In case you’ve been living under a very large, dark rock, you’ll know that Chinese tech is poised to take on the world – trade war or no. And while western headlines are dominated by Tencent and Alibaba’s divide-and-conquer control of China’s tech landscape, beneath the behemoths are a crush of billion dollar-valued firms, on course to make successful switches outside their massive home market. Most are in China’s massive capital city, Beijing. Some are simple facsimiles; others cutting-edge. Whatever the bent, you’ll be hearing about these lesser-spotted unicorns a lot more in the coming months.
Tujia is a Chinese Airbnb rival that has gone big in a bid to shake off its American competitor. The firm won a $300m investment round in October, led by Ctrip and All-Stars Investment, which it’s using to increase its influence outside China and offer an alternative for those seeking affordable vacation rentals.
Tujia already covers 345 destinations in China, and claims over 650,000 listings. Its boardroom has been busy too, buying out smaller brands like Mayi.com and Qunar Homestay Business. China’s vacation rental industry is valued at $1.44bn right now, and is growing sharply alongside the country’s rising middle class. With a global market worth almost a hundred times that, little wonder Tujia is getting aggressive for a bigger piece of the pie.
How many $30bn-valued companies have you never heard of? Enter Meituan-Dianping, a firm standing up to the e-commerce might of Tencent and Alibaba. Founded in 2010 the company, which is like a combination of Yelp, Groupon and Uber Eats, has added movie tickets, wedding photography and a whole host of other add-ons to its arsenal, prompting some to call it China’s next super-app.
Sequoia Capital is just one of the many top-line VCs to have taken interest in Meituan, resulting in a mammoth valuation that, while eye-opening, should come as no shock: China has 1.25bn mobile users and experts agree that the best way to shake the Tencent-Alibaba hold on their custom is to diversify, and grow – fast.
China’s AI startups are taking more and more dystopian steps to provide the world with watertight face-recognition technology, among other creepy advances. Among them, SenseTime is undoubtedly king – and may hold the title globally, too. This May the company closed a $620m follow-on funding round, making it the highest-valued AI firm on earth. Among its 700-plus customers is Honda, for whom SenseTime is developing cutting-edge detection software.
Another client in the Chinese government, which should worry anybody with a passing interest in privacy and human rights. But money talks. And with SenseTime expanding rapidly on home turf, its C-suite has expressed a desire to make inroads abroad.
To call NIO China’s Tesla is to do it a huge disservice. Founded only in 2014 the electric automaker is ploughing new ground in autonomous driving technology – and wants to go public in the US. Its supercar EP9, created at breakneck speed, has broken numerous records in the EV and non-EV production car world. A seven-passenger SUV, the ES8, debuted last December. Next year NIO will release the five-passenger ES6, and already has 6,000 employees.
That is fast – even for tech. Little wonder SoftBank are looking to pour money into the company, despite its accounts being questionable: the ES8 has brought NIO just $7m in revenue thus far. Still, there are thousands of deposits on its upcoming vehicle. And with plans to push into Tesla’s home turf, expect a lot more news about NIO in late 2018 and beyond.