How Zhihu’s become one of China’s biggest hubs for experts – gpgmail


Zhihu may not be as well known outside of China as WeChat or ByteDance’s Douyin, but over the past eight years, it has cultivated a reputation for being one of the country’s most trustworthy social media platforms. Originally launched as a question-and-answer site similar to Quora, Zhihu has grown to be a central hub for professional knowledge, allowing users to interact with experts and companies in a wide range of industries.

Headquartered in Beijing, Zhihu recently raised a $434 million Series F, its biggest round since 2011. The funding also brought Zhihu two important new partners: video and live-streaming app Beijing Kuaishou, which led the round, and Baidu, owner of China’s largest search engine (other participants in the round included Tencent and CapitalToday).

Launched in 2011, Zhihu (the name means “do you know”) is most frequently compared to Quora and Yahoo Answers. While it resembled those Q&A platforms at first, it has grown in scope. Now it would be more accurate to say that the platform is like a combination of Quora, LinkedIn and Medium’s subscription program.

For example, Zhihu has an invitation-only blogging platform for verified experts and since launching official accounts, it has become a channel for companies and organizations to communicate with users. A representative for Zhihu told gpgmail that the platform had 220 million users and 30,000 official accounts as of January 2019 (for context, there are currently about 800 million Internet users in China), who have posted a total of 130 million answers so far.

The company’s growth will be closely watched since Zhihu is reportedly preparing for an initial public offering. Last November, the company hired its first chief financial officer, Sun Wei, heightening speculation. A representative for the company told gpgmail the position was created because of Zhihu’s business development needs and that there is currently no timeline for a public listing.

At the same time, the company has also dealt with reports that its growth has slowed.


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Google Falls to Third in Smart Speakers Behind Baidu and Amazon


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Amazon’s original Echo speaker seemed like something no one would want when it launched in 2014. That feels like ages ago because consumers are now happily gobbling up smart speakers with always-on voice assistant features. After rising to the number two spot behind Amazon, Google has now seen its market share drop as China’s Baidu grows by leaps and bounds. Meanwhile, Amazon has continued advancing. 

The smart speaker market is potentially worth billions of dollars, but it also pumps up interest in other smart home devices like cameras, locks, and sensors with which the speakers can communicate. Amazon has moved aggressively to acquire smart home companies like Eero, Ring, Blink, and more. As for Google, it has a full lineup of Nest thermostats, cameras, and other devices that play nicely with Google Home speakers out of the box. Plus, everyone using an Android phone already has Assistant. 

In the most recent quarter, Amazon saw sales of smart speakers with Alexa grow by 61.1 percent. That leaves Amazon with 25.4 percent of the market. Google is down almost 20 percent year-over-year, leaving it with 16.7 percent of the smart speaker market. That’s just low enough that Baidu managed to slide into second place with 17.3 percent. It had barely started selling speakersSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce in 2018, so its Q2 2019 growth is an incredible 3,700 percent. 

The Amazon Echo Plus.

Baidu sells speakers in China where Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa do not operate, and there’s clearly pent-up demand. Baidu’s speakers run the company’s DuerOS assistant that is geared toward Chinese users. It has also worked to get DuerOS into as many form factors as possible. There are Echo-like speakers, ceiling-mounted lights, displays, and more. Amazon has also been cranking out new speakers — it released updated versions of the Echo Show smart display and several Echo speakers in the last year. 

Google has been chugging along with the same Home-branded speakers for a few years now. The original 2016 Google Home is still the heart of Google’s product lineup along with the budget Home Mini and premium Home Max. However, the Home doesn’t have as much power as newer Amazon devices like the Echo Plus. It’s probably time for Google to refresh its speaker lineup if it wants to stay competitive with Amazon.

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Google falls to third place in worldwide smart speaker market – gpgmail


The global smart speaker market grew 55.4% in the second quarter to reach 26.1 million shipments, according to a new report from Canalys. Amazon continued to lead the race, accounting for 6.6 million units shipped in the quarter. Google, however, fell to the third spot as China’s Baidu surged ahead. Baidu in Q2 grew a sizable 3,700% to reach 4.5 million units, overtaking Google’s 4.3 million units shipped.

