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Blood, sweat, and tears: Anecdotes and lessons from Chen Rui, Bilibili’s CEO on achieving entrepreneurial success

Written by Heniu Business Published on     5 mins read

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The philosophical entrepreneur behind one of China’s video-sharing giants shares his personal and professional experiences.

This article first appeared on Heniu Business. Oasis is authorized to translate and publish its contents. This translation was done by Yuqian Shi.

After seven years at Kingsoft, one of China’s leading software and internet service companies, Chen Rui began his 30s by embarking on a long entrepreneurial journey, eventually joining Bilibili during its startup phase and later becoming its CEO.

Wang Xiaochuan, CEO of search engine developer Sogou, and incidentally Chen’s high school deskmate, once said that Chen Rui has an idealistic temperament, much like a poet, which helps him to be easily accepted by younger people, thus allowing him to be recognized as the spiritual leader of the company.

Under Chen’s management, Bilibili has transformed from a mere video sharing site for the niche ACGN (anime, comics, games, and novels) community to one of the most popular and mainstream video streaming platforms in China today.

Bilibili’s latest quarterly results reveal that the platform serves 237 million monthly active users, yet the company’s path to profit remains unclear. At the same time, many loyal fans have expressed disappointment that the site’s shift in content direction to cater to the general public has caused it to stray from its original purpose and audience. While its secondary listing in March marks another milestone for Bilibili, it is clear that there is still much to be done for Chen.

This article is a compilation of snippets from Chen’s recent interviews and speeches on his life stories and entrepreneurial experiences.

Photo courtesy of Bilibili.
Photo courtesy of Bilibili.

A bloodied server: Bad luck, or good omen?

I was born in 1978, the year when China began to reform and open up to the rest of the world. I was four years old when my family got our first television set. Growing up with a strong interest in computers, I studied communications engineering at university. When I graduated in 2001, people with university degrees were still a rare sight. The big tech companies, such as IBM, Lenovo, Huawei, and ZTE, had just launched their on-campus recruiting programs at the time. As a result, there were many companies I could choose to work for. I was interested in software development, so I decided to join Kingsoft.

In 2008, the year after Kingsoft was listed in Hong Kong, I left the company at the age of 30 and started Beike Security with five other young people to provide cloud security services. After going through hard times, I came to realize just how unrealistic my expectations were when I first started the business.

In 2010, I merged with another entrepreneurial team and co-founded Kingsoft Network, later named Cheetah Mobile. In 2014, the surging wave of interest surrounding mobile internet gave Cheetah the opportunity to rapidly expand its overseas business of mobile tools, which eventually turned out to be a big success.

Entrepreneurship is difficult, and some moments can leave lasting impressions. One unforgettable incident during my time at Cheetah was when I fell into a server filled with metal racks during setup, which resulted in one of my legs getting cut and being covered in blood. To make myself feel better, I saw it as an auspicious sign: just as how people in the old days used to “sharpen” their swords with blood before going into battle, it wouldn’t hurt to believe that the server might run faster with my blood splattered on it.

Bilibili went public on Nasdaq in March 2018. Photo courtesy of Bilibili.
Bilibili went public on Nasdaq in March 2018. Photo courtesy of Bilibili.

Becoming a believer in Bilibili

I was also one of the very few members of an anime fan community called Bilibili. I’ve been a lover of anime and comic books since I was a kid. I started watching anime on Bilibili in 2010 and became so addicted to it that I was determined to meet its founding team.

The next year, I went to Hangzhou to meet up with Xu Yi, the founder, and his three teammates, all of whom were in their early 20s. I became the earliest investor of Bilibili after they told me that they wanted to run it as a company. Xu Yi then kept persuading me to join the team and work with them because they lacked management skills. That’s how I ended up as the fifth member of the company.

In 2018, Bilibili went public. Seeing the usually quiet and shy Xu Yi crying with excitement, I patted him on the shoulder and told him that I had always been his admirer. When I was his age, I was not as broad-minded and tolerant as he was. While a person’s natural abilities may only go so far, the breadth of imagination and possibilities stemming from their minds can truly be unlimited.

WATCH THIS: VIDEO | Bilibili is more than China’s answer to YouTube

Entrepreneurial lessons

 

  • Treat users as individuals, not statistics

 

Bilibili and its users have grown together over the years. Our users’ perception of Bilibili has now shifted from it being a mere community to a company that needs to make money. As a result, we received little opposition when we launched the Bilibili VIP membership program, which charges around USD 2 per month for a long-term subscription.

In fact, Chinese users are the most supportive user group. The problem is that there are too few companies in China that think of their users as real individuals rather than numbers on a spreadsheet. As long as you treat them as equals, they will support you in turn.

 

  • Entrepreneurial success does not solely lie in personal qualities

 

Lei Jun, the founder of Xiaomi, once told me that the key to becoming a successful entrepreneur is luck. After having started a few of my own businesses, I couldn’t agree more.

We as a society have developed a mindset that says the more good qualities we have and the harder we work, the better results we will achieve. This does not hold true whatsoever in the world of entrepreneurship. Truth be told, it likely doesn’t matter what qualities you have at all.

Entrepreneurship is not about doing what you are good at, it is about doing what is most needed to be done at the moment.

  1. The only way for small companies to defeat large ones is to tap new demand

When choosing the direction of your new business, do not go for the trends that have already been reported in the media. Take myself as an example: I invested in Bilibili in 2011, two year after the site was created, but its name did not appear in the media even once until 2014.

Startups are better off addressing new demand that may not be noticed by the general public until two years later. Remember that it takes time to build a team and grow a small business. There will not be enough time for you to follow current trends unless you have already acquired sufficient knowledge and made adequate preparations.

WRITTEN BY

Heniu Business

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