Book Review: Beta China by Hamish McKenzie, Published by PandoDaily

China is a bubble. China steals stuff. China can’t innovate. China this, China that. If there’s one country that gets its worst stories amplified while all of the little successes fly under the radar, China would have to be a contender.

Beta China, by PandoDaily’s Hamish McKenzie (who’s a New Zealander), is a fascinating exploration of how Chinese tech and internet companies have moved beyond copying ideas and are coming up with some awesome ideas of their own.

The story of Lei Jun and how his Xiaomi business has produced a smartphone that can move 100,000 units in 6 minutes and 5 seconds is fascinating. The Mi1 phone is a homegrown phone that is definitely competitive with other smartphones.

There is also an interesting discussion of how more tech success stories lower the obstacles for smart Chinese workers to work at tech firms, overcoming their parent’s reluctance to see them work for a firm that isn’t prestigious or world class.

I particularly like the discussion of how some Chinese internet companies have influenced Silicon Valley. Apparently, Google+ is extremely similar to Weibo because of how you can interact with separate posts.

There is a lot of discussion about how there are a lot of copy cat companies, but because of the intense competition, they have to add China specific features in order to stay ahead of the pack.

There is no resting on your laurels when there is an enormous amount of domestic competition and hurdles for foreign investors. China’s internet infrastructure problems are discussed, including how they don’t really have massive data centres, so the startup costs can be slightly higher than if they could use AWS or Azure.

But if there’s one nugget that blew me away, it was how much China Mobile is spending to roll out 4G LTE in over 100 cities. They’re spending over US$30 billion dollars – an astonishing sum. They’ll probably make it back because there is still enormous growth in smartphone penetration to occur in China.

I recommend Beta China – it’s $1.99 – and well worth your time because we haven’t heard much about internet companies in China aside from snarky comments about “innovation arbitrage” and how they don’t care about intellectual property.

When there is constantly a lot of negative press on everything China related, it’s nice to find out that on the ground there is a lot of innovation that will only increase over time as the wealthy execs at successful startups set up their own eco-systems of venture capital firms and the like.

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