China’s market overall doubled its quarterly shipments to 12.6 million units, or more than twice the U.S.’s 6.1 million total. The latter represents a slight (2.4%) decline since the prior quarter.

Baidu’s growth in the quarter was attributed to aggressive marketing and go-to-market campaigns. It was particularly successful in terms of smart displays, which accounted for 45% of the products it shipped.

“Local network operators’ interests on the [smart display] device category soared recently. This bodes well for Baidu as it faces little competition in the smart display category, allowing the company to dominate in the operator channel,” noted Canalys Research Analyst Cynthia Chen.

Meanwhile, Google was challenged by the Nest rebranding in Q2, the analyst firm said.

The report also suggested that Google should introduce a revamped smart speaker portfolio to rekindle consumer interest. The Google Home device hasn’t been updated since launch — still sporting the air freshener-style looks it had back in 2016. And the Google Home mini hasn’t received much more than a color change.

Instead, Google’s attention as of late has been on making it easier for device manufacturers to integrate with Google Assistant technology, in addition to its increased focus on smart displays.

Amazon, by comparison, has updated its Echo line of speakers several times while expanding Alexa to devices with screens like the Echo Spot and Show, and to those without like the Echo Plus, Echo Dot, Echo Auto and others — even clocks and microwaves — as sort of public experiments in voice computing.

That said, both Amazon and Google turned their attention to non-U.S. markets in Q2, the report found. Indeed, 50% of Amazon’s smart speaker shipments were outside the U.S. in Q2, up from 32% in Q2 last year. And 55% of Google’s shipments were outside the U.S., up from 42% in Q2 2018.

Beyond the top 3 — Amazon, Baidu and now No. 3 Google — the remaining top five included Alibaba and Xiaomi, with 4.1 million and 2.8 million units shipped in Q2, respectively.

The rest of the market, which would also include Apple’s HomePod, totaled 3.7 million units.


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Andrew Ng’s AI companies expand to Medellin, Colombia – gpgmail


After his tenure as Chief Scientist at Baidu, Andrew Ng, the founder of the Google Brain project and former CEO of Coursera, set up a number of different proejcts that all focus on making AI more approachable. These include the education startup Deeplearning.ai, the AI Fund startup studio for building AI companies and Landing.ai, which helps enterprises (and especially manufacturing companies) use AI. Today, Ng announced that he has opened a second office for these projects in Medellin, Colombia.

At first, Medellin may seem like an odd choice. But today’s Medellin is very different from the one you may have seen on Narcos (and a lot safer). It’s home to a number of universities and over the course of the last few years, it’s a hub for Colombia’s startup scene thanks to incubators like Ruta N and others.

Ng told me that he chose Medellin after looking at a wide range of cities in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Medellin, he believes, offers a strong talent pool, educational system and business ecosystem. it also helps that the Colombia government has made tech a focus in recent years.

“I see early signs of momentum for Colombia being a talent magnet both regionally and globally,” he told me. Indeed, the company was able to hire team members from Poland, Bangladesh, Egypt and Chile for its offices in Medellin, which now has just under 50 people. Over the course of the next two years, Ng plans to expand this team to between 150 and 200 employees.

It’s important, Ng argues, that we set up AI hubs outside of Silicon Valley and China, in part, because they’ll provide a different perspective. “We are able to share our AI ecosystem and Silicon Valley know-how with Medellín,” he writes in today’s announcement. “We’re equally thrilled for our Silicon Valley team to be learning from the Medellín community. Local knowledge and innovation shared with a global community is what will catapult the technology forward.”

The teams in Medellin will work on all of Ng’s projects, including four unannounced stealth portfolio companies that are looking into using AI in sectors like healthcare, education and customer support. In total, the teams in Medellin are working on about a dozen projects right now. And that’s very much Ng’s approach to AI — and for Landing.ai in particular: build lots of specialized components for various verticals that can then be generalized. “AI isn’t some piece of SaaS software that everybody can just swipe their credit card and use,” he said.


