5 Chinese tech billionaires you might not have heard of
Pinduoduo’s Colin Huang, DJI’s Frank Wang, Meituan’s Wang Xing, and more
When people talk about tech billionaires in China, chances are the same few names pop up: Well-known leaders like Alibaba’s Jack Ma, Tencent’s Pony Ma, or JD.com’s Richard Liu, just to name a few.
(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba.)
But they aren’t the only entrepreneurs who’ve made it into the three comma club, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. From the founder of the world’s biggest seller of personal drones, to the man who created China’s “Amazon for services”, let’s take a look at some of the names that might not be as familiar.
COLIN HUANG (PINDUODUO)
The son of factory workers, Colin Huang’s net worth skyrocketed to nearly US$10 billion overnight when his online shopping company debuted on the Nasdaq in July.
While Pinduoduo is hardly a household name in the US, it’s quickly becoming one in China. The premise of the app is simple: Buy an apple for yourself at $2. Ask a friend to buy another one together, and each of you only pay 50 cents.
Huang says the idea is to combine budget shopping with entertainment, sort of like merging Costco with Disneyland. But others have accused the former Googler of letting counterfeits thrive on Pinduoduo. Huang said the platform removed 10 million questionable products in a year.
GONG HONGJIA (HIKVISION)
Gong Hongjia is an investor in China’s biggest maker of surveillance cameras, Hikvision. It’s a major supplier of the Skynet Project, China’s national surveillance system that has seen over 20 million cameras deployed across the country.
But Hikvision also has many global customers, from Florida’s Universal Studios and Manhattan’s glitzy condominiums -- to supermarkets in Kenya and banks in Turkey.
That’s attracted scrutiny from the Trump administration, which now bans the US government from using Hikvision’s video surveillance equipment -- once found in US prisons and schools.
FRANK WANG (DJI)
From dorm room to global behemoth: It’s the entrepreneurial story of a self-made billionaire. And I’m not talking about Mark Zuckerberg. Now in his late thirties, Frank Wang was still a college student in Hong Kong when he founded DJI.
The dream was to build a consumer drone with serious hardware, one that will set itself apart from the shoddy plastic toy drones that were widely available at the time. Their first mass market hit, the Phantom, was released seven years later to critical acclaim. Today, it’s surpassed rivals like GoPro to become the world’s top seller of personal drones. It has offices in North America, Europe and Asia.
One recent setback though: The company revealed in January that it uncovered cases of corruption inside the company, which could give it a US$150 million hit.
MICREE ZHAN (BITMAIN)
Mining cryptocurrencies takes a lot of computing power, solving complex math puzzles. And Bitmain is a company that makes chips and machines specifically for this purpose. It also runs several mining farms itself.
Micree Zhan, reportedly an avid reader of history and sci-fi books, is the technical mastermind behind Bitmain. The co-founder rarely talks to media but in a rare interview with Taiwan’s Business Weekly last year, he said he spent two hours reading up on Bitcoin before he decided to join Bitmain.
It’s been a rollercoaster ride for Zhan since Bitmain’s founding in 2013. Bitcoin's value rose to unseen heights in late 2017, only to be followed by an over 70% plunge the next year. In January, Chinese media reported that Zhan and co-founder Wu Jihan may step down as chief executives.
WANG XING (MEITUAN DIANPING)
If Amazon is “The Everything Store”, then it looks like Meituan Dianping is striving to be the “every service platform”.
The company merges two ventures: The first, Meituan, was created by serial entrepreneur Wang Xing in 2010. It started as China’s equivalent to Groupon, and later expanded to include a food delivery service. The second venture, Dianping, is a Yelp-like crowdsourced review site. Together, they now sell movie tickets, make restaurant reservations, book travels, and more.
Wang’s projects haven’t always been successful. One of his first, a Facebook copycat in China, has largely fizzled out after he left the company. Another, a Twitter lookalike, failed after a government crackdown on blogging sites.