What Silicon Valley Can Learn From China: Interview with Jason Costa

2 min read

Most of us assume that if there is anything to learn in tech, it will probably come from Silicon Valley. China, however, is quickly proving this assumption dead wrong. While the Middle Kingdom may have been innovating slower than the Valley just a few years ago, companies here are now proving they are actually much better in certain areas than their older, Western counterparts.

“The entire Internet economics in the West is very much powered by advertising. In China, the way that commerce operates and the way you can actually buy things in apps is just amazing. It’s far, far more evolved and advanced than the way things operate in the States,” says Jason Costa, entrepreneur-in-residence (EIR) at GGV Capital.

Jason Costa at the GGV Master Class on Dec 3, 2016 (via GGV Capital)

Jason recently visited China looking for ways he can apply his product development and management experience to GGV’s broad portfolio on both sides of the Pacific. Perhaps the most surprising discovery for him was how much companies like Facebook are borrowing from their Chinese counterparts.

“I’m most surprised by how much Facebook is modeling their product off of WeChat. Take Messenger for instance,” he says. “I’m pretty blown away at how much Facebook is borrowing inspiration and modeling their product after what WeChat is doing.”

Indeed, WeChat seems to have been the highlight of his visit, spending more time on the app than he would with other services back home. First released in 2011, WeChat has gone from social media disruptor to a central part of everyone’s life. While occupying a similar place in China’s social space, WeChat has gone many steps further to integrate services and functionality to make everyone’s life easier, in stark contrast to US social media companies.

“The way that functionality is developing in the West for apps, it’s very microservice oriented,” Jason says. “Facebook has the mothership for consumption, but then they have Instagram for photos and WhatsApp and Messenger for messaging. Whereas in China, you can do everything from WeChat.”

And it’s not just how to create a platform, but how to monetize that platform that Western companies can still learn from their Chinese counterparts.

“[D]istribution players, like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, they do a really great job of helping people to discover and engage with content, but you can’t take that next step. They haven’t really figured out how to facilitate the transaction yet,” Jason says. “There’s a great opportunity to do that with products and I’m really curious to see who’s going to be able to get out in front of it.”

GGV Capital’s portfolio includes companies like Slack, Airbnb, and Wish in the West as well Didi Chuxing, musical.ly, and Tujia here in China.

Image Credit: Shutterstock