Kai-Fu Lee’s high profile new venture: Innovation Works

Following up on the previous post, I wanted to briefly comment on Kai-Fu Lee’s new venture. As has been covered in detail by VentureBeat (article here), former Google China head Kai-Fu Lee’s new venture will be a China focused technology-related startup incubator named Innovation Works. Lee has raised a round of funding (RMB 800 million, or roughly $115 million) from investors such as Legend Group (Lenovo’s parent), Foxconn, W Harper Group, New Oriental Education founder Yu Minhong, and Youtube co-founder Steve Chen.

What I wanted to note, and as has been reported by Chinese media such as Caijing (link in Chinese), is how high profile this new venture is. Besides talking to dozens of domestic and international media since last week (Caijing’s article notes that he has been doing media interviews since 6am this past Saturday), Lee will also hold a press conference on Monday. I would think it quite unusual for a new venture to be receiving such media fanfare, but it “makes sense” in two ways:

  • Firstly, Lee’s celebrity status in China. Lee is very much a public figure in China these days, and he seems to enjoy being in the limelight, so seeking such media coverage is not unusual for him (as noted in the previous post, hosting his blog on Sina’s celebrity blog also confirms this)
  • Secondly, it is somewhat of a recent Chinese tradition for high-profile entrepreneur’s to do massive publicity stunts. Any history of the various boom and bust Chinese entrepreneurs since the market reform of 1978 would confirm this – just think of the health supplement manufacturers of the 90s, who all made various ambitious claims that captured the imagination of a young market economy, rose from rags to riches practically overnight, and then almost all dissolved as abruptly as they had emerged. I’m not saying that Lee will do something similar – it’s just his PR agenda appears to be imbued with truly Chinese marketing characteristics. I hope he will be as focused on his venture as he is towards media.

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