Andrew Ng will also join us for our first gpgmail Sessions: Enterprise event in San Francisco on September 5 to talk about Landing.ai and the future of AI in general. You can find more information about the event (and buy tickets) here.


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Baidu beats estimates on strong video streaming growth – gpgmail


Chinese technology group Baidu on Monday posted a revenue of 26.33 billion yuan ($3.73 billion) for the quarter that ended in June, beating analysts’ estimates of 25.77 billion yuan ($3.65 billion) as its video streaming service iQiyi continues to see strong growth. The 19-year-old firm’s shares were up more than 9% in extended trading.

The company, which is often called the Google of China, said revenue of its core businesses grew 12% since the same period last year “despite the weak macro environment, our self-directed healthcare initiative, industry-specific policy changes and large influx of ad inventory.”

Net income for the second quarter dropped to 2.41 billion yuan ($344 million).

“With Baidu traffic growing robustly and our mobile ecosystem continuing to expand, we are in a good position to focus on capitalizing monetization and ROI improvement opportunities to deliver shareholder value,” Herman Yu, CFO of Baidu, said in a statement.

Today’s results for Baidu, which has been struggling of late, should help calm investors’ worries. In recent years, as users move from desktop to mobile and rivals such as ByteDance win hundreds of millions of users through their mobile apps, many have cast serious doubts on Baidu’s ability to maintain its growth and hold onto its grip on advertising business. (On desktop, Baidu continues to command more than three quarters of the Chinese market share.)

In the quarter that ended in March this year, Baidu posted its first quarterly loss since 2015, the year it went public.

Baidu’s shares were trading at about $114 in extended hours, pushing its market cap to about $40 billion — still less than half of its roughly $100 billion in mid-May last year. (Baidu is no longer among the top five Chinese internet companies because of the alarming shrinkage in its market cap.)

Robin Li, Baidu co-founder and CEO, said Baidu’s app was being used by 188 million users everyday, up 27% from the same period last year. “In-app search queries grew over 20% year over year and smart mini program MAUs reached 270 million, up 49% sequentially,” he added.

Baidu’s video streaming service iQiyi has amassed 100.5 million subscribers, up from about 87 million late last year and 50 million in late 2017. Revenue from iQiyi stood at 7.11 billion yuan ($1.01 billion), up 15% since last year.

iQiyi inked a deal with Netflix in 2017, which does not operate in China, to cross-license portions of one another’s content. But the partnership has since ended because the “results weren’t as good as iQiyi had expected,” a company top executive said earlier this year. iQiyi continues to maintain its relationship with all six of the major local movie studios.

“On Baidu’s AI businesses, DuerOS voice assistant continues to experience strong momentum with installed base surpassing 400 million devices, up 4.5 fold year over year, and monthly voice queries surpassing 3.6 billion, up 7.5 fold year over year, in June. As mobile internet penetration in China slows, we are excited about the huge opportunity to provide content and service providers a cross-platform distribution channel beyond mobile, into smart homes and automobiles,” he added.

Revenue from online marketing services, which makes a significant contribution to overall sales, fell about 9%, to 19.2 billion yuan ($2.72 billion).

Baidu said it expects its overall revenue for the current quarter to be between 26.9 billion yuan to 28.5 billion yuan ($3.81 billion to $4.04 billion).


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The five great reasons to attend gpgmail’s Enterprise show Sept. 5 in SF – gpgmail


The vast enterprise tech category is Silicon Valley’s richest, and today it’s poised to change faster than ever before. That’s probably the biggest reason to come to gpgmail’s first-ever show focused entirely on enterprise. But here are five more reasons to commit to joining gpgmail’s editors on September 5 at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for an outstanding day (agenda here) addressing the tech tsunami sweeping through enterprise. 

#1 Artificial Intelligence.
At once the most consequential and most hyped technology, no one doubts that AI will change business software and increase productivity like few if any, technologies before it. To peek ahead  into that future, gpgmail will interview Andrew Ng, arguably the world’s most experienced AI practitioner at huge companies (Baidu, Google) as well as at startups. AI will be a theme across every session, but we’ll address again it head-on in a panel with investor Jocelyn Goldfein (Zetta), founder Bindu Reddy (Reality Engines) and executive John Ball (Salesforce / Einstein). 

