Soon after receiving his MBA from Stanford GSB in 1994, Victor Koo found himself working on a $30 million manufacturing joint venture in northwest Shanghai. With his Chinese-speaking skills still getting back on track, Koo was face-to-face with an executive decades older than he. The negotiation took six months, Koo says, adding that he likely developed an ulcer in the process. “So it was a lot of stress,” Koo said in a Virtual Fireside Chat, sponsored by Stanford GSB. “But the ability to adapt, I think, has always been something that you get from that kind of experience.”
Koo, chairman and chief executive of one of China’s largest online video companies, Youku Tudou Inc., emphasized the importance of adapting in a rapidly changing environment during the Virtual Fireside Chat, with Koo in Beijing and Garth Saloner, dean of Stanford GSB.
Koo says entrepreneurship is about learning on the job. “It’s very important in this kind of age to maintain the flexibility for learning by doing,” says Koo, who has worked at many startup companies. “We’ll still make mistakes,” he adds, but “we’ll probably make a bit fewer than people who have not had the experience.” Being an entrepreneur requires passion and an adaptive personality, he says.
And in China, there are plenty of opportunities for those who fit the bill. Obtaining capital, Koo says, is easier today than it was 20 years ago, when only a few private venture capital firms were in business. “Now a lot of the Silicon Valley investors are in China, knocking on entrepreneurs’ doors,” he says.
The wealth of opportunity in China has become firmly established, adds Saloner. “This rate of innovation, entrepreneurship, and opportunity is not going to go away tomorrow,” he says. “I know some people feel that they have to grab it now because if they don’t, it’ll vanish, but I don’t think so … It’s going to continue, so this is a very good time for people to invest.”
Beijing is still China’s main technology hub, but other Chinese cities also have plenty of startup activity, Koo says. Chinese cities have differing areas of expertise and harbor clusters of startups centered on a single area or niche.
Media firms and content producers in China are discovering increasing opportunities to fill the screens of Chinese consumers, whether on televisions or tablets, says Koo, whose company was created by the 2012 merger of Chinese video sites Youku, which Koo had founded six years prior, and Tudou. “What you’re seeing is more and more (movie) directors leveraging the Internet to produce micro-movies, for example,” he says. In July, the company reported that TV series The Journey of Flower, being aired on the Youku Tudou platform simultaneously with TV broadcasts, has generated over 1.8 million downloads for its mobile game since its June 25 release date.
“Increasingly, as there are more movie screens in China and more venues for movie directors to build a following, and for producers to identify these movie directors through the Internet, more and more opportunities [will] surface for young, up-and-coming directors,” Koo says.
Entrepreneurs, too, can adapt to capitalize on the proliferation of screens in front of Chinese eyeballs. “Anything you see on the screen actually going forward is a monetization opportunity,” Koo says. “Whether you’re mobile phone or tablets or interactive television or PC, there are many more opportunities (for) reaching your real end consumer.”