Perspective, Pontification and Propoganda about Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital, brought to you by David Hornik of Lobby Capital.

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Don Dodge

David, Thanks for the thoughtful review of the VC investment situation in China. I know several VCs who are excited about the opportunities in China and who have sent lots of money and people there, but I am with you, I think the risks are too high.

I spent 5 weeks in China on 4 separate trips back in 1997 / 1998. I haven't been back since. I was hoping the situation had improved since then. Sounds like it hasn't.

The prevailing attitude then was that "profit" was evil. Essentially "profit" by a foriegn company was considered stealing money from the Chinese people. Even if you could structure some kind of deal that resulted in a profit...good luck trying to take that profit back to the USA. Money made in China stayed in China. There was no reasonable way to "repatriate" profits back to the USA. Has that changed?

Back then most business deals were structured as partnerships with China based "companies". I use the term company loosely because they were all ultimately owned by a China government agency. Sometimes the company names would make you believe they were a real for profit company, but if you dug deeper you would find out they were really owned by some government agency.

The "partnerships" always boiled down to the same theme...the USA company provides the dollars and technology, while China provides the cheap labor, land, and facilities. Any resulting profit stayed in China.

Selling software in China was difficult then. There were no intellectual property laws, no copyrights, no trademarks. And even if such laws did exist...they were never enforced. Just take a look at any store in China loaded with "Gucci" watches, "Nike" shoes, or "Microsoft" software. It was all cheap knock-offs where the brand, logo, and intellectual property was stolen. Has that changed in 10 years?

It is hard enough to launch a successful startup in the USA with all the laws and protections we have here. Imagine trying to start a company in China with all the additional risks you have mentioned. It is enormously difficult and risky. And if you are extremely lucky and succeed...will you be able to keep your profits and convert them to US dollars?

I hope a lot has changed since I tried to do business in China 10 years ago. Based on your observations it sunds like they still have a long way to go.

Don Dodge

David Hornik

Great observations, Don. There is no question that China has made progress on a bunch of fronts over the last decade. But many of the concerns you describe are top of mind for me as well.

I don't think that there is the same sort of "profit is bad" attitude in China any longer. In many ways, China felt virulently capitalistic. The economy is growing fast and lots of Chinese citizens are getting very rich along the way. One of the advantages these days is that there are a number of public markets for Chinese companies to choose among, including China's own market. That said, we met with a very senior official from China's stock market who said that he had to worry about protecting the Chinese public who didn't understand when stock prices went down. So the idea of market-driven pricing hasn't really taken hold over there. And I very much share your concerns about the ability of Westerners to repatriate money.

It will be very interesting to see how China continues to evolve. Perhaps they will make progress on these economic fronts in the coming years. But for the time being I'm happy to watch from afar.

Glad you enjoy China. I travel to China a couple of times every year and have witness the changes made over the last few years. It has changed so much compared to just merely a few years ago.

Ever since China open up for capitalism, with the raise of entrepreneurs and businessmen from China, it is easy to forget that China is still a communist country. In fact, the laws was recently just changed to make land ownership legal.

On the other hand, the "communist" is just a label. China is anything but communist given what it is today. But despite so, it is unlikely to drop that in the next few decades. After all, short of a revolution, it is unlikely there is going to be a regime change and a revolution in China, with violence or not, will not do well for Asia or the global economy. For all intend purpose, a stable "communist" China is better than a troubled democratic China.

One thing China does have is rapid changes. Since the 80s, China has sent some of its brightest overseas. Many of these oversea scholars is now back in China, bringing the concept back to China. More importantly, these young scholars are in charge. If you meet some government officials, I am certain you meet many of the 30s+ officials who probably spent time in overseas, be it US, Europe or Australia. And these are the people making changes in China today.

China is a huge country with many things to catch up with: IP, banking reforms, economic structure etc. It is also faced with unprecedented challenges, with over 1.3b population. For every issues US face on a day basis such as loan, housing, education, health care, multiple all the problem by 4x and 4x the budget. Nevertheless, as I said above, changes are happening.

