Opinion: Who is the Chinese Jeff Bezos?

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(Wang Xing, CEO of Meituan, Source: VCG)

Recently, China CITIC Press couriered me a translated copy of a new book authored by Brad Stone, called “Amazon Unbound.” As one of the first American journalists to cover China’s tech industry, Mr. Stone came to China multiple times and produced fascinating reports, such as stories about Xiaomi and Didi. I actually met him several times. In 2013, Stone’s “The Everything Stone,” a comprehensive and “engrossing account” of the rise of Amazon, became a bestseller of the year. That gives me reason to believe that this new book will be another hit.

However, Amazon, as well as its founder Jeff Bezos, probably receives the least attention from the Chinese public compared to its peers in the trillion-dollar club in terms of market capitalization – a list including Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Facebook and Tesla (which dropped out of the club very recently).

If I am asked to recall something related to Bezos most recently in China, I could think of two anecdotes. First, Lei Jun, Founder and CEO of Chinese mobile company Xiaomi, or the “Chinese Steve Jobs,” mentioned in his latest annual speech that when he paid a visit to Bezos three years ago, the latter apologized to him: “Sorry but I didn’t take good care of your Joyo (a Chinese online bookseller founded by Lei Jun and sold to Amazon before closing in 2019).

Second, a lot of Chinese sellers operating on Amazon have been suspended or banned. Many Chinese netizens believe in conspiracy theories regarding this issue. But I see interpretations from a different angle in Chapter 7 of the book.

Here I would prefer not dive into details of the book, but I will try to answer a question those in Chinese tech circles have been asking: Who is the Chinese Jeff Bezos?

Different people may approach this question differently. But I would like to offer the best choice in my mind: Wang Xing, CEO of Meituan.

Why?

To begin with, Wang Xing has been a believer in Bezos and his philosophies. On many occasions, he talked about Bezos’s charisma, describing him as a resourceful and bold leader dedicated to forging a great company of unbounded expansion. Wang Xing has often said that he wants to build Meituan into another Amazon for services.

Since its inception in 2010, Meituan has been transformed from just a group buying company into many more: Movie-ticket selling, food delivery, travel and leisure services, taxi-hailing, e-payment and even offline retail. Just recently, Meituan has begun to tap into the market of chips and robots.

An investor recalled, when Meituan was raising Series C financing, Wang Xing insisted on comparing Meituan to Amazon instead of Groupon, a group buying website which went viral.

Later, in an interview with Chinese tech media outlet Latepost, when questioned about Meituan’s unbounded business expansion, Wang Xing responded, “Amazon once sold cellphones and had its Cloud Search and Prime Membership program. It was even viewed as a powerful competitor of Netflix. So Amazon was involved in an all-round competition.”

He also said in that interview, “Too many people focus on boundaries instead of the core. Actually, nothing has a definite boundary. I don’t think we should set limits for ourselves. As long as we are crystal clear about the core issues: Who do we serve; what services to provide, we can continue the innovation and expansions of our business.”

Last May, when the market capitalization of Amazon stood at 1.2 trillion dollars, Wang Xing posted on social media: “Until today, the majority has underestimated Bezos.”

Secondly, just like Bezos, Wang Xing has a curious heart. A few years ago when Meituan wasn’t as gigantic as it is today, I had conversations with him several times and found that he kept asking questions. Anything that is out of his own knowledge could arouse his curiosity. After I moved to Silicon Valley, Wang Xing would still ask me what was new in the Valley now and then.

Wang Huiwen, Co-Founder of Meituan and college roommate of Wang Xing, once commented on the latter: Wang Xing is a research-type entrepreneur. If you are looking for a similar mind, I think he should be Jeff Bezos.

Moreover, both Wang Xing and Bezos are long-termists. More than once, Wang Xing had mentioned that he hopes to build Meituan into a company of long-term and continuous growth with strategic patience. Wang Xing shared what was told to him by an investor who is a veteran soldier: “Many people understand war wrongly. War is not only about fight and sacrifice, but more about endurance and suffering.”

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Wang Xing once gave a blurb for a book entitled “Finite and Infinite Games.” “In a limited game you play within boundaries; whereas in an unlimited game, you play against boundaries, or the rules. That is exploration, and exploration changes boundaries. However, there is only one unlimited game, that’s your life. Death is an insurmountable boundary. Compared to that, other boundaries seem to be unworthy of mentioning.”

Now Meituan has joined a war of “lifestyle businesses” which is quite like the unlimited game. And an unlimited game resembles the word “Day 1” termed by Bezos.

According to Bezos, in “Day 1” mode, a company is full of vitality, customer-centric, self-evolving and striving for continuous growth. He sees “Day 2″ as a stasis, followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death.

For long-termists like Bezos and Wang Xing, as Plato put it, “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”