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A tale of two companies: riding the IT tiger in China
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Zero profit, ten staff, seven months' operation, 120,000 US dollars burnt, -- that's the sober situation facing Li Zhuohuan, founder of, China's clone.


Devoid of a mature business model, does not dampen Li's passion for the new, rising miniblog service that first appeared in the United States and lets people post short messages about what they are doing via website pages, mobile phones and online tools like msn, skype and Gtalk.


"For now, we do not push ourselves towards venture capital," said Li, shaping up jiwai as a nexus in the Web 2.0 era social networking, websites that encourage users to contribute material.


Although financially unproven, has an average traffic of one million messages per week on the website alone and the number keeps growing.


"It's the right direction but it takes time," grinned the 28-year-old, sipping flavored coffee and sitting at a couch in his office in Zhongguancun, China's Silicon Valley, and the earliest science park in the country, where more than 20,000 high-tech companies are based.


The rapid growth of China's high-tech enterprises in great numbers has made the Internet the most dynamic and promising sector of the economy in recent years, and also made Li confident about Jiwai's prospects, compared to Tsinghua Shuimu BBS, China's hottest campus BBS that every college student in China knows and uses, of which Li became the youngest operator in 1998.


Blocks away from Jiwai's office stands another office block that belongs to the Founder Group where it's a very different story. Founder is one of the country's most successful IT companies, whose personal computer business has secured No. 2 in China for the past seven years, with 3.5 billion US dollars of total assets. Founder is now where Li would like Jiwai to be in the future.


When four Peking University teachers set up Founder in a basement with a 400,000 yuan (54,054 US dollars) registered capital two decades ago, Li was just a primary school student in a small city in north China and he had no clue at all that after graduating from Beijing's Tsinghua University, cradle for some of China's current leaders, he would follow the steps of these forefathers in China's dotcom mania.


At the grandiose dome-shaped multimedia auditorium on the top floor of Founder group, Zhang Bingxian, deputy CEO, envisioned Founder's business in the upstream chips and circuits boards. During its two-decade development, Founder has explored new areas in medical care and pharmaceuticals in addition to PC manufacturing.


Li, who requires himself and his colleagues to work 7/24 (seven days, 24 hours), admitted that learning from others (namely, twitter) was "necessary" at the early stage but also emphasized the innovative efforts he and his colleagues are making.


He cited his latest invention "Jiwai Big Screen", where instant online messages and mobile messages can be displayed in a large screen to fuel the interactive session that many conferences and live shows are eager to present.


"Be it a success or a failure, it is worth trying," Li talked about his increasingly popular "Jiwai Big Screen" with a note of optimism.


Li described his work as "risky and adventurous". A big fan of extreme games like paragliding and a senior member of China's only radio club, Li never shows his fears and is the typical tech geek that every Internet company in China wants to embrace with open arms.


Obviously there is a long way to go for Li. Yet, in such a rapidly developing economy like China, who can deny Li and his colleagues will not create another IT empire in 20 years? Or maybe just 10?


(Xinhua News Agency January 2, 2008)


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