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13 women reshaping China’s tech ecosystem from the ground up

This International Women’s Day, KrASIA is highlighting entrepreneurs and executives that have helped companies in China flourish.

13 Women reshaping China's tech ecosystem 13 Women reshaping China's tech ecosystem

A note from KrASIA CEO, Max Ma:

Happy International Women’s Day to all our female readers. In recent years, outstanding female entrepreneurs and investors have become a powerful force contributing to China’s technology and the new economy boom. With today’s article, we are going through 13 Chinese women, entrepreneurs and investors, of distinguished leadership. Using their tremendous judgment, perseverance, and talents, these women have been helping drive up China’s economic and industrial development. We believe that more and more female leaders, inspired by their brave and beautiful minds, will rise to partake in China’s growth and global economic development.

China’s tech sector has witnessed tremendous growth since the country got connected with the worldwide web in 1995. Millions of businesses have been founded, but only a minority by women.

Besides making an indelible mark on China’s internet sector through their grit and innovation, these founders, executives, and partners have built the global tech ecosystem as their businesses grew beyond borders, became unicorns, or even went public.

It is not an easy task for anyone to build a business from scratch, or to be the decision-maker in a large tech company. In addition to shouldering these responsibilities, China’s female business leaders have had to forge their own paths as the first wave of women heading executive roles traditionally held by men.

This International Women’s Day, KrASIA is highlighting the female entrepreneurs, C-suit executives, and VC investors that have been decisive in helping companies in China grow or have made immense contributions to their sector.

Venture Capital and Investment Firms

Kathy Xu Xin of Capital Today

Source: Capital Today’s website.

Kathy Xu Xin, known as the “venture capital queen” of China, is the founder of Capital Today. Her investment portfolio includes gaming company NetEase, e-retailer JD.com, food-delivery giant Meituan, and EV startup Nio.

Born in the southwestern city of Chongqing, Xu graduated from Nanjing University and started her career at a bank.

She moved on to work for PricewaterhouseCoopers, Peregrine Investments, and Baring Private Equity Asia, where she served as the head of their China practice, before founding Capital Today in 2005.

It’s not an easy task to impress Xu. Her advice for entrepreneurs who approach her firm: “Persuade me in five minutes: Why should I invest in you?”

Helen Wong, partner of Qiming Venture Partners

Source: Qiming Venture Partners’ website.

Helen Wong joined Qiming Venture Partners in 2014 as a partner, focusing on technology, media, and telecom (TMT). Between 2001 and 2011, she served GGV Capital as a partner and a founding member.

Wong’s exited deals include Mobike (acquired by Meituan), Lagou (acquired by 51jobs), and Ruhnn (NASDAQ: RUHN). She holds degrees from Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, INSEAD, and Oxford University.

As a mom, she told investment-focused media outlet Chinaventure last year that raising children is like watching startups’ grow, sharing their joys and sorrows, answering and helping them to deal with their perplexities. She added that one advantage for female VC investors lies in their willingness to listen.

Annabelle Yu Long, managing partner of Bertelsmann Asia Investments

Photo provided to KrASIA by Bertelsmann Asia Investments

Annabelle Yu Long founded Bertelsmann Asia Investments (BAI) in China in 2008, when she was also CEO of Bertelsmann Corporate Center China.

Long holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Electronic Science and Technology in China. While she once hated her major, electrical engineering, chosen by her father, the four-year undergraduate program shaped her logical thinking and made her well-rounded, she said in a podcast, which proved helpful in her later career as a venture investor.

Long, who worked as a TV host before leaving for Stanford, says that one key question she likes to ask entrepreneurs is what social impact their business can bring to society.

BAI manages over USD 3 billion in funds and has invested in more than 160 companies, including 10 firms that have gone public, and over 20 unicorns, according to BAI’s website.

US-listed online luxury trading platform Secoo.com (NASDAQ: SECO), online housing platform Danke Apartment (NYSE: DNK), and online e-commerce platform Mogujie (NYSE: MOGU) all once gained capital support from BAI before going public. BAI was also the backer behind Mobike and unicorn Hello Chuxing. Recently, BAI invested in software developer Oasis VR, online insurance platform Mintbao, and fresh food group-buying platform Tongcheng Shenghuo, among others.

