Why We Organized GGV Fellows

By Hans Tung and Zara Zhang
With contribution from Erica Yu, Caiyao Mai, and Fischer Yan

This past week, we concluded our inaugural “GGV Fellows” program, where 34 global-minded young leaders completed a 1-week intensive training on tech and entrepreneurship in China.

This program, which took place in Beijing, is designed for “sea turtles” – Chinese people who left China at a young age to attend higher education abroad – to get re-acclimated to the Chinese startup ecosystem and business environment.

Our 34 Fellows were carefully selected from over 400 qualified applicants. They come from top institutions around the world (the most well-represented schools are Stanford, Harvard, MIT, and Berkeley) and many are currently working at Silicon Valley tech companies (Google, Facebook, Uber, Apple, etc). All of them are native speakers of Chinese (or equivalent) and are fascinated by the meteoric rise of China’s Internet sector over the past decade. Among the first class of the Fellows, two thirds were professionals, and a third were in school; their ages range from early 20s to late 30s. They represent a diverse range of talent and skill sets, including engineering, product, business, and marketing.

During the program, the Fellows visited the headquarters of eight Chinese unicorn Internet companies and heard from a total of 21 founders or executives who shared lessons on what it’s like to start and run companies in China’s business environment. Our speakers came from some of the most valuable Internet companies in China, including ByteDance, DiDi, Xiaomi, Xiaohongshu, Kuaishou, Face++, Zuoyebang, Liulishuo, Keep, Hello Chuxing (formerly HelloBike), and others. During these closed-door sessions, the speakers shared not just tips for success, but also candid stories of failures and pitfalls that they ran into along their startup journey. The program is designed to resemble a “lightweight MBA” on all things related to China’s startup ecosystem.

GGV Fellows Class of 2019

GGV Fellows visiting Xiaohongshu

We have often been asked: Why are you organizing such a program?

1. Now more than ever, the world needs leaders and entrepreneurs who understand both China and the US, the world’s two largest Internet ecosystems. Every one of the Fellows is completely bilingual (in English and Chinese) and bicultural (in Eastern and Western cultures). Their experience of living in and adapting to multiple cultures and societies brings not just a unique perspective, but also a larger set of data points to interpret the world. They have lived in five cities on average, even though they are still in their 20s and 30s. We believe the next generation of successful companies will be global from Day 1, and thus need to be run by global-minded entrepreneurs, which this program seeks to cultivate.

2. We believe China has been home to many innovative business models that have the potential to benefit markets and consumers worldwide. To achieve this, Chinese companies will need to recruit talent that understand both Chinese and Western cultures, speak both Chinese and English, and have lived both within and outside of China. Through the Fellows program, we cultivate cross-cultural communicators who can take a lead in helping these companies bridge these linguistic and cultural gaps.

3. The next billion mobile Internet users are not in the US; nor are they in China. They are in places like Southeast Asia, India, and Latin America, where mobile Internet is just starting to make a huge impact on people’s daily lives. Increasingly, founders in these emerging markets are starting to draw inspiration from Chinese companies, even more so than Silicon Valley ones. As the world’s largest and fastest growing consumer Internet market, China offers extraordinary lessons on how to launch, run, and scale startups. Our Fellows were able to obtain insider knowledge and deep understanding of many innovative Chinese companies. Such knowledge, coupled with their global outlook and network, means that they have the potential to bring lessons from China (as well as the US) to emerging markets across the world.

4. Some of China’s most valuable startups were founded by “sea turtles” (Chinese overseas returnees). However, the reality is that many sea turtles face significant challenges when they come back to China. Since they have lived abroad for a number of years, they find themselves out of touch with China’s business and social environment. Some recognize that they are “不接地气” (“not connected to the energy of the land”). Our program served as a crash course on the common pitfalls experienced by sea turtle entrepreneurs and how to avoid them, in the hope that our Fellows will be able to navigate the transition more smoothly. As all 34 became close friends by the end of the program, they also cultivated a network of support and potential business partners.

As a global VC firm, we are committed to not just finding but also cultivating the next generation of founders and leaders. If you are interested in engaging with us or applying to future GGV Fellows programs, please follow our WeChat official account at “ggvcapital” and join the GGV 996 Community at 996.ggvc.com/community.

Hans Tung is a managing partner at GGV Capital. Zara Zhang is an investment analyst at GGV Capital.

Hans and Zara co-host the 996 Podcast, a popular English-language podcast on tech in China, where they interview movers and shakers of China’s tech industry. Subscribe on iTunes, Overcast, Spotify, SoundCloud, XimalayaFM, or wherever else you listen to podcasts. To reach Hans and Zara directly, join the 996 listeners’ community via WeChat/Slack at 996.ggvc.com/community.

We’d like to thank our colleagues Erica Yu, Caiyao Mai, Fischer Yan, and others for their contribution to the GGV Fellows program.