Sat, Jan 24, 2015 - Page 14 News List

Fund manager basks in Xiaomi glow

OBSESSED WITH ANALYSIS:All-Stars Investment Ltd managing director Richard Ji said that he looks for what he calls ‘category leaders’ and ‘category killers’

Reuters, HONG KONG

All-Stars Investment Ltd managing director Richard Ji poses in front of the company logo at his office in Hong Kong on Wednesday.

Photo: Reuters

Richard Ji (季衛東), whose little-known fund was the biggest investor in leading Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi Inc’s (小米) US$1.1 billion fundraising last month, is a numbers man looking to spot “category killers” — start-ups with the power to disrupt.

Ji, a former Morgan Stanley technology industry analyst, co-founded All-Stars Investment Ltd (全明星投資基金) in Hong Kong in April last year with half a dozen colleagues from the Wall Street bank.

The fund swiftly raised about US$750 million to target China’s vast Internet sector, Ji told reporters in an interview at his small office in Hong Kong’s central business district. A Xiaomi-branded television hangs on the wall.

Ji declined to name investors in his fund, but said half the money came from leading Asian corporations and the rest from business leaders in the IT, consumer and financial industries.

“As a fund, we focus on late-stage opportunities, or companies that are 2-3 years away from potential IPO,” he said. “If you focus on growth-stage companies, chances are you’ll pick the wrong horse.”

Last year’s record US$25 billion IPO from Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (阿里巴巴) injected new life into Chinese tech hopefuls. Alibaba and other Chinese companies raised a combined US$29.3 billion through US listings last year alone, minting millionaires and fueling a rush to fund tech start-ups.

Ji reckons only one in every 60,000 Internet start-ups in China makes it to a public listing.

Ji, whose 11 years as an industry analyst helped him build close ties with Chinese tech entrepreneurs, including Xiaomi founder and CEO Lei Jun (雷軍), said he targets what he calls “category leaders” and “category killers.”

“These companies have a disruptive product or business model, and they are the winners of tomorrow,” he said.

Xiaomi fits that bill.

Just three years after selling its first mobile phone, Beijing-based Xiaomi, dubbed “China’s Apple,” is worth US$45 billion, making it the most valuable start-up in the technology sector. Already, the world’s No. 3 smartphone maker, Xiaomi has ambitious plans to take on Samsung Electronics Co as it expands into home appliances, televisions and TV content.

“Lei Jun placed extraordinary faith in Richard by handing him the mandate,” one individual, who knows both men and is familiar with the fundraising, said. “That trust was built over a period of time, and Richard did not disappoint him.”

Xiaomi’s reliance on Ji, 46, to drive the fundraising last month underscores the importance of strong personal ties.

“He’s connected, well regarded, understands patterns and has learned that the odds are in his favor when he has the courage of his convictions — all in all, a powerful combination,” Mary Meeker, general partner at US-based venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins and Ji’s mentor at Morgan Stanley, said.

“He comes from an ordinary background. The remarkable thing about Richard is that he’s obsessed with analysis, even with simple things in life,” a former classmate of Ji’s from Fudan University said.

After a first degree from Fudan, Ji went on to Harvard, where he specialized in novel cancer therapy. During a brief stint in the pharmaceuticals industry, he dabbled in tech stocks and trebled his money in 1999, only to lose it all the following year as the Internet bubble burst.

“I was a victim of the previous technology crash, and so we’re extremely cautious about the [current] bubble. But there are key differences between the 2000 boom and now,” Ji said.

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