China was the name of the game at Entrepreneurship in the Global Marketplace, an even held Tuesday as part of Stanford’s Entrepreneurship Week.
Audiences flowed out of the provided seating, perched on the windowsills, and even sat on the floor to hear Tim Draper, founder and managing director at Draper Fisher Jurvetson, a well-known Silicon Valley venture capital firm, representatives from Alibaba.com, and others speak about trends in the global marketplace, almost all of which centered around China.
“We have this wonderful free market that just opened up,” Draper explained. “I see a little bit of encroachment by the government, but I think they’ll keep moving on the free market path.”
This is good news for one of the event’s other attendees — Alibaba.com, a Chinese company that began as a startup in 1999 with 18 people and has since expanded to 22,000, becoming the “world’s largest e-commerce place,” said Tami Zhu, director of international business development and marketing for Alibaba.com Americas.
In fact, one of Alibaba.com’s subsidiaries, Taobao, has more registered users than the entire population of the United States, according to Zhu.
Alibaba.com specializes in business-to-business international trade, matching businesses’ sourcing needs with suppliers, often across the globe. Taobao is more or less the Chinese version of eBay.
“Our mission is to make it easy for small businesses to develop anywhere in the world,” Zhu said. To illustrate this point, Alibaba.com brought along a young entrepreneur named Jonathon Ross Shriftman, a recent graduate of the University of Southern California.
Shriftman used Alibaba.com to start Solé Bicycles, an affordable fixed gear and single speed bike business.
“Alibaba made it so simple that we couldn’t not do it,” he said at the event.
In fact, the three “big” players in Chinese e-commerce — Taobao, Baidu and Tencent — are all still driven by founder entrepreneurs, according to Duncan Clark, founder and chairman of BDA China, an advisory firm.
“What happens in China matters,” he said. “The Chinese are coming!”
One thing that had everyone at the event talking was incredible work ethic and embracing of business happening in China.
“Don’t expect any sleep,” said Mike Effle, CEO of Vendio, which was acquired by Alibaba.com in 2010.
Hans Tung, a Stanford GSB alumnus and partner at Qiming Ventures, pushed home the idea that efficiency is the name of the game in China.
“The reason the Chinese guys can work in China is they don’t complain as much as Americans,” he said. “None of them take any vacation whatsoever and they operate 24/7.” Although Tung added that he did not advocate this sort of lifestyle, he explained that in the ferocity of China’s free markets, only the most dedicated manage to survive.
Draper added that other countries, such as Russia and Vietnam, are creating big incentives to attract new entrepreneurial businesses from all over the world. In the United States, however, “They say, ‘You’re a businessman? Get out of here!’” joked Draper, a GOP supporter. “I don’t think we’re responding correctly to this.”
As President Barak Obama noted in his State of the Union address this year, the United States has a lot of catching up to do, if it wants to retain the smart people it educates in its universities, and keep pace with the innovations of the rest of the world.
Draper agreed. “The free markets are exploding,” he said, ending his keynote speech. “The whole world is changing.”