iAsk: Why the world could only be seen through by data?
The industry internal polarization emerges quietly with big data becoming the front line. China's leading independent third-party mobile data service platform, TalkingData, explains to us the importance of choosing the right direction when the wind is coming, only a few years ago, Leo CUI (Chinese: CUI Xiaobo), CEO of TalkingData, was reminded by his wife that they have only 20,000 Yuan deposit left for the family. Today, he has led this company into one of the Unicom companies with a valuation over 1 billion USD. And Gloria Ai, founder of iAsk Media, interviewed Leo CUI to ask the stories behind he started a data company in China.
An Internet Company Who Does Not Take Sides
During the interview with iAsk Media, Leo started with a response to a rumor topic among the public "how is TalkingData connected with MA Yun (Jack MA, Founder of Alibaba) and MA Huateng (Pony MA, founder and chairman and CEO of Tencent)", who are jokingly called Dads? This joke is not created out of nothing, since TalkingData has a very ambiguous Chinese name: Teng Yun the World, just as its name suggests, it seems that this company has all kinds of connections with these two internet empires.
Leo told Gloria: "There were people from Tencent Investment Department, who came to TalkingData and asked whether my company is invested by Tencent, since the logo's blue color is Pony's favorite color. I would ask back, is Tencent's investment logic based on colors?" Leo told iAsk Media with smiles, there is no connections at all between Teng Yun the World (TalkingData) and Jack Ma and Pony Ma. Furthermore, TalkingData is a data service platform provider, to keep neutral is the foundation of its survival.
Then how is TalkingData so emboldened to keep neutral? Is it because that Leo does not lack money at all? At least, Leo's partner JIANG Qi does not think so. As the co-founder of TalkingData, JIANG Qi believed that Leo's wife might be exaggerated saying that they have only 20,000 Yuan deposits left, "because Leo told me in person that, there were more than 20,000 Yuan, there were some changes also."
Like many entrepreneurs in this era, Leo CUI and JIANG Qi also experienced the legendary time of selling real estates to fund their entrepreneurial dream. A rumor about them was that in the first two years of 2011 and 2012 when the company was established, after the annual meeting, bonuses being paid, and employees being sent home happily, the two men began to cry disconsolately. For this, JIANG Qi's response was: "Exactly! Two miserable men."
However, what made Gloria surprised was that even in those days, TalkingData still maintained their neutral stance without taking sides, they still carried the banner of "free service". According to Leo, TalkingData's earlier products were aimed at helping China's App developers to provide them data analysis services. "At the very start, we charged our services. But later we gradually made them free of charge, which was due to the development cycle of the market." An interesting phenomenon was that when Leo and his team were analyzing the international market, he discovered that there were 30 companies within the same business domain, 28 of whom were charged and only two of them were free, one was Furry, the other one was Mix Panel. And interestingly, these two finally survived.
Data-driven Company Decision-making
The periodicity of the industry challenges TalkingData's patience to wait until the outburst of big data. However, that does not mean that TalkingData has no chance to earn "quick money".
Back in the days when providing services for game developers, Leo was instigated to develop games instead, since TalkingData had possessed so much data in game industry. "They suggested me to develop a game or select a good one among the existing games in the market and become an agent. There were also investors who ran to me and claimed they would invest 100 million dollars for me to develop several games and be listed in the stock market". Leo also disclosed that later when the company was dealing with advertisement products, a lot of ad platforms came also. "At that time, we were like a judge, any inclination of the balance would cause an impact on other people's businesses".
However, TalkingData has always strived for neutrality, which helps them get rid of these tempts."Speaking of data companies, I think integrity should be put in the first place, so this is what we must insist on. All through the years, I kept telling my staffs that in our team, you could make mistakes, but you could never challenge the bottom line of integrity." Leo told iAsk Media.
Finally, with the rapid warming of the industry, TalkingData not only survived, but also survived very well. Currently, TalkingData has as many as 700million active users per month on average. The company provides services for more than 120,000 mobile applications and developers. Its customers include leading enterprises in finance, real estate, fast-moving consumer goods, retail industries as well as export banks and governmental organizations. The company has realized three-times’ fast development for a consecutive of three years, which leads to a company valuation worth of 1billion USD and makes it the most expensive big data company in China.
Then, neither taking sides nor earning "quick money", in addition to its company strategies of free services and concentration on data mining and analysis, where does TalkingData's profit come from? The answer is right on the company wall: Data-driven Company Decision-making.
These few words are the essence of TalkingData's commercial mode. "For example, before real estate company takes a piece of land, an investment decision must be made. But such investment decision must be made based on data, such as the local population, population growth rate and consumption capabilities, etc. Based on the available data, a model has to be made." Leo explained, this model could provide answers to some questions, for example, exactly how much the real estate should be priced at the time of land acquisition could ensure the developers'courage to take the land."This model is indeed using data to make investment decisions, which our partners could acquire from our platform."
iAsk Media also learned that TalkingData has cooperated with Master Kong's Go-to-Market Innovation Center to jointly forge "warm retail stores", which will innovate the anticipation of retail consumers, help retail stores to enhance the abilities of forecasting inventory and sales and bring a fresh upgrade in consumers'purchasing experiences and interactions.
Will Data Bring a Better World?
On September 11th, 2017, T11 2017 TalkingData Smart Data Summit themed on "Visioning Opportunities and Challenges, Inheriting Tang's Prosperity" was held. For the entire industry, Leo's speech on every year's T11 summit would stir up too many talking points.
