After the capital winter of 2016, tech startup deal activity in China turned strong again in 2017 but in a more rational way.
This year’s list of top funding rounds in China features quite a few familiar names. It’s fair that more established companies would get the largest funding rounds but there seems to be excessive attention to such companies, whereby a small portion of leading startups end up getting more money while the majority remain in a funding shortage, as explained by Li Jingwang, CEO of Chinese tech startup database IT Juzi. So much so that tech behemoths like Didi, ofo, and Mobike managed to raise two or more billion-level rounds in the span of one year in a more risk-averse funding environment.
Sector-wise, the sharing economy, artificial intelligence, and video were some of the hottest verticals in China. Check five of China’s largest tech firm investments for this year.
Didi Chuxing—$5.5 billion + $4 billion
After topping last year’s list with a $7.3 billion round, Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing is still the most sought after Chinese tech startup this year. Following a $5.5 billion round in April, the firm announced another $4 billion plus equity funding in December.
If 2016 was when the firm started to dip its toes in overseas markets, 2017 is the year when Didi put its globalization plans in execution. In March, the firm launched its office outside of China, dubbed Didi Labs, in Mountain View, California. After extending to Europe and Africa, it’s pushing harder in the US through a partnership with Lyft. The firm’s international approach was also demonstrated by the launch of a more expat-friendly version in the domestic market and new support for Apple Pay.
Diversification of product lines is another major aspect of Didi’s ecosystem development strategy. Investments in ofo and their partnership made it easy for Didi to embed ofo’s bike rental service to its main app. Food delivery and payments are some of the other projects on its plate.
iQiyi, the YouTube-style service backed by Baidu raised $1.53 billion from the sale of convertible notes to investors. Investors in the round include Hillhouse Capital, Boyu Capital, Run Liang Tai Fund, IDG Capital, Everbright-IDG Industrial Fund, and Sequoia Capital. Baidu also invested $300 million into the service. One company representative told TechCrunch that the monster round would likely be spent on acquiring content.
Ofo—$450 million + $700 million vs Mobike— Billion dollar-level funding
For Chinese bike rental firms, funding size should not be measured by single rounds but by the total amount raised over a certain period of time. So we put ofo and Mobike, two leaders in the sector, together due to the nature of the fundings, and also the similarity of their business.
Soon after nabbing a $450 million D round in March, bike rental platform ofo completed a series E financing round of more than $700 million on July 6th led by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, Hony Capital, and CITICPE. In the middle of these two rounds, the company received another nine-digit dollar funding in April. Ofo’s business surpassed the $1 billion valuation mark earlier this year when it announced its $450 million Series D round in February. It is aiming to raise new funds at a valuation of about $3 billion, Bloomberg reported this July.
Ofo’s arch-foe Mobike is no less capable of sweeping up capital, although the firm didn’t specify its funding sizes for each round. Over the past year, Mobike has announced four financing rounds: nine-digit dollar fund in January and February, $600 million E round in July and an undisclosed amount in November. Wall Street Journal reported that the firm’s $600 million round was raised at $3 billion valuation.
The bike rental battle in China is going feverish pitch as competitions expand beyond the national boundary. On the other hand, the industry is witnessing its first group of casualties. There’s a rumor about a possible merger between ofo and Mobike, two top players in the field, but both of the companies say it’s not an option despite pressure from investors.
Koubei, an Alibaba affiliate company focused on enabling local commerce, closed a $1.1 billion financing round in January this year from investors include Silver Lake, CDH Investments, Yunfeng Capital and Primavera Capital. It is interesting to note that the current round marks the first money from external investors.
Koubei is a joint venture founded in 2015 by Alibaba and its mobile payment affiliate Ant Financial to tap into China’s rising O2O initiative. Both put RMB 3 billion (worth around $480 million at the time) into Koubei when it was created. The idea behind it is to generate business for local retailers by bringing them online, while also offering new commerce opportunities for consumers.
The service fights fierce competition from domestic competitors like Meituan-Dianping, Ele.me, etc.
Chinese news reading app Toutiao secured $ 1 billion in a series D round financing in April from investors including returning backer Sequoia Capital and CCB International, the investment arm of China Construction Bank. Reuters reported this August that the firm is planning to raise another $2 billion at a valuation of over $20 billion.
A relatively young startup, Toutiao has grown quickly in the past few years, widely considered as a competent candidate to replace the countries tech incumbents of BAT. Flush with cash, the firm is making investments of its own, such as Flipgram, Musical.ly, and more.
Despite the growth, it has a controversial reputation since its boom. People’s Daily, the official newspaper of Chinese Communist Party, name-checked Toutiao in an op-ed denouncing algorithm-driven news distribution platforms for the echo chamber they potentially create.