Jenny Lee, managing partner of GGV Capital

Photo provided to KrASIA by GGV Capital

Jenny Lee joined GGV Capital in 2005 as a managing partner and helped establish the firm’s presence in China. GGV Capital’s portfolio includes smartphone maker Xiaomi (HKEX: 01810)  and drone maker Ehang (NASDAQ:EH). ByteDance, the world’s most valuable startup, is also part of GGV’s list of investments.

Lee’s areas of focus are consumer internet and SaaS companies, especially those in mobile, social, IoT, finance, and education sectors.

She has led GGV’s investments in hiSoft (NASDAQ: PACT), 21Vianet (NASDAQ: VNET), SinoSun (SHE: 300333), YY (NASDAQ: YY) and successfully helped them go public.

Lee received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Cornell University, majoring in engineering.

Recently, GGV invested in online education platform Huowa, online home decoration platform Kujiale, and robot producer Geek+.

Anna Fang, founding partner & CEO at ZhenFund

Photo provided to KrASIA by ZhenFund

Anna Fang joined the early stage venture capital fund in 2011 and now oversees ZhenFund‘s investments, portfolio management, and operations.

Her investments include social e-commerce platform Xiaohongshu (known as RED overseas), robot maker Horizon Robotics, and online education platform VIPKid.

Fang received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Columbia University and a MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.

She told 36Kr in 2018 that her achievements were due to her love for her work and her eagerness to excel.

Recently, ZhenFund invested in online group-buying platform Nice Tuan (“Shihuituan” in Chinese), online insurance platform Duobaoyu, and Yatsen, which owns Perfect Diary, the top-selling cosmetic brand on Alibaba’s Tmall.

Listed companies

Dong Mingzhu, chairwoman of Gree Electric

Source: Gree’s website

Dong Mingzhu has been the chairwoman of China’s top air conditioner manufacturer, Gree Electric  (SZSE: 000651) for more than seven years. Known as the “iron lady” and “air con queen” for her cool business demeanour, Dong has led Gree to become an USD 60 billion company.

She first joined Gree in 1990 as a saleswoman after quitting her administrative job at a government lab in Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province.

Dong was soon promoted to sales director in 1994 due to her solid sales performance. In 2012, she took the position of chairman. In recent years, Gree is making efforts to diversify into other fields beyond air conditioners.

“Achieving great things requires wisdom, but the secret of success is being honest and hard-working,” she wrote in her book Regretless Pursuit.

Lucy Peng Lei, co-founder of Alibaba 

Source: Ant Financial’s website.

Lucy Peng Lei is one of the founding members of e-commerce powerhouse Alibaba (NYSE: BABA), and also the former CEO and chairwoman of Ant Financial. Now, serves as the chairwoman of Lazada, a Southeast Asian e-commerce company acquired by Alibaba.

Peng, born in 1971, earned an MBA from the Hangzhou Institute of Commerce at Zhejiang Gongshang University in 1994.

She was a teacher for five years at Zhejiang University of Finance and Economics before joining Alibaba in 1999.

She took on many roles at the company over the years, including chief people officer, senior vice president, the CEO of Alipay and the CEO of Lazada.

Jenny Zhiya Qian, CEO of Luckin Coffee

Photo provided to KrASIA by Luckin Coffee

Jenny Zhiya Qian, who once worked as chief operating officer at Lu Zhengyao’s rental car company Car Inc. and ride-hailing startup UCar, launched Luckin Coffee (NASDAQ: LK) in October 2017 after raising USD 150 million from Lu and others.

Based in Xiamen, Fujian, the fast-growing coffee chain had over 4,507 stores as of December 31 serving over 40 million customers. By the number of stores, Luckin is now the largest coffee chain in China, surpassing Starbucks. It was listed in the US in May 2019, only 18 months after it was established.

Qian obtained a bachelor’s degree from Wuhan Institute of Textile Science in 1998, and an EMBA from Peking University in 2012.”I would like to apply the mindset of an internet company for my coffee business,” she told ​Xinhuanet.com​ during an interview in 2017.

Jane Sun, CEO of Trip.com Group

Photo provided to KrASIA by Trip.com

Jane Sun is currently the CEO of China’s leading online travel agency Trip.com (NASDAQ: TCOM), formally known as Ctrip.