Now Leo CUI is telling people that he wants to use data to perceive and cope with the changes of the world. Actually, he is talking about a question beyond the commercial sense: does technology could really make our life better? And the answer of this question is also available on the wall of TalkingData’s head office, Data Improve People’s Life.
"From a set of data, you could see that people's habits are changing, shopping 70%, social 100+ minutes, takeout 287 million and travel 30%. I don't know how you feel about this data set. Does it seem like that? Leo throws a series of questions, in order to express that "people's thinking is linear. People are used to making many decisions upon a kind of one-sided ground based on sliced time and small-sized samples.
Based on such judgment, Leo has manifested his "ambition" evidently, when our ability, speed and dimensions for data collection have entered an unprecedented time, the perspectives we are looking at the world will change greatly. In the past, the world is seen materialized by physical substances. In the future, it will shift towards the direction of digital virtualization.
This shift in perception and cognitive ability naturally means the rise of a certain type of business, and who will be the biggest winner? Of course, big data companies like TalkingData. Just think, one day, we use analog and digital way to see the world, how much influence there will be for the real estate, retail, banking, finance, urban, and all aspects of human life.
What's more, TalkingData is not ready to stop exploring. "Internet companies that do big data research are more focused on behavior patterns, and they favor personalization, but they tend to overlook the most important things, which is the psychology, the motivation, the sociological attribute of the person behind this phenomenon. It takes a lot of people's wisdom and better understanding of people." When Leo's thinking goes up from a business sense to philosophical category, TalkingData’s next move becomes well-reasoned, the company introduced a Smart Data Lab, positioning at interdisciplinary open platforms and to use data to understand the relationship between the human mind, body and the environment." We believe that even if we can build a data model with AI to explore the city and the world, the human mind and emotions are not erased because of it, they are still the most important part. Only we promote understanding among people could we change what we see."
I have to say that this is a broad vision. Within only six years'time from the establishment to today, at least in the aspect of exploring human's ultimate proposition, TalkingData is standing in front of the same piece of stela together with great companies like Google, and ready to engrave something on it. But at the present moment before dawn, there is a more compelling reason to fear is there anything more terrifying than this when everything about me as one of all human beings can be presented with data by a single company?
Leo did not evade from such questioning. He told Gloria that, in 2009, Google has issued a statement "Don't Be Evil", to protect customer privacy. But in 2014, Google had another statement, saying that they would no longer abide by the earlier statement, since the market pressure has forced it to move backward only.
Fortunately, TalkingData is sticking to the bottom line. An interesting detail is that on one occasion when Leo accompanied an investor visiting the company, when passing a piece of work area, that investor asked how well TalkingData protects its data. So Leo asked an employee at sight to check a data, but that employee replied without turning his head that "you have no right to check." "In fact, no one has this right at TalkingData." However, when strengthening self-discipline within the company, Leo also frankly admitted that "companies like us, in fact, really expects tight legislation from the national level to let us know where the black and white lines are."
iAsk •Quick Q&A with Leo CUI
Gloria Ai: What were your responsibilities when you were in Oracle before you started TalkingData?
Leo CUI: When I was with Oracle, I was responsible for channel partners. My career in foreign companies was quite peculiar. I first entered a foreign company called BEA Systems Limited in 2002, which was the sixth largest software company in the world, and I worked there for seven years.
Gloria Ai: I heard that you have sponsored a lot of Go games and tournaments. You must have not missed the century match between Alpha Go and Lee Se-dol.
Leo CUI: My Go level is almost at Grading Five. The third round of the match between Alpha Go and Lee Se-dol was commented by NieWeiping and me. So, I'm a witness. Because at that time, Mr. Nie also felt that I might be a person belongs to both fields who could not only play Go but also engage in data and AI.
Gloria Ai: if the data can change the decision-making of the enterprise, what decisions of TalkingData have been changed so far?
Leo CUI: in fact, our company's corporate culture is also the same. Our name is TalkingData, which is to use data to talk. Every time when we make big decisions, we do rely on data. For example, as early as we founded the company, we were quite different from many companies when positioning our products. We were not seeing the demand in the market and began to meet the demand. Actually, we have spent a very long time for market research before making a decision.
Gloria Ai: when I came here, I asked the friends of TalkingData. They said the company was very good. Everyone wanted to work here. Why? Because a lot of Internet companies require employees to work 6 days a week from 9:00am to 9:00pm, a “996" working system. They have to start work very early and go home very late and often work overtime at weekends. But our company seems to encourage not to work overtime at all?
Leo CUI: since I think startups are developing at an acceleration speed, its rhythm will grow faster and faster. I had the same conversation with Lei Jun. I asked why Kingsoft didn’t beat 360? He said that because the team had been dragged down and exhausted when it was real time for fighting. I was still impressed by this saying.
Gloria Ai: you use data to record the era of mobile Internet. Are there too many truths hidden in these data?
Leo CUI: in the Internet industry, there are quite a few counterfeiters, aren’t there? The market value of so many listed companies depends on those things. Therefore, we should stick to the bottom line. We estimate that 70 percent of the traffic on the Internet today is the flow of robots, which you can take it as 70 percent of the traffic is fake.
Gloria Ai: the data that TalkingData possesses are controversial. It is said that these data clearly belong to every user. Why should you use my data for commercialization? How to protect my data security and data privacy?
Leo CUI: that's a very good topic. Maybe TalkingData is the first company in this field to encounter this problem. Because many of our clients are abroad, in fact in every country that our services cover, we are subject to local regulatory authorities and regulations.
Take another example, when we cooperate with some apps, we actually collect data legally with prior authorizations. And when these data are accessible in the company, we have very strict confidentiality measures.