Raised USD$100+M, YeahMobi’s Peter Zou: “You’ll need co-founders to compliment in areas that you’re not good at.”
Startup IO‘s founder Bill Yuen and YeahMobi’s founder Peter Zou and Jack Wang have a unique conversation about creating co-founding team and company.
Bill: So, what got you interested in launching your own company? And how it did got started?
Peter: In the beginning, I was just studying business and wanted to make some money, so I experimented with some ideas. I started by myself, then I added one more person, and together we witness our business continue to grow bigger and bigger. We were actually solving a big problem, and that’s when we realized what we are doing is already a serious business.
I started the business in America but I go back to Xi’an. Our CTO, Jack’s hometown is also in Xi’an and I met him through a mutual friend, and that’s how he joined our team. Starting at Xi’an was a good choice because Xi’an is a city with a lot of fun people who speak different languages. And when we do business, we do business around the world. You can find different types of people who can speak different kinds of languages in Xi’an.
Bill: What is the biggest surprise once you’re in the industry?
Peter: The biggest surprise I had was the speed of our globalization. In 2013, we started to serve our Chinese customers to help them expand to the global world. Fast forward to 2017, the demand of our
customers was much bigger than we expected. I didn’t expect this kind of speed. That’s one thing that really surprised me.
Bill: Let’s talk about challenges. What are the lessons you’ve learned in this journey so far? If you’d have grandkids, what story would you tell them?
Peter: We had several problems but I think the biggest problem we had was managing our cash flow. I never worked in a big company before, so when our business suddenly grew, I didn’t have much experience of handling it. I just tried to learn as quick as I can. We had huge problems with our cash flow twice, but fortunately, we’ve solved it now. So, now, if you tell me you’re starting a company, I’d tell you to take care of your cash flow. Because your number one issue is to survive first and, to do that, you need to focus on your cash flow. It’s not even about how much money you make; it’s about having cash flow. That’s very important. We’re very lucky to have a CFO who’s good at that and he has practically saved us.
Bill: What are the key technological trends in your industry?
Peter: There are many key trends I can think of but, personally, I think the first one we have to talk about is programmatic. We can all see that, especially in mobile. Everything is programmatic and everyone is doing programmatic. Instead of paying for campaigns, they buy and bid on impressions. That’s why it’s important to have a big technical team to support your office. You’ll have to decide which impression you’re going to buy and how much you want to pay for it.
The second thing that we should talk about is AI. Back then, we’d manually do bids on every impression and that’s about nearly 100k impression bidding requests — that’s far beyond what humans can do! We’ll have to use machines and make them look like us and work as smart as us. They need to be able to answer who are the people behind the screen? What is the connection between them? What are the chances they want to click on the app? What are the chances that they become the customers and clients of our advertisers? What are the paybacks of this bidding? We have to do all this in less than 30 millisecond; those are split-second decisions and technology is there to help us. It is all about algorithm or we can call it AI. And also we have to build a very solid infrastructure because we have to take so much volumes every second and we need to make sure that the machine can do what human do and without mistakes.
Bill: All founders want to hire the best and the smartest people. How do you convince people like that to join your startup? I mean, there’s a lot of risk joining a new company, especially these people don’t even have trouble finding jobs. Take your CTO Jack, for example, how did you convince him to join your team?
Peter: I think there are several factors if you want to attract these kinds of people to join you. First is you need to do something that’s really innovative and unique. This can excite people who are up to the challenge. Take YeahMobi, for example. What we’re doing now is helping Chinese companies expand to the global world. I think a lot of Chinese are excited about that. Second thing is you need to take care of your co-founders. Give them shares and ownership of the company also. I think those are the two key factors you need to consider when you want to hire the best people.
What about you, Jack? Do you have any other reasons to share with us why you chose to join Peter’s team?
Jack: I think the first reason is that Peter really believes in what he does. That’s very important. Every time Peter tells us what he wants to do, he really believes in it, and that also make us believe in it. We believe in what we are doing and we want to do great things. This is the reason why I joined this team and I’m really proud of that.
The second reason is the opportunity of learning and growing together. Peter is kind of pioneering this field. He has been in this field for several years before we did. Most of us don’t know anything about this industry before we entered it. So, it’s kind of involving into a new and exciting field. We all learn together, we study together, and we grow together.
Bill: How important do you think having co-founders?
Peter: The important thing to remember is that you’re not good at everything. You’ll need co-founders to compliment in areas that you’re not good at. You need to admit the need to keep hiring high-level managers to become your co-founders. Then you go out, talk to a lot of talented people. You share them what you believe in, just like what Jack said, then you need to share high salary, high bonus, and shares of the company. You need to share what you own.
Bill: What about your work-life balance? They say there’s no such thing for founders.
Peter: I don’t really know how to define balance. Sometimes, my wife complains about my work but that’s understandable because I also need to spend time with my family. But there are things I need to do, something meaningful, so it’s hard to find balance between work and my personal life. But she tells our kids, “Your father is doing something great,” and she’s doing a really good job in making our kids understand. I appreciate her very much.
Bill: How do you think the internet and mobile technologies going to impact China’s economy?
Peter: I think more Chinese brands are going to become international brands. Before the internet, distribution channels are controlled by the consumer-facing companies, which means Chinese factories can’t reach consumers directly, hence a very slim margin. But now, due to the impact of mobile internet, these Chinese factories can reach to the distribution channel and touch people all over the world with just mobile technology. That’s actually very important because people are mostly always connected to the internet.
In fact, Chinese factories produced a lot of good products but didn’t have a good position in the global world. But now they are rising, the Chinese brands are rising. Ten years ago, the global world would think it’s a not a good product if it’s from a Chinese brand. But now, people see a Chinese brand and will actually try to see whether it’s good or not. It’s a very good timing for them to change from purely just factories to becoming brand companies. I personally believe that in 10 years, there will be a thousand brands coming from China becoming international brands.