In The Limelight: An American Entrepreneur In China Talks About Startup Culture


Calvin Chin is an American entrepreneur who lives in Shanghai. He founded Qifang, a P2P lending site for Chinese student loans. You can read more about Qifang here. He attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this last week, where China was the center of attention. We asked him to write this guest post and share his unique perspective as an American building a startup in the heart of China.

Here at Davos it seems China keeps coming up in two ways – neither of them positive. One, with the worst of the crisis behind us, people are turning from last year’s hopes of China as economic savior to China as free-rider keeping its currency cheap, bullying its minorities and shirking its responsibilities in Copenhagen. Two, in the tech community, seems everyone is talking about Google, Chinese government hackers and censorship.

My view, and I think it’s one that many in China would probably share, is that while free access to information and the rest of the world is inherently a good thing, so is political stability. The Chinese government has earned a lot of slack for raising hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, and if things did go out of control a heck of a lot of people would get hurt. So even if they want China to be plugged in to the rest of the world to encourage innovation and Chinese tech entrepreneurship (which I think they do), they’d put that priority after getting most Chinese people better lives.

It’s kind of the same deal that Chinese startups all make, to try to do build cool stuff but while working within the system. So Tudou and Youku screen their videos and the fastest growing microblogging service is run by a portal that has the infrastructure from screening blogs to be able to screen tweets. All these companies are making the same decision that Google made to enter China in 2004 too (and stay for now), but for Chinese entrepreneurs they don’t have the option of not being in the China market. It’s what they know and where they have their best shot at success. And I’m sure if you’d ask them, they’d sincerely agree that eliminating poverty and keeping things stable comes way before access to a few articles in a foreign language about events that don’t mean much to them. I don’t think many non-Chinese would like the aggressively patriotic and self-important China that would probably be the outcome of democracy there today anyways.

The Chinese market for startups is growing so fast, is so competitive and is characterized by so many unfair advantages for the big players, that local entrepreneurs just keep their heads down and roll with the political and market changes. Take Digu for instance, they launched as a pretty simple copy of Twitter that focused on celebrity accounts, then pivoted to a social game model when all the startup microblogging platforms got shutdown and Sina (with a lock on celebrity blogs) launched Weibo, and are now back to straight microblogging with a better ability to keep the tweet streams “harmonized.” Digu didn’t whine, they just sucked it up and forged ahead.

This is typical for Chinese startups. Whether they are localizing an international hit, copy-2-china style, at a much cheaper price and a better UI like Kuukie. Or they’re a fit for Chinese net culture with a product that you don’t see elsewhere like Douban’s social network for talking about books (and now other media).

The thing is while the majority of Chinese netizens really don’t care that much about what’s going on outside of China, the ones who do care, people who would start companies, people who want international news, all know workarounds to use services they like or read about sensitive topics from other perspectives. They use Twitter clients like Bage or free ( or paid VPNs. So much so that Twitter won in the grassroots Chinamode awards.

So actually, the Chinese government kinda gets the best of all worlds: most Chinese netizens are sufficiently inconvenienced so they’ll never stumble into places they shouldn’t, motivated innovators still find out about, get to, and can track any going on globally, and international companies that would otherwise compete for local market share get locked out.

More TechCrunch

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

2 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

2 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo