June 28th, 2010


(no subject)

This is a guest post by Gang Lu, a Shanghai-based blogger and consultant. His blog mobinode.com covers the Chinese and Asian Web industry, and he also co-founded OpenWeb.Asia workgroup and KUUKIE.com.

Twitter hit $1 billion valuation within 3 years. Facebook reached equal valuation with 2 years. It only took Groupon a year and a half. In April, a consortium led by Russian investment company DST invested $135 million on Groupon, making the valuation of Groupon shoot up to $1.35 billion.

The excitement has lead to many Groupon-clones in China. This market is already overheated and much crazier than people expected. Reports say there are between 100 and 200 Groupon-clones in the market already. Some of them already raised a large bucket of money, and several deals are around $5 million. RenRen, the leading Chinese social network, launched its own group purchase site called Nuomi, and it only took hours for 152,095 users to buy an offer for 2 movie tickets, 2 cokes, 1 box of popcorn and 1 Häagen-Dazs ice cream.

But what are the odds of survival for the Chinese clones?

1. Group Purchase, New and Old business model. If you think sites like Tudou, Youku are copycats of YouTube and Renren, Kaixin001 are copycats of Facebook, I can understand that because there were no video-sharing sites, social networks sites similar to those western services in China. But the Groupon model isn’t 100% new for China. Group Purchase (in Chinese it’s called Tuan Gou) is hugely popular in China especially in home improvement/home decoration market where thousands of people got connected online and buy the same products together in street shops in order to get a good bulk-discount.

I met the co-founder of the leading group buy service site TG.com.cn weeks ago. He said his company is expecting rmb 50 million after-tax income and getting ready for an IPO. So the consumer education cost for Groupon model is nearly zero. It is an ‘old’ model, but one that has ‘new’ features to Chinese consumers since the purchases are online and there’s the ‘deal of the day’ strategy. No one ever made the online group purchase experience so easy in China.

2. An easier model to survive? Unlike video-sharing, social networks, Twitter models which are all about burning money to build its user-base at the beginning, Groupon clones are making cash-flow since the first day. And the Groupon model focuses on one deal in one city. In China, it’s not difficult to find a deal and the Internet in China is very geographically-based. It should be relatively easier for those startups to survive.

However, if you have many targeting the same market, then it’s all about how to do the marketing in the end. Can you offer better share with those merchants? Do you have enough money to reach more industry sectors and grow faster? Surviving is one thing, at some point, you may also need huge money to burn. (Why did Groupon raise such amount of $$$ even when it’s already hot!!)

3. Better Service or Better Price? I’ve read some feedback from some Chinese Groupon users complaining about the service. ‘Cheap price does not mean we also accept cheap service’, they said. Groupon can offer you good price, but they can not guarantee whether or not the merchants are able to offer mass customers the service with the good quality. When your users come to you only for cheaper price, be careful, because that might also imply the customer loyalty is low. Especially in China, your customer can quickly move to another one with cheaper price or a big one with better service guaranteed.

4. Happy or Sad story in the end? Startups vs. Big guys. This is typically a sad story in China. When Web giants see interesting new business models, instead of partnering with you or acquiring yours, they launch something on their own. Renren’s Nuomi has shown its super power with huge user base. Taobao, has launched its Groupon service on ju.taobao.com, and Dianpin (the leading Yelp-like service) has also launched its t.dianping.com.

They have not started heavy promotion yet, but they are watching the market until they are fully ready and the market is more mature. So why are Chinese VCs still rushing for those startups? How do they expect these sites to exit one day? A few very lucky ones could take the lead in the end with enough money to burn, or one of them could be acquired by Groupon if it comes to China one day? I’m not so sure.

5. Innovation or just Interesting? The Groupons’ Aggregator There are so many Groupon services in China, and I am assuming there are more to come. So the question becomes, where to efficiently find the best deals on each service. The answer is obvious; we need a search engine. Now we see the sites such as tg123.com, niutuan.com, 122.net to aggregate and navigate Groupon services. I don’t know what kind of partnerships are involved, but it’s smart, isn’t it? At least, it perfectly fits for overcrowded Chinese market.

First impressions: Viliv N5 Ultra Mini Mobile PC

Viliv is at it again. This time around the Korean manufacturer is going after the clamshell market with the N5. The self-described Ultra Mini Mobile PC is really just that — a truly mobile PC. This form factor isn’t exactly new as I just looked at the main competitor, the UMID mbook bz, just a few months back so I’m actually curious if the N5 brings anything novel to the niche market.

I’ve only had the handheld for a few hours now so what follows are simply my first impressions. I’ll post a full review once I put some serious time in with the device. These type of devices sometimes take a while to appreciate and understand so it’s not exactly fair to judge its potential right out of the box. Anywho, click through for a few pros, cons, and pics — including comparisons against the mbook bz.


The WSVGA 1024 x 600 screen is gorgeous. It’s sharp, bright, and displays adequate contrast. It might be the most impressive feature of the N5.

Build quality
I found Viliv’s last release, the S10 convertible netbook, a departure from Viliv’s traditionally top-tier feel. Not the N5. It feels as good as anything that Sony or Apple could make. The outside is covered in a sort-of soft touch skin and there isn’t a miss-aligned seam anywhere. It’s really impressive.

Graphic power
The N5 can run Hulu Desktop! The N5 can run Hulu Desktop! And I mean it can run it in a way that’s enjoyable to use with very little lag and jitterness. This is the first ultra mobile PC I’ve used that can actually provide an acceptable experience with Hulu Desktop. It’s not flawless, but it’s good enough. Just think of the fun that can be had with Hulu Desktop and the integrated 3G HSPA modem.


The mouse
I’m not a fan of small optical trackpads. I’ve yet to use one that’s intuitive and clever. The N5’s is more of the same. The tiny optical trackpad isn’t accurate, slow, and a pain. But in Viliv’s defensive, I don’t have a better solution. These trackpads are about the smallest navigational devices available and it really wouldn’t be that big of a deal if the N5’s touchscreen was better.

Finicky. That’s the best way to describe the touchscreen. A stylus improves the experience, but even then it’s not exactly accurate or precise. It feels like a driver issue and my unit is a pre-release model, so let’s chalk this one up to that fact.

It’s too mushy. Keys that require less travel would make typing on the N5 with your thumbs so much more effective.

Glossy screen
The screen is basically a mirror in a bright room.

good guy

I have always been that guy, looking for the positive in any startup situation. Even if you fail you’ve just had the best on the job training possible. Paul Graham says it best: “So, paradoxically, if you’re too inexperienced to start a startup, what you should do is start one. That’s a way more efficient cure for inexperience than a normal job. In fact, getting a normal job may actually make you less able to start a startup, by turning you into a tame animal who thinks he needs an office to work in and a product manager to tell him what software to write.”