Blog portal Bokee is about to receive US$10 million in venture capital financing but according to industry players the company could have received four times as much if only founder Fang Xingdong spoke English.
It is hard to imagine Silicon Valley moneymen tackling five flights of unventilated stairs in the dilapidated building outside the fourth ring road in Beijing that serves as Bokee's headquarters. But the representatives of at least six venture capital firms made this trip and were greeted by what they considered a bargain.
'If an entrepreneur insists on speaking Chinese in their presentation I am very interested as a VC because the valuation will be lower,' said Jing Huang, head of China operations for Softbank, the company that put up the seed capital for Bokee.
Lower valuations for Chinese-only speaking start-ups were just a reflection of supply and demand. 'English-speaking returnees really know how to communicate with American and European VCs and there is more foreign capital chasing after these entrepreneurs,' Mr Huang said.
The overwhelming majority of the nearly US$2 billion in venture capital invested each year in China is offshore money, and language and cultural barriers allow foreign-educated Chinese to attract the lion's share.
Feng Tao, managing director of New Margin Ventures in Shanghai, was recently looking at two similar medical instruments companies with the same fundamentals. One was owned by a western-educated returnee, and the other by a non-English speaking entrepreneur. The English-speaker was asking for a valuation that was more than double his counterpart.
New Margin went with the cheaper non-English speaking company.