China’s Greatest Entrepreneurs, From Rags to Riches -- Part Two

China’s Greatest Entrepreneurs, From Rags to Riches -- Part Two

Tang Shihua

Date: Tue, 09/19/2017 - 14:25 / source:Yicai
China’s Greatest Entrepreneurs, From Rags to Riches -- Part Two
China’s Greatest Entrepreneurs, From Rags to Riches -- Part Two

(Yicai Global) Sept. 19 -- China first connected to the World Wide Web in 1994 via a dedicated 64-kilobits-per-second international line. Some 23 years later, the national economy is dominated by a select few internet moguls who created one of the world’s most dynamic online markets.

Despite their success, like many an entrepreneur, these tycoons also underwent hardships and left a trail of failures behind them. Online media outlet Sina published an article on Sept. 18, recounting the rags-to-riches tales of some of China’s best-known businessmen.

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NetEase -- Ding Lei

The founder of Chinese internet giant NetEase Inc. [NASDAQ:NTES], Ding Lei, originally wanted to sell his struggling firm, but investors all turned him down due to financial issues.

Ding hired three professional managers from different industry backgrounds in the run-up to the firm’s initial public offering in a bid to turn NetEase into an international business. However, they did not see eye-to-eye with the boss and resigned shortly after.

The worst was yet to come, with Nasdaq halting trading of NetEase shares due to suspected falsification of financial reporting in September 2001.

“I even thought of selling the company. It didn’t work, not because we overpriced it, but because of our financial audit issues,” Ding recalled.

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Toutiao -- Zhang Yiming

Zhang Yiming, founder of China's most popular free news app Toutiao, lost his voice after meeting 30 investors in a month when his company was still in its infancy. Even 18 months after inception, most people thought the news aggregator had no future, and Zhang was attending meeting after meeting to secure a second financing round.

Back then, he talked with his partners every time he met investors. “I didn’t do well today,” he would say. “What I said didn’t quite answer their questions. I’ll think it over again to find out how to make my ideas clear, and what else I need to do.”

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Ele.me -- Zhang Xuhao

Zhang Xuhao, the founder of China’s vastly popular online meal delivery firm backed by China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. [NYSE:BABA], Ele.me, worked 16 hours every day and delivered meals himself during his firm’s inception.

In the company’s early days, Zhang, like all other founders, worked as a deliveryman himself and had to undertake sales pitches directly in restaurants. Everybody in the company delivered more than 100 orders on average and worked at least 16 hours every day, pushing their bodies to the limits.

Zhang once delivered food to a lab at Jiaotong University, but failed to stop his electric bike properly, falling off and spilling all the meals on the ground.

“There were about 10 meals undelivered, and all of them were spilled on the ground. I picked them up one by one, it was really embarrassing,” he said of the incident. He then returned to the restaurant, paid almost CNY200 (USD34.3) to have the food remade, and delivered them again. Despite his best efforts, he still didn’t deliver the meals on time.

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Keywords: Internet Giants, Startup Stories, Chinese Billionaires, Zhang Yiming, Zhang Xuhao, Ding Lei