Corporate China

Weibo: Execs ruminate on college exam, news app

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2014, 9:51am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 June, 2014, 9:51am

The microblogging realm was relatively quiet over the past week, as all of China took a moment of silence for the thousands of high school students who had to suffer through the annual torture session also known as the national college entrance exam, or gaokao, held over the weekend. A few tech executives reflected on the gaokao on their microblogs, though none had too much positive to say about an test that places huge pressure on students and is often criticized for its emphasis on rote memorization. Meantime, a couple of other tech executives were full of skepticism and just a touch of envy for a news app that made headlines after it attracted a whopping $100 million (HK$775 million) in new funding less than two years after its founding.

The gaokao is always a major headline-grabber when it's held each year, with countless stories in the media on all the preparation that students and schools take for the two day test that was held over the past weekend. The exam determines which colleges students can attend, and the entire nation goes into a sort of silent period over the two days, similar to the silence in hundreds of test centers across the country.

That silence may have been partly behind the relative quiet in the microblogging realm among tech executives, some of whom probably had friends and relatives taking the exam. A few actually took time to comment on the test, including executives from newly listed security software maker Cheetah Mobile (NYSE: CMCM) and online cosmetics seller Jumei International (NYSE: JMEI), as well as an executive from telecoms equipment maker ZTE (0763.HK; Shenzhen: 000063).

Cheetah's CEO Fu Sheng was highly critical of the exam, as he recalled the many unpleasant memories about the test's unfairness and all the pressure that he and others felt when he took the gaokao 19 years ago. Fu was also quite philosophical, giving his current view that the test was really just a small thing in his life despite how big it seemed at the time -- words that perhaps might console some of today's students who didn't perform well.

Jumei co-founder and vice president Dai Yusen reminisced about one of the essays he wrote on the exam when he took it a decade ago in Hunan. ZTE vice president Zeng Xuezhong also recalled the nervousness he felt, and related the strategy that he and his classmates used to try and calm their nerves. At least everyone can relax now that the exam is finally over, though many students are undoubtedly still suffering from anxiety over how they performed and what it will mean for their future college careers.

Outside the anxiety-ridden gaokao, tech executives from struggling online clothing seller Vancl and newly listed e-commerce company (Nasdaq: JD) were  skeptical and perhaps just a touch envious over a massive new funding round for ByteDance, developer of a news app called Today's Headlines. The app's owners announced earlier in the week that they raised a handsome $100 million in new funding -- a huge amount for a company that was only founded in August 2012. Media also reported the investment valued the company at an even more impressive $500 million.

Vancl vice president Xu Xiaohui was just slightly envious of the figures, which isn't too surprising since Vancl itself is struggling despite its longer history. What's more, Vancl itself had trouble raising a similar $100 million in new funding earlier this year, and only got the money with the help of personal connections to get the money. Xu was slightly critical of Today's Headlines in his microblog post, though the app certainly seems to be quickly gaining momentum with some 90 million registered users to date. vice president Xu Lei was also a bit critical, again perhaps reflecting a bit of envy even though his own company itself got a lofty valuation of $25 billion after its own recent IPO. Xu commented that he was one of the 90 million people to test out Today's Headlines, but wasn't too impressed by the app's performance. I can't personally comment on how good the app is, so perhaps it still has some problems. But I would presume that its investors have done their homework and were impressed enough by its prospects to give it the large new investment and equally generous valuation.

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