It is widely acknowledged that China and the U.S. offer two of the richest soils to foster rapid growth in internet startups. In their first endeavors to tap China, the U.S. VCs usually split their capital into three parts for Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland. In most cases, the Chinese mainland is the place that generates the best results. Cai Wensheng, aka Mike Cai, a season angel investor in China, shared this opinion with us at Asia Beat Xiamen on March 17.

If you are interested in China’s startup scene, you must have heard of Mike Cai, who was known for his shrewdness as an angel investor. After making his first fortune from a domain name investment, Cai set up his own startups from scratch. One of his most successful endeavors is web directory, a clone of which was acquired by Chinese search giant Baidu in 2004. Gradually the young entrepreneur turned to a renowned angel investor. His portfolio companies include Chinese hit services Meitu (photo-centered startup), Baofeng (video player developer and video content provider), CNZZ (online data service), (classified site), Feiyu Technology (mobile and web game developer) and Falshget Downloads.

At the Asia Beat conference this year, the legendary angel investor shared with us some of his insights on entrepreneurship and investment in China.

User Size and Funding Environment of China

Cai believes that the momentum driving the rapid development of Chinese internet startups is China’s 1.2 billion population. “Given the sheer size of this user base, it is not difficult to understand why investors are still willing to pour investments in cash-burning startups like Didi and Meituan.”

Of course, capital is indispensable in the growth of such a huge market. The development of China’s internet market is boosted by capital from the world’s top VCs and increasingly, domestic investors. The return of U.S.-listed companies to the A-share market underlines the rise of domestic capital. “ Entrepreneurs with creativity and execution powers don’t have to worry about funding, because there’s lots of VCs searching for good projects.

Overseas Expansion

The very first group of Chinese entrepreneurs copied U.S. models. As the market evolves, Chinese entrepreneurs partially learn from western peers and add their own minor innovations to fit in with the local market (eg QQ).

Chinese entrepreneurs can ship their successful services abroad or start new businesses in emerging markets like Indonesia and India, according to Cai. “It’s like twenty years ago when we sell our clothing, shoes and hats to Africa and Europe. Some Chinese entrepreneurs have started their own businesses in these countries back then. They are also quite successful.”

How to Get Funded?

No matter which model you follow, capital injection will definitely accelerate your development. As an angel investor, Cai values three characteristics in entrepreneurs, working on an industry that has great potential, doing something that is within their capabilities and resources, and hardworking entrepreneurs with a strong vision.

Cai shared that he felt frustrated when investors invested in the project of Charles Zhang, CEO of, rather than his own back in 2000. “Zhang got the money for a reason… Don’t let the investors’ decision influence you. Do your best with you current resources and investment will finally come.”

Entrepreneurs should start from addressing a small problem, amassing your first group of users gradually and then being acknowledged by the VCs. “You will be in a much better state of mind if you decide to do the things you considered right no matter what. If you are wasting your time on running after funding while doing nothing with your product, you were probably doomed.”

Internet Celebrity is Like Individual Webmasters 15 Years Ago

Entrepreneurship under China’s startup tide today can be quite diversified to include painters, musicians or even internet celebrities. “Internet celebrities share similarities like individual webmasters 15 years ago, only the latter have to master a set of skills like domain name registration, marketing and related tech. It’s much easier to be an internet celebrity nowadays, because there’s more platforms, like WeChat public accounts, Weibo and  Meipai, freeing them from technical hurdles to concentrate on what they are good at.


If you are aiming for something big, it’s crucial to possess the ability to learn, to manage and to lobby. By lobbying, he refers to entrepreneurs’ abilities to lure continuous investments. Capital can make a vital difference for startups under rapid development. There are hundreds of taxi-hailing apps in China, but most of them died in the fierce competition. The outstanding lobbying ability of investor Wang Gang, who helped Didi to find continuous funding, contributed a lot to the company’s final survival. It was nearly impossible for e-commerce startups to find funding after the internet bubble burst in 2002, however Jack Ma managed to raise $82 million USD and become the dominator of China’s e-commerce market.

Cai noted that internet has three characteristics: 1. It draws people with similar hobbies and tastes together and helps to maximize the power of this community. 2. Outsourcing. For example, Taobao’s model attracts people to open stores on the platform. 3. Sharing. Uber and Airbnb, two services related to sharing and social networks, are bringing significant changes to our life.


Translated from TechNode China

Emma Lee (Li Xin) was TechNode's e-commerce and new retail reporter until June 2022, when she moved to Sixth Tone to cover technology and consumption. Get in touch with her via or Twitter.

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