The Chinese Communist Party has launched a severe crackdown on the technology industry:
- Didi Chuxing, the Chinese equivalent of Uber, had its app removed from all Chinese app stores shortly after its US IPO
- ByteDance, parent company of TikTok, shelved its IPO plans under regulatory pressure. Its CEO has resigned.
- Over 30 tech companies have been hauled in for meetings with regulators
- Ant Group, a financial company founded by Jack Ma that would’ve been among the largest IPOs in history, had its IPO in China cancelled after Ma criticized authorities
This crackdown makes it nearly impossible for Chinese companies to list their shares in the US, removing one of the main ways that venture capitalists cash out. This will cause venture firms to shy away from investing in Chinese companies.
Why does this matter? Let’s take a look at how venture funding works:
1) Company makes product
2) Company pitches investors
3) Investors give company money
4) Company uses money to hire engineers and make a better product, and…
5) Acquire users through ads and/or building their sales team. Next…
6) With more users and revenue, company comes back to VC’s to raise more money at a higher valuation. Then, they do more of 4-5
7) After repeated rounds of VC funding, the company either gets acquired or goes public. VCs cash out.
But Chinese companies cannot go public in the US for the forseeable future, and even a listing in China may not be possible, as Ant Group proved. And if the Chinese authorities think a US listing brings security risks, surely the acquisition of a Chinese tech firm by a US company would be even riskier and thus also off limits.
What does that leave in terms of exits? Acquisition by a Chinese tech company, which means a lot fewer and smaller potential acquirers. The only other option is an IPO in China, providing the company doesn’t offend anyone. But the Chinese stock market is just 1/4th the size of the US one, so the payoff may be much smaller.
No exit means no investment. For VC firms, the exit is the entire point!
Unlike in China, firms in the US and elsewhere will be able to choose whatever exit is the most lucrative. That means they’ll be able to raise venture capital much more easily. That money will let them hire the best engineers, build the best products, and acquire tons of customers, leaving Chinese firms in the dust.
A couple of years ago, I thought the Chinese technology industry might overtake the US. I don’t think that anymore. With the government’s hand ever heavier, I see Chinese technology falling further and further behind.
The Chinese people have proven they have the skills to compete. But will their government let them?
More on tech:
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