Dr. Lu Gang is the founder and chief editor of the indispensable TechNode.com, China’s leading tech website, with news on apps, startups, funding rounds, acquisitions, product releases, and much more. He has also founded his own startup kuukie.com and the tech awards ChinaBang. He took the time to talk to Business Tianjin about his passion for tech, industry ecosystems, and following his heart.
What led you to study at the University of Sheffield? What did you think of the city and the UK as a whole?
We need three years to finish an MSc degree in a Chinese university, which I felt would take too long. So I quit university in China and went to the UK because an MSc requires only one year of study there. I did a BSc and an MSc in Electronic and Electrical Engineering, and a PhD in Computer Science specializing on wireless communications. The Electronic and Electrical Engineering department of Sheffield University used to be the best in the UK, so that’s why I chose to study there. I still miss the UK very much, especially the peaceful life there and the blue skies in summertime. But its pace of life is rather slow, better for retirement than for a career.
What inspired you to start Mobinode/Technode? What were your sources of information at the time?
My PhD research topic was wireless ad hoc networks in which every node (object) with an antenna is described as a Mobile Node. Therefore when I set up my blog, I called it MobiNode, to suggest “Mobile Node”. When I started, I had almost no direct sources. If I heard of any interesting startup/service, I would find its website and try to email any contact address listed on the sites asking for an interview.
What is/was kuukie.com, and what is the story behind it?
Kuukie was a customized online printing service. Users could just upload their own photo or image on the website, choose the product (business cards, postcards and so on) then place the order and have it delivered within three days. Kuukie’s idea was originally from a company in UK, where at that time lots of startups used it to print business cards. I found it quite interesting, so set up kuukie.com basically wanting to copy the model across to China.
How would you describe the Beijing tech startup scene and culture? What help is out there for founders? How does it compare to Shenzhen, for example?
Beijing is the number one tech startup city in China. It has the most mature startup ecosystem, I would say, with media, startups, venture capital and government support. Beijing’s startups are very diverse, but most other cities have their own focus, like Shenzhen is on hardware, Hangzhou on ecommerce, and so on.
Can you describe the role and influence of venture capital on start-ups? Which VCs and incubators have the best records?
They are no doubt one of the most important driving forces for innovation. In China, money is not a big issue because hot money is everywhere, but startups need smart money which can not only bring financial support but also the knowledge, experience and resource to help them grow fast. In China, there are good ones, like Sequoia China, IDG, Gobi, Matrix and more besides.
What do you think of the domestic and international media coverage of the Chinese tech sector? Has it changed in recent years as Alibaba and others have gained international prominence?
The Chinese tech market has been booming in recent years, so we’ve seen numerous new Chinese media outlets set up to cover the Chinese tech sector, which is good for the ecosystem. We see more and more Chinese startups aiming for the overseas market, but coverage of the Chinese tech sector in the international media is still quite limited. The media business in China is hard, you have lots of headache issues, such as copyright and fake news; and doing tech media is even harder, because reporting is one thing, but being engaged with the ecosystem is key to understanding the domestic market.
How did you get the ChinaBang awards started up? Who are some of the startups have you honored?
Back in 2012, I found there were no awards in the Chinese tech sector to pay tribute to the best startups of year. In fact there were many awards which were very dubious, basically you could simply pay for them. Startups don’t have that money but need a stage to be highlighted and encouraged to move forward. So we created the ChinaBang Awards to honor the best startups of the year, and we’ve been doing it for five years now. We are very proud that we have seen quite a few startups that used to be small now become unicorns (valued at over $1 billion). To give some examples, Momo only had 500,000 users in 2011 and it has now has an IPO, Didi had only 30,000 users in 2012 and is huge now, and even WeChat only had 20m in 2013 and now is the super-app for all of China.
What are best new tech startups you know of – who has a chance of being the next BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent)?
It’s almost impossible to beat BAT in China, but we may see some BAT-like companies in some vertical markets. One of our reporters has written a very interesting series of articles about the next BAT; they could definitely be out there. But only time will tell.
Can China’s tech scene rival Silicon Valley, do you think? What does it need to do so?
I hope so, but it will take a long while to reach that goal. China is taking the lead in some sectors, such as mobile payment, ecommerce, and drones, but we have to admit that Chinese market is still market-driven rather than technology-driven. We need to see more companies like Huawei and DJI.
You’ve moved from writing a blog to a being an authority on the whole tech scene. How have you managed to “scale up” in such a fashion?
By following my heart. I am doing this not because I want to be a figurehead or an authority on the field. For many years I’ve believed what I am doing will bring value to the industry and to the startups, and I love doing it. I know quite a few bloggers who started their blogs even before me, but now I might be the only one who is still writing. I am not the best writer; I just keep going with no fear.
Startups are notorious for long workweeks. How is your own work/life balance?
I am a proud father of one boy and one girl. But I feel sorry for them because I am always very busy and travel every week. So I try very hard to avoid travelling during the weekend and spend time with the family as much as I can, and even force myself not to use a phone or laptop when with them.
What are your hopes for TechNode?
I hope to make it more influential in the global stage and to be the number one tech gateway between China and the world.
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