#2. Data, The Cloud and Kubernetes.
If AI is at the dawn of tomorrow, cloud transformation is the high noon of today.  90% of the world’s data was created in the past two years, and no enterprise can keep its data hoard on-prem forever. Azure’s CTO
Mark Russinovitch (CTO) will discuss Microsft’s vision for the cloud. Leaders in the open-source Kubernetes revolution, Joe Beda (VMWare) and Aparna Sinha (Google) and others will dig into what Kubernetes means to companies making the move to cloud. And last, there is the question of how to find signal in all the data – which will bring three visionary founders to the stage: Benoit Dageville (Snowflake), Ali Ghodsi (Databricks), Murli Thirumale (Portworx). 

#3 Everything else on the main stage!
Let’s start with a fireside chat with
SAP CEO Bill McDermott and Qualtrics Chief Experience Officer Julie Larson-Green.  We have top investors talking where they are making their bets, and security experts talking data and privacy. And then there is quantum,  the technology revolution waiting on the other side of AI: Jay Gambetta, the principal theoretical scientist behind IBM’s quantum computing effort,  Jim Clarke, the director of quantum hardware at Intel Labs, and Krysta Svore, style=”font-weight: 400;”> who leads the Microsoft’s quantum effort.

All told, there are 21 programming sessions.

#4 Network and get your questions answered.
There will be two Q&A breakout sessions with top enterprise investors for founders (and anyone else) to query investors directly. Plus, gpgmail’s unbeatable CrunchMatch app makes it really easy to set up meetings with the other attendees, an
incredible array of folks, plus the  20 early-stage startups exhibiting on the expo floor.

#5 SAP
Enterprise giant SAP is our sponsor for the show, and they are not only bringing a squad of top executives, they are producing four parallel track sessions featuring key SAP Chief Innovation Officer
Max Wessel,  SAP Chief Designer and Futurist  Martin Wezowski and SAP.IO’s managing director Ram Jambunathan (SAP.iO) in sessions including, how to scale-up an enterprise startup, how startups win large enterprise customers, and what the enterprise future looks like.

Check out the complete agenda. Don’t miss this show! This line-up is a view into the future like none other. 

Grab your $349 tickets today, and don’t wait till the day of to book because prices go up at the door!

We still have 2 Startup Demo Tables left. Each table comes with 4 tickets and a prime location to demo your startup on the expo floor. Book your demo table now before they’re all gone!


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China’s largest Q&A platform, Zhihu, raises $434 million from investors including Kuaishou, Baidu and Tencent – gpgmail


Zhihu, the largest question and answer platform in China, has raised a $434 million Series F. This is not only the company’s biggest round since it launched in 2011, but also one of the largest secured over the past two years by a Chinese Internet culture and entertainment company, said China Renaissance, which served as the funding’s financial advisor.

The Series F was led by Beijing Kuaishou, the video and live-streaming app, with participation from Baidu . Existing investors Tencent and CapitalToday also returned for the round, which Zhihu will use for technology and product development. Baidu told Bloomberg that it will add 100 million Zhihu posts to its main app.

While Zhihu has downplayed reports that it is planning an IPO, it embarked on plans to hire a CFO and restructure last year.

Zhihu users tend to be educated with relatively high incomes and the platform has developed a reputation for hosting experts and organizations that are knowledgeable in tech, marketing and professional services like education. Like Quora and other Q&A platforms, Zhihu lets users post and answer text-based questions. But it also has other features, including discussion forums, a publishing platform and live videos for brands and companies to answer questions in real-time. Instead of making its streaming video feature, called Zhihu Live, open to all users, it is available to only to experts and organizations, differentiating it from other streaming apps like Douyin, the domestic version of TikTok (ByteDance is an investor in Zhihu but did not participate in this round).

In a post about the round on his Zhihu page, founder and CEO Victor Zhou wrote the company plans to keep up with rapid changes in China’s media and Internet landscape. “Over the past 8 years, users have gone from expecting simple entertainment to using the Internet to deal with real-life and work problems. The focus of competition has also shifted from traffic to traffic + quality.”

 


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