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China technology

Sequoia’s Neil Shen is very bullish on China’s tech industry but warns of ‘bumpy road’

  • Fierce competition in China’s tech space but there’s room for everyone, Sequoia’s Shen says
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 November, 2018, 4:06pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 November, 2018, 8:17pm

A top venture capitalist who has backed some of China’s biggest internet giants said he remained “very bullish” about the long-term prospects for country’s consumer economy as more people move from the countryside to cities.

“We’re still in the early stage of urbanisation,” Neil Shen, founding partner of Sequoia Capital China, said at a conference in Guangzhou on Thursday. “Consumption will gradually increase as that matures.”

The tech industry will also continue to grow by disrupting and gaining market share from traditional industries, though it will be a “bumpy road,” he said at the Fortune Global Tech Forum 2018.

The 51-year-old founded Sequoia Capital China in 2005 and is regarded as one of the country’s most influential start-up investors.

What ‘capital winter’? Sequoia Capital’s Neil Shen says there’s still plenty of money around for China’s start-ups

About 60 per cent of Sequoia China’s investments are invested in early-stage start-ups, according to researcher ITJUZI. Sequoia China currently runs several funds with more than 200 billion yuan (US$28.8 billion) under management, ITJUZI said.

Shen, a Yale graduate and former banker, co-founded flight ticket and hotel booking platform Ctrip in 1999 with James Liang, now the Nasdaq-listed company’s executive chairman. He also backed Alibaba Group Holding, owner of the South China Morning Post, when the Hangzhou-based company was still a scrappy start-up.

Confidence in tech companies has taken a knock after a big summer sell-off led by some of the industry’s biggest names, from Facebook to Tencent Holdings. In China, the crop of recently listed tech companies including Xiaomi and Meituan Dianping have declined from their initial offer price.

Meituan, the biggest on-demand food delivery company in China, tumbled in Hong Kong trading last Friday after it reported a wider loss on higher operating expense. Sequoia was an early investor in Meituan and is still the second-biggest shareholder in the company after its initial public offering with a 12 per cent stake.

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“We’re obviously very happy about a successful IPO but we’re not selling any shares,” he said. “We have the advantage that our LPs [invested firms] have very long term views about their companies rather than a blind push to monetise a business. We see Meituan as a long term champion of China’s internet space.”

Other Sequoia portfolio companies include Bytedance, a digital media company, and ride-booking firm Didi Chuxing, now two of the world’s most valuable start-ups.

As for the next big thing, Shen said that beyond the US and China, Sequoia is focusing on India and Southeast Asia. Their large populations, growing consumption demand, smartphone penetration, great entrepreneurs and engineers make them an attractive investment, he said.