I wont change your mind about investing in China nor will I try. I guess it is much easier for me since I am a Chinese by origin and able to communicate with them in Chinese. While I also watch China from somewhat afar, I see a lot of promises. China is the next growth engine for the next decade for the world and I want to be part of it. So I have invest in China, and will invest more in the coming years.

If you want to know more about China, i recommend you listen to this:


-James Seng

Anthony Kuhn


Nice to see Don Dodge chime in with his thoughts, as he has also been to China and knows first-hand that of which he speaks. I, on the other hand, do not, but I do read a lot about China and I would guess that given the immense changes China has seen in the last few years, they will open up more to foreign investment if it meets their needs in the near future.

I give Turkey as an example, which had limited foreign investment in the 1990s, but has now opened up a number of "free trade" zones in some of its larger cities, has tax advantages for businesses that chose to build in Turkey, and as of this past year or so, outsiders can now buy property without a Turkish proxy, which has driven up the price of a modest summer villa to European heights. I'm not sure that last part is good for visitors, but the Turks must sure be enjoying it! Businesses are flocking to Turkey for its ready labor force, friendly commerce environment and forward-looking economic policies.

I cross-posted on your thoughts at my blog for the Innovators-Network ( ) in hopes that some of my readership will visit Venture Blog and read your insightful post on venture capitalism in China.

Best wishes for the New Year!

Anthony Kuhn
Innovators Network


I am not going to tell you everything is great with China law, but I will tell you that the examples you give as purporting to show a lack of laws in China may just as likely have been due to the lack of these VCs having drafted good contracts. This seems particularly true of your second example.

I would like to say that this post is one of the most insightful one I've ever seen from oversea's Venture Capitalists. There are many VCs fly in and out China but can't really understand the China market. One of the problems is "copycat" I mentioned in Economist last Nov. The local original innovations and long term sustainability were badly ignored. You may have heard over 10 Youtube copycats were invested in China market. Obviusly, this mania is helping cook new bubbles in this market.

Another problem came from the bullish IPO market of "China Concept". The current China VC market is really tricky because many VC firms even those names from overseas are chasing for late stage and pre-IPO cases to get fast capital return. So the whole industry is becoming a VC+PE model, few exceptions. It's high time for oversea's real venture funds to fill the gap. Finding right team is highly important to keep the "VC" pure.


Hey David,

What an awesome post!!



Having both started and invested in a number of businesses myself, I am not surprised by the anecdotes you heard and can see why you were turned off by them. You certainly went one step beyond the simple fascination with China of "fly-in" Western investors.

On the other hand, the "Wild Wests" and jungles (I would say the defining characteristic of this jungle is not the lack of cages but rather than the lack of rules, compared to the zoo) is where money has been and will be made. In the U.S., many industries emerged out of chaos characterized by the same excess and sometimes fraud, and the same lack of rules and clarity. The Internet bubble of the late 1990s is one of them.

No doubt many investors will lose their shirts in China. Many mistakes have been made due to inexperience (mainly on the part of the local investors) and lack of local knowledge and networks (the foreign investors), or both (a surprising large number).

The lack of good entrepreneurs and managers is a real challenge. It is however relative: the investee's competitor has the same issue. A personal network for recruiting and vetting is important in China, as it is in the U.S. Due to a number of reasons, inexperienced entrepreneurs among them, my view is that in China the good VCs can add far more value than they can in the U.S. Unfortunately very few VCs in China have the experience and inclination to add value, particularly when the prevailing wind is "get rich quick".

The real challenge for me is finding entrepreneurs whom I can trust and who is scalable (can be trusted by his/her employees, among other things), but who can be "flexible" when dealing with the external environment. It invariably involves some compromise.

From the perspective of Western VC firms, success will come from the quality of the local China investing team and whether the local team is empowered. Fortunately it is much easier to empower the local team via the VC partnership structure than, say, via subsidiary structures of publicly listed NASDAQ companies, whose performance in China has been abysmal indeed.

Bo Shao

Great post and comments, but being over here since 1988, investing in a variety of industries, getting a few hits, taking a few hits, I can say this to any prospective VCs with a plane ticket to China. (Sorry to sound like a jerk. I'm not)

1) Don't assume. Period. Don't assume that things will work, that people will be honest, that the law will protect you, that there are business ethics, that you can get your money back, that you really know what's ever going on, etc, etc...

