Joe Hu, CEO of the new 91 Wireless, was on stage at our TechCrunch Shanghai talking about Baidu’s acquisition of 91 Wireless. This is his first appearance in public since the Baidu deal.
Baidu, the Chinese search giant, paid $1.85 billion in cash for 91 Wireless, one of the largest Android/jailbroken iOS app distributors in China. It is so far the largest acquisition deal in China’s Internet industry. When asked by TechNode founder Dr. Gang Lu how to justify such a high price, Mr. Hu said it’s because, apart from that 91 has built a mobile app ecosystem, it could change the whole picture of China Internet market. It implies the next strategic moves by Chinese Internet giants as the competition mechanism in China mobile Internet market will be very different. Also it reflects Baidu’s understanding and expectations in 91.
The 91 ecosystem includes Android/jailbroken iOS app distribution platforms, a mobile reading platform, Android launcher, among others. 91 is of the top when it comes to mobile game distribution and mobile advertising, Hu pointed out. The company planned to share 400-500 million yuan ($65-80 mn) to third-party developers by the year end, but it had reached the goal last month.
Mr. Hu joined NetDragon in 2004 and was CFO before the company decided to spin off 91 and name Hu co-CEO of the new company. After Baidu acquired 91 Wireless, the other co-CEO stayed in NetDragon.
When asked how come they decided to sell 91, He said it was such a surprise to his colleagues when he raised the idea. That he’d take over the spin-off was out of interest. He didn’t expect to encounter difficulties such as big players like Tencent and Shanda would steal one third of 91’s first 100 something employees, almost all being core members, not long after the spin off.
91 Wireless, based in Fu Zhou in Southeast China, will stay being an independent company and won’t move to Beijing where Baidu is headquartered. But Mr. Hu joked that they are busier as a Baidu company than before when they were in a cozy working environment. Previously 91 didn’t care much about market share or, Hu said, and felt satisfied so long as the platform kept growing and revenues kept coming in. But now, as Baidu’s competitors are much stronger than those of old 91’s, there is much more they need to consider and do. He believes the competition in app distribution will upgrade in China market.