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China's 'Bill' reveals his vision

08-30-2010 09:01 BJT

At first glance, dressed in an azure polo shirt and carpenter pants, Yao Xin appears to be no different from many other Chinese college students with their love of football and bashfulness in the presence of girls.

However, the young man has more in common with fresh-faced entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook aged 19, and Larry Page and Sergey Brin, both 23 when they developed Google.

Yao is president of PPTV.com (formerly known as PPLive.com), the world's leading peer-to-peer streaming website, currently with 175 million users, which he founded when he was 24.

Born in 1980 into a generation regarded as candid, forward-thinking and ambitious, Yao adopted the English name Bill in tribute to his business idol Bill Gates of Microsoft fame. He is now dedicated to establishing his own "Bill's Kingdom".

Since its launch in 2005, PPTV has received around $40 million in leading international venture capital funds from such luminaries as Softbank China Venture Capital, Draper Fisher Jurvetso and BlueRun Ventures.

PPTV currently makes available online approximately 1,000 live TV channels provided by 300 television stations along with 100 million video clips and a library of more than 200,000 licensed films and TV series. PPTV has exclusive rights as the online video provider of the content.

Yao said: " To put it simply, the idea and initiative for creating PPTV originated from my enthusiasm for soccer at a time when my roommates and I were upset because we had no TV set in our dormitory to watch the European Football Championships held in Portugal during the summer of 2004.

"IT technologies are not limited to words and numbers. I wanted to apply what I had learned to help my friends enjoy online sports matches smoothly so we could cheer on the games together."

Yao then took the brave step of dropping out of Huazhong University of Science and Technology, where he was a postgraduate student, and started concentrating on peer-to-peer Internet technology.

The first version of PPLive came to fruition at the end of 2004 in a dusty apartment near the university using only five or six computers. Only five months after they uploaded the software to the Internet, the number of users exceeded 2,000, making it one of most popular pieces of online video software among college students.

One day in 2005, Alan Song, managing partner with Softbank China, called Yao to say his company was interested in PPLive. "Initially, I thought this can't be true and he must be a fraud," Yao said.

The pioneer took Song to the poky and sweltering apartment on his old bicycle. As one of the founders of UTStarcom, Song said the sight of several young men stripped to the waist and busily working on computer programming reminded him of when he and his partners started their business from a garage in Silicon Valley, in the United States.

With a first investment from Softbank, Yao registered Shanghai Synacast Media Tech Co Ltd (PPLive.com) in April 2005, and then moved their headquarters to Shanghai.

"At the time, there was a huge batch of Chinese university students devoting themselves to creating their own businesses. However, more than 99 percent of them had to put a miserable full stop on their startups," Yao said.

Yao was not afraid of failure. He recalled the old Chinese proverb that new-born calves make little of tigers. "We didn't care much about losing or winning because we could just go back to job-hunting or apply for higher education like many other college graduates if we could not make it," Yao said.

Yao attributed his success to good fortune and also high demand for the service he provided. "These are requirements for successful student entrepreneurs," he said. "Another of my classmates tells a similar story in that he created a hit online game called Growing and Stealing Vegetables at Kaixin001.com, one of the most popular social networking sites in China."

However, being just a college student is a disadvantage for fledging entrepreneurs. It means less experience and less possibility of success.

"Especially when I was raising funds and negotiating with investors, I really wished I could apply make-up to give myself more wrinkles and gray hair," he said, laughing.


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