Sun first joined Trip.com Group in 2005 as chief financial officer, and was later named CEO in 2016. She has led the company to become one of the most popular sites for Chinese travelers, and one of the biggest travel companies in the world in terms of gross merchandise value.

During her tenure at Ctrip, she won the Best CEO and Best CFO awards by Institutional Investor, according to the company’s website.

Named on Forbes‘ “World’s Most Powerful Women in 2019” list, Sun was the only female CEO in China’s online travel industry according to the magazine. Sun obtained her bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida, and her Master of Laws degree from Peking University Law School.

Unicorn companies

Miranda Qu, co-founder of RED

Source: RED’s website.

Miranda Qu is the co-founder of Xiaohongshu (known as RED overseas), a community-lifestyle-oriented and e-commerce app focused on fashion and beauty.

Qu graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University in 2006 with a journalism degree. She left her job as a white-collar in 2013 and founded RED with Charlwin Mao.

The platform has over 300 million registered users as of July 2019, 70% of which are born in the 1990s or after, according to the company’s website.

She said during an interview with GGV Capital that her major in journalism has helped her with her entrepreneurship journey, as the skills she learned in collecting and distributing information are directly tied to what Xiaohongshu is doing.

She was named as one of the “25 Rising Businesswomen of 2018” by Forbes China in February 2018, and was listed as one of the 36 young eminent entrepreneurs of China by 36kr in November 2018.

Cindy Mi, founder and CEO of VIPKid

Source: VIPKid’s website.

Cindy Mi is the founder and CEO of VIPKid, a Chinese online education platform that matches Chinese learners with US- and Canada-based teachers for online English lessons.

Mi has over 20 years of experience in English education. She co-founded a brick-and-mortar school called ABC English with her uncle before she formed VIPKid in 2013.

During her teaching career, she realized the high demand for learning English among Chinese students has remained untapped. “The classroom as we know it had not really changed in over 200 years,” she told Forbes.

“I knew there had to be a more efficient way to match this huge demand from China with a supply of the best English teachers.”With more than 90,000 teachers and over 700,000 students, the six-year-old startup claims to be the largest edtech company in the world.

The education platform has completed its Series E financing round in October 2019 led by Chinese tech giant Tencent, who was also a strategic investor for VIPKid’s Series D and D+ round.

Jean Liu, president of Didi Chuxing

Source: Didi Chuxing’s website.

Jean Liu is the president of Didi Chuxing, a global mobile transportation platform that offers app-based transportation services for 550 million users across Asia, Latin America, and Australia.

Liu joined Didi in July 2014, after quitting her position as the managing director at Goldman Sachs (Asia).

Under her leadership, Didi Chuxing has expanded quickly and gained the largest market share in China after beating both global ride-hailing giant Uber and local competitor Kuaidi.

“Challenges are the best opportunities to grow: this is a lesson I learned through the world’s toughest competition, enormous personal health challenges, but also, through building some great partnerships and experiments that we hadn’t dreamt of five years ago when we started,” she told Entrepreneur Middle East during an interview in 2018.

Liu was named on the Fortune “World’s Most Powerful Women” list and Forbes’ “China’s Women Tech” list in 2019. Born and raised in Beijing, Liu earned her bachelor’s degree from Peking University and her master’s degree from Harvard University, both in computer science. She also has an honorary Doctor of Commercial Science degree from New York University.

Zhang Nan, president of Douyin 

Source: Screenshot of Zhang’s speech at 2019 Douyin Creator Conference

Zhang Nan, the president of Douyin, oversaw the astronomical growth of ByteDance’s short-video app from scratch as a product manager.

In 2013, she joined ByteDance, then known as Jinri Toutiao, to take charge of Neihan Duanzi, a comedy app featuring comedy sketches and memes, after her startup, a photo-sharing product called Tuba, was acquired by ByteDance.

Launched in 2016, Douyin has garnered more than 400 million daily active users. Combined downloads of Douyin and its overseas version TikTok surpassed 100 million in January alone.

“Short-form content doesn’t equal to meaningless or fragmented things,” said Zhang at a creator conference, in response to some criticism towards her company. “Douyin provides a space where people can record the good moments in life.”