the U.S. as the next frontier.

    It might be odd for someone in Silicon Valley to think of the U.S. as a second frontier. But the Chinese market, as it relates to mobile, is bigger than the U.S. And while there is still room for [these companies] to grow in China, they’re thinking about international expansion and the U.S. makes sense. They also want access to companies in the U.S. that they can learn from to re-import opportunities to China.

    How directly are they looking to copy U.S. companies?

    Many companies look something like U.S. companies, but they have a very unique flavor. Qunar, for example, has elements of its business that are extremely local, and the entrepreneur who started it is very Chinese. He’s very worldly, but he grew up in Beijing; he went to a Chinese university.

    Another example is the video chat service YY.com. It’s a social network, but its primary form of communication is voice, so it’s synchronous, rather than asynchronous, and it’s thriving. People are increasingly using it to play “World of Warcraft”; you have performers performing to large audiences on the platform; and the economic model is virtual items, which most people in the U.S. didn’t quite understand when the company went public. [YY.com debuted on Nasdaq at roughly $10 per share; it’s now trading at $71 per share.]

    Would you say Chinese Internet companies are ahead of the U.S. when it comes to revenue?

    In many ways, yes, entrepreneurs are importing techniques from China, including free-to-play, with calls to action within applications that produce virtual item revenue. That’s much more developed in China and that model came out of Asia, but you’re seeing more and more of it in the U.S. In fact, if you go to [Apple’s] App Store on your phone, you’ll see that the 20 top-grossing apps are free; it’s because they do a very good job of monetizing that small segment of the base who play the game or use the app, whatever it might be.

    Where is China on the enterprise side of things?

    It’s early days in enterprise. I’d say China is three to five years behind the U.S., but we expect it to emerge as a big opportunity, so we’ve been investing in some younger software-as-a-service companies and the like.

    Other trends to watch?

    The M&A market is more active than in the past. An example would be Baidu, which has a large strategic interest in Qunar; we expect we’ll see more M&A and strategic investing in China.

    There’s also a more active angel community, which is good for our business, as we primarily invest in B and C rounds. It’s not quite as fashionable as it is here [to be an angel investor], but things are changing.

    Sign up for our morning missive, StrictlyVC, featuring all the venture-related news you need to start you day.

StrictlyVC on Twitter