Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Alfidi Capital at PingWest SYNC 2014

I attended the PingWest SYNC 2014 conference in San Francisco.  These folks crammed a full day's discussion of hot innovation into a concert space in San Francisco's North Beach.  The startup displays were all scrunched together in the entryway, reminiscent of so many Chinatown shops and Hong Kong markets.  I missed part of the morning sessions on AI tech due to a schedule conflict.  My photos turned out very poorly so I have nothing visual to post this time.

DaveMcClure from 500 Startups was remarkably restrained.  He's usually rather exuberant.  I will never forget his provocative persona from GMIC Silicon Valley 2013.  He reiterated his belief that VCs underperform broad markets by concentrating their portfolios, and that his accelerator's hundreds of startups are a superior approach.  He could be correct but I'd like to know how shepherding hundreds of startups enables his highly experienced partners to add value.  That hands-on attention is where VCs make a difference for their concentrated portfolios.  It was good to hear him speak positively of women startup founders.  I have wondered up to now why so many pain points in enterprise IT remain unaddressed, but Dave gave part of the answer.  He noted that much enterprise IT is scalable without humans and it's a smaller market than retail mobile, and that's why so much venture investment chases e-commerce instead of enterprise SaaS.  Well, I'll be darned.

The cute Chinese female MC segued from the morning tech sessions to the afternoon China sessions by asking the crowd who they thought was the sexiest entrepreneur among the morning speakers.  I shouted from the back, "You!" and got some laughs from the Chinese people sitting around me.  There were lots of hot Chinese women with nice bare legs at this SYNC conference.  I think Chinese women should do more squats so their rear ends look really nice.  Some other Chinese people prospected me after lunch for investments in their startups.  No thanks, people; I'm not putting any more cash into startups until the ones I have in my portfolio get some results.

Some dude from the Internet Society of China spoke in Chinese right after lunch.  I did not expect any admission of Internet censorship in China or cyberwar against the US.  He fulfilled my expectations by sticking to the party line.  I won't attend the China Internet Conference in Beijing he mentioned because there's plenty to keep me entertained right here in the US.

The panel billing itself as "Zero to Million Installs" didn't give any hints to mobile entrepreneurs on how to make that happen.  Their stated bias for slow growth in a huge market makes sense in China.  ChinaSF got a shout-out for attracting Chinese companies to The City.  I'd like to know how many Chinese agents of influence those companies brought with them.  I would also like to know why American VCs with offices in China will fund Chinese startups with separate funds.  It's probably a marketing gimmick to attract themed investments from institutions greedy for hot China exposure.  American VCs that really want to succeed in China should ask the International Finance Corporation and other entities how their investments in Chinese SMBs have performed.

Tencent sent someone out to pump their TenPay payment service.  The integration of mobile, social, and payments proceeds apace on Asian networks.  I know enough about where this is headed to see the future of US social media companies in financial services.  Facebook and Google will have to offer banking services to keep up with Chinese competitors.  Mobile payment is the camel's nose under the tent.

I ignored all of the startup pitches and sponsor announcements.  I'm not investing in these startups and I don't need the sponsors' services.  None of the entrepreneurs had really compelling speaking styles.  Maybe it's their upbringing.  They need to speak louder and be more dynamic.

I really paid attention to Hermione Way's panel.  She is one hot tech babe but she dressed very conservatively at SYNC 2014.  Check her out on the Web wearing nothing.  The panelists talked up Shenzhen's dynamic economy and big expat community.  Hermione touted her "Vibease" product . . . just do a Google search for it.  Yeah, there you go.  I'm not linking it here.  It can be controlled remotely by one's intimate partner via smartphone.  I'll bet real intimacy with Hermione is a lot more fun.  I'd like to watch her test that product herself.  It would be even more fun to watch SYNC's hot Chinese female MC help her test it.  The MC made a coy comment about it after the panel.  Wow, score one for US-China relations, if you know what I mean.

I did some thinking about Shenzhen after that panel, and not just about Hermione and the MC testing Vibease.  Where's the hard data on Shenzhen's advantages?  Its obvious advantage as the prefecture bordering Hong Kong means it's a trade gateway to the interior, but the expat community is the best explanation for its cultural adaptability.  The common lesson among several panels so far is the absolute necessity of hiring local people when penetrating any foreign market.  Another lesson is that Chinese VCs are well-connected with PRC regulators, but I can't find any evidence of this worth linking.  A lot of these speakers ignore the hard truth that any manufacturing in China other than simple final assembly invites IP theft.  Any US company trying to penetrate China needs to pay a visit to Shenzhen's community of Western expats and probe them on these kinds of concerns.

I ran into Baidu's local product manager during the afternoon snack break.  I grabbed a whole bunch of chips and asked him a silly question about that company.  He laughed and said I had the wrong idea about Baidu.  Yeah right.  I made sure I got plenty of chips while I scoped out the hot Chinese babes walking around the startup tabletop displays.  I did not see Dr. Fu Manchu anywhere at this conference.

The final panel on cross-border VC investment was really odd.  One panelist took a phone call on stage while another VC was talking.  Huh?  That's rude.  All of these idiot VCs talked about nothing but mobile and software.  Come on, China is a big enough market for something that hasn't been tapped out to death.  I heard lots of claims about how rapidly Chinese companies can innovate.  Oh really?  In a heavily censored society?  Yeah right, they all talk their books.  I think they really meant how rapidly Chinese companies can steal tech from their Western partners and pass it off as "innovation" to unsuspecting Asian consumers.  I was stunned to hear one VC guy say that selling SaaS online works in the US but not in China.  Really?  If they're serious about such slow adoption then they can't also be serious about China innovating quickly.  I am absolutely certain that China has a cloud sector that can handle SaaS penetration.  These panelists were full of VC baloney.

I did not get much out of the PingWest SYNC conference other than a good fantasy about Hermione and the female Chinese MC.  Anyone who came away from this thinking that Chinese innovation is the same as American innovation is indulging in a similar fantasy.  I looked around inside for some won ton vendors but found none.  I'll have to go to Chinatown to get my fix.