Challenges for Chinese e-companies

Apus Group founder Tao Li told a panel discussion yesterday that Chinese e-companies are now focusing on facilitating daily activities such as shopping and ordering food online.
Apus Group founder Tao Li told a panel discussion yesterday that Chinese e-companies are now focusing on facilitating daily activities such as shopping and ordering food online.PHOTO: BUSINESS CHINA

Chinese Internet companies are being forced to change their business models as growth slows in the country's still-booming online sector.

Mr Tao Li, a former executive at Internet security firm Qihoo 360, told a panel discussion in Singapore yesterday that e-companies are now focusing on facilitating daily activities such as shopping and ordering food online.

He noted that Chinese companies such as Alibaba and Baidu had taken advantage of the growing number of Internet users and expanded rapidly from 2007 to 2014, but the numbers have stabilised at around 800 million to 900 million since the first half of last year.

This has limited growth opportunities, added Mr Li, who was speaking at a panel discussion on entrepreneurship in China at the FutureChina Global Forum 2015.

Chinese Internet service companies have also responded by providing services to countries where online options are less advanced, such as in the Asean region, India and Russia, he said.

Mr Li said his firm - Apus Group, an Android application development company he founded last year - is looking to provide mobile Internet and smartphone services internationally.

Mr Kevin Zhao, 30, who founded a social networking site for international students in Silicon Valley in 2006 and subsequently sold it, said Internet entrepreneurs needed to collaborate closely with companies in their supply chains.

Mr Zhao, now chief executive of Wangli Finance Group, cited a case where a partner provides content for a company's website but the site's quality is dependent on the partner's output.

He also said entrepreneurship involved constantly refining the business model and products to meet customer needs. "The initial product or approach we conceive may not be, or we can even say, definitely will not be, the final product (or approach)," he said.

Mr Li said Apus also constantly monitors consumer needs and taste by watching feedback on its products posted by "millions of fans" on Facebook and Google Plus. "This helps us instantly understand what the needs of users in different parts of the world are," he said.

Other panellists spoke on what they felt the differences between the older and newer generations of entrepreneurs were, and on other difficulties of entrepreneurship.

The event, which drew business executives, government officials and academics from around the world, ended yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2015, with the headline 'Challenges for Chinese e-companies'. Print Edition | Subscribe