2) China doesn't need anymore money. There's so much flowing around here already. The now strategy is finding out how to integrate with domestic money, not "teaching" "these people" how to do it the "Valley way."

3) As soon as you step off the plane you stop being a person and turn into walking talking money tree. If you are a Westerner, you must have trees in your yard that magically grow money. You have to get used to this mentality.

Once/If you are OK with the above three, then what you really need to invest is TIME. Everything just takes soooooo much time.

There are excellent opportunities here of course, and there are smart, motivated, educated, good staff, who can if managed properly and led well can turn an investment into a great return. But you can't just plant the seed and take off expecting results based on a BP and some regular conference calls. You have to be here and all over them all of the time. If you aren't, your money disappears.

In my experience, VCs don't like this messy time consuming hands on stuff. But as far as I've seen, it's the only way to make anything happen.

Remember that in China you have to "make a lot of little money."
With this strategy, you can fill the cracks like the Taiwanese did and find some good deals.

Good luck!


Tao Yun

I like these discussions. Here are my two cents.

David, when those Chinese investors told you their bad stories of working in that market and with those young enterprenures, I don't think they expected you intepreted their stories as you wrote in your article. I believe what they were trying to say is that this is a jungle market but we are handling it well, and come to work with me. They would be surprised if they know their words actually scared you away. Why do I know that? Because I spent last 11 years working in China high tech and investment sectors. I was one of those sitting across table from you telling those stories. Until I started sitting on the investor side, I had never known that my audience actually intepretated my excitment in the opposite way

Why many VCs in China are doing VC+PE stuff? Actually many hedge funds are doing many PE stuff as well in China. They are rationals behind that. The only reason that is not true is that these VC or HF are stupid. If you know the VC invesment history in last 15 years in China (better last 30 years of Chinese economy), if you know the local environment, if you know how much money actually they make out of their strange busienss model, you may admire how those used-to-be American VC and HF actually transformrd themselves so well into the local enviroment and made good money for their investors. They wouldn't have made that if they only complained why the jungle temperature is so different from home.


As someone who has lived and worked in China for the last 12 years, the first 5 years as financial controller for a portfolio company of a PE firm and the last 7 consulting to PE firms, I can concur with many of your observations.

Dan will be happy to learn that it is now possible to repatriate profits in China and has been since about 1998.

Unfortunately as Issac mentioned most entrepreneurs are successful in China because of their relationships or "guangxi" and not to any sustainable advantage.

When dealing with anyone that talks about Guangxi keep in mind Jay's Law of Guangxi: Guangxi is completely unsustainable; it retires, gets promoted or thrown in jail. Therefore the deal needs to make sense from a business fundamental point of view before you do it.

Laws and rules are often interpreted differently for an entity after an investment has been made by a foreign entity. Most start-ups in China are breaking the law in one form or another.

China has a very fat tail when it comes to returns and risks.

The key to success is proper due diligence and to actively manage your risk by having someone from your team to actively participate in the management of the firm.


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For your record, DFJ has set up a fund for Russia. Others are not there yet.

yuri ammosov @ ru


The more time changes the more things stay the same. I was in Beijing for 6 weeks to study at a business school four years ago and the behavior was the same for business ventures. We heard horror stories of how foreign companies would set up shop in China and after key employees learned the business, they would start a new business doing the same thing next door and take many of the key employees with them. How would you like to wake up one morning to that?

There is no doubt that China holds risk, however, the potential reward currently outweighs the current risk.

As an entrepreneur in the United States I worry more about our rule of law and the security that VCs feel they have when entering an agreement with an entrepreneur. What is happening with the Bankruptcy Court and the lack of respect for the "president" of laws for creditor rights may soon feed into the VCs future decisions of whether to back new entrepreneurs going forward.

If the current trends with the auto industry continue, we as a country will be behind China in the rule of law!

Do not misunderstand! This is not a political posting it is a concrete worry that I as a entrepreneur, seeking venture capital, am very concerned about.

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