An interview with Shanghai Valley’s Founder and CEO, Ken Chang — by University of Cambridge
Written by Hilary Thean
To take a deeper insight into Shanghai Valley, we are excited to interview Founder and CEO, Ken Chang!
Here’s what we heard from Ken on his motivations behind starting Shanghai Valley, some opinions on Chinese startups and advice for budding entrepreneurs.
Q: Please introduce yourself and maybe share a bit on how you got into the industry and starting Shanghai Valley.
After university, I found myself in Silicon Valley and working with several startups since 1999, which naturally influenced me to be more involved in the startup community. It was a great and vibrant environment for entrepreneurs and I was inspired to start something myself after being in this community for 10–15 years.
One day, one of my college buddies from New York, who is an angel investor of an online crowdfunding platform for startups, Kickstarter, visited me and we discussed about starting an online platform for startups in China. I did my research and came to realize that a ‘crowdfunding platform’ was not suitable for me based on my resources and the market demand in China at the time.
Hence, I decided on starting Shanghai Valley, which leverages on my cross-border background and resources but with an institutional focus. We started as an online platform then but gradually added the offline model to meet the demands of our investors and startups who wanted to meet in person. Over time, we also pivoted towards meeting corporate investors’ needs as we started to notice the industry problems faced by large global corporations.
Q: Can you summarize a high-level overview of what Shanghai Valley does in a sentence?
In short, Shanghai Valley is the first exclusive, China-focused, online and offline investment platform for corporate and institutional investors to systematically partner and invest in high-quality startups, and to build a self-sustaining brand in the Chinese startup community.
Q: What does ‘systematic’ mean?
That’s a good question. Shanghai Valley has our own unique methodology to quickly, efficiently and effectively match both startups and corporations, in a way that also allows large corporations to build their own sustainable brand in the community that attracts startups in the long-run. Instead of providing our corporate partners one startup at a time, we are able to work with batches of strategically selected high-quality startups that match our corporate partners’ needs.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about Shanghai Valley’s biggest focus at the moment?
Shanghai Valley is at the stage where we are growing aggressively by reaching out to more potential and interested corporate investors. This requires more education in the space we are currently working in.
Most of the corporations who reach out to us have previously experienced working with other service providers who have failed to meet their needs. Unlike other traditional service providers, Shanghai Valley platform mainly provides innovative startups that are more mature, China-focused and have at least received a Series A funding. During this whole process, we also help our corporate partners to continue building their own brand in the startup community.
Our current corporate partners came to us via word-of-mouth and referrals from previous corporations that we have worked with, which says a lot about how effective our platform is , otherwise they would not have introduced us to their contacts. Going forward, we hope to educate more corporations about reaching out externally to collaborate with platform like us instead of relying only on their internal R&D for solutions, and to let them know that there is a really effective platform like Shanghai Valley that can help them succeed.
Q: In that case, what would you attribute Shanghai Valley’s current success to?
Cross border business, especially when it also includes different languages and cultures like China, is one of the toughest business to run. I’d like to think that our unique business model has allowed us to scale and build a high-end, exclusive brand in our space.
We have spent half of our lifetime building personal and strong networks in China, which has given us a competitive advantage to work with global corporations. With this wealth of networks in our portfolio, we are best positioned to empower global corporations by connecting them to high-quality Chinese startups, which is difficult to do without any access into this community.
Thirdly, our online platform has allowed us to leverage on technology to scale-up, facilitate and streamline the process, enabling us to work on multiple projects at a time.
Finally, our high-quality brand within this industry has allowed us to connect and attract more high-quality startups and investors to work with us, which has proven in our track record so far.
Q. How are you positioning Shanghai Valley for the future?
We are the leader in this space right now. In order to be successful in an innovation industry, we would also need to continuously innovate to remain ahead. Internally, we are constantly improving to better our technologies and processes to make our platform more and more powerful.
Q. There is word getting around that investment in Chinese startups have slowed down. What do you think about that?
Innovation never slows down. With regards to the common perception of the “slow down”, I’d say that this phenomenon is attributed to the macroeconomic factors as well as a market correction within the industry. A market correction is occurring to weed out bad startups when startups are founded for the wrong reasons or when startups are poorly managed. This is a necessary process for a healthy startup ecosystem. Back to my point, I believe that innovation never slows down and investors will always be present to find the right fit for their businesses.
Q. How and why are Chinese startups so different from others?
Chinese entrepreneurs are entering an interesting time with many opportunities in such a huge but not-too-mature market, which is unseen in other geographies. This is also backed by industry leaders and the Chinese government who are rolling out policies to push innovation and encouraging young generations to start their own ventures to produce fresh solutions for existing business problems. At the same time, new regulations and policies are constantly being introduced to prevent frauds and unethical businesses, or to improve business and investing environment. This makes Chinese startups very different from other startups of other countries as the set of conditions has allowed for the best to survive in a competitive and innovative, yet volatile climate. Combined with the huge market and growth potential in China, I think investors are going to benefit from investing in a relatively untapped market of Chinese startups.
Q. Finally, what advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs and startups?
I think you definitely need to find your product market fit for whatever you are trying to build. A lot of people are trying to start their own companies. But without any real product differentiator, it is extremely difficult for a startup to survive and grow in this competitive space. The products and services that you wish to offer need to solve real problems that fit the market demands. It is not always about how much and hard you work, but about how smart you work.
Given that you have the right product fit, your ambition to start a company needs to be larger than just the goal of making money. You will need to be persistent and motivated to survive the ups and downs of running your own startup.
So, find the right product market fit, be persistent and keep going! And everything will fall into place.