Friday, December 09, 2005

Robin Li - The Man behind China's Answer to Google

From The Guardian Unlimited:

"To his many domestic admirers, the multimillionaire pin-up is a model internet entrepreneur who has beaten off some of the world's most powerful multinationals. But his detractors, particularly in the global entertainment industry, accuse him of being the navigator-in-chief for an armada of online music pirates.

The 37-year-old founder and chief executive says he does not have much time either for plaudits or criticism. He is too busy trying to keep ahead of the rapid changes in the Chinese internet and building an empire that may one day, he predicts, pose a challenge to Bill Gates' Microsoft.

That may sound ambitious for a company that few people outside China have heard of, but Li has already come a long way in a very short space of time. Since he entered the business four years ago, Baidu has rapidly overtaken Google and Yahoo! as the leading Chinese search engine. It is easily China's most popular navigation site - its directory of a billion web pages is used by 90m people a day out of an online population of 100m."

"Li knows the big IT players in the United States. A native of Shanxi province to the west of Beijing, in 1991 he went to the US for postgraduate study and worked for Dow Jones in New Jersey and then Infoseek in Silicon Valley. Having seen the internet at first hand on both sides of the Pacific, he says there are major cultural differences that make it difficult for a foreign firm - no matter how wealthy - to make inroads in China. The country's top three portals are all Chinese, even though Yahoo! has been trying for seven years to establish a presence. The two big online game firms, Shanda and Netease, are also Chinese. Li says the same home advantage applies to the search engine business."

"Asked about Bill Gates' recent comment that Google is becoming more influential, Li says the Microsoft chairman should watch out for the challenge from China.

"If he is worried about Google he will probably be more worried about Baidu somewhere down the road," he says. "When the Chinese market stops growing faster than other countries in the world, we will look outside. The reason we focus here now is that this is the fastest growing market we can access." "


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