At a conference held by local business magazine BusinessValue over last weekend, Robin Li, founder and CEO of Chinese search juggernaut, shared with audiences – mostly Chinese Internet product managers – his reflections on local innovation, the company’s legacy of recruiting and training product managers and its mobile strategy.
Mr. Zhang Peng, editor-in-chief of the periodical kicked off his dialogue with Li by asking the latter’s recent reclusion. Li responded saying he’s been keeping a low profile since ever and doesn’t really feel like being recognized by too many people. Given Mr. Li’s attendance at one of the most popular Chinese TV talk shows and even gave nationwide audience an eyeful of his Tango routine, I take the answer as a metaphor of “I’d better spend more time watching out for my business as companies like 360 are posing some challenges.” He circulated an internal email to all Baidu staff calling for the wolf spirit to mobilize the morale and the elimination of xiaozi (Bourgeoisie), or, people who put more thoughts on life quality in lieu of workloads after Qihoo 360’s home-brewed search engine chewed up more than 10% of Chinese search market. 360 stocks enjoyed an uptick since the search launch as Baidu’s price stagnated a little bit.
Mr. Li went on to express his excitement of Internet and mobile Internet, pointing out that Internet has created so many new trades and he’s excited about mobile Internet. He pinpointed much hope into Baidu’s mobile efforts, ruling over it directly. He also revealed that he has meetings with the company’s mobile division at least once per week. After last year’s restructure, Baidu’s Mobile Cloud division emerged as one of the company’s spotlights.
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One of the major causes why Mr. Li sharpened his company’s focus on mobile, could be revealed in his thought that “people’s need of having easy access to information hasn’t been changed or disrupted, however the way how people access to information has been seriously changed due to the plethora of mobile devices and advancing of technologies.
Mr. Zhang then drew Tencent’s Weixin as an example of Chinese company’s success on mobile front, while Li defensed Baidu’s mobile efforts by pointing at the future. Baidu’s approach to mobile Internet, according to him, is to build an ecosystem to enable 3rd party innovations based on the infrastructure. Baidu is still in the process of seed sowing on mobile end.
When being asked about his reflections on Baidu’s product managers, drawing on his own experience with Baidu, Li shared some very interesting points. Back in 2000, when he came back to China to found Baidu, there were only about 10 million netizens compared to last year’s 538 million. The title of internet product manager didn’t even exist then. There weren’t any PMs. Baidu had to make the compromise to hire people from various backgrounds, ranging from bartenders, sales to anyone with good sense of figuring out what Chinese internet users really need, and then trained some of the top-notch Chinese PMs out of them. That’s one of the major differences between Chinese and Silicon Valley product managers, he said. In the Sates, one is supposed to be majored in Computer Science, work in a IT company for several years before obtaining a MBA degree and then find the new course of crafting Internet products in a promising Internet company like Facebook or Twitter.
Mr. Li also had some comments on Apple’s Siri, saying that the service is more of entertaining less of practical use at this moment, to him, current technology isn’t mature and sophisticated enough to make the service a decent option, but still, he believes that audio assistants like Siri are progressing.