Quanling Zhang, an Unconditional Optimist| iAsk Top Leaders
Twenty years ago, 100 Mbps fiber optic was only RMB 0.8 yuan; GSM mobile phones and pagers were a national craze; the Internet era didn't prevail until 10 years later. During those years, everyone would read the People's Daily on the bus in the morning; after dinner, each household in a village would gather around one television and watch news on CCTV on time.
Twenty years ago, Quanling Zhang, a graduate of Peking University, was admitted to the International Department of CCTV at the age of only 24, serving as a reporter, director and moderator of the China Report. Later on, the Shanghai girl was appointed Moderator of series of popular CCTV shows, including "Oriental Horizon", "People Weekly", "Morning News", "Focus Report", etc., and became a popular and iconic "CCTV Pundit" nationwide.
Twenty years ago, Quanling Zhang, a young achiever, enjoyed infinite glory at the eminent platform of CCTV. She mastered the rules of operation at the platform. She also believed that she understood the logic and order of "the era". However, 20 years later, Quanling Zhang gradually came to realize that "that era" and the present are two completely distinct worlds.
Things have changed as time went by.
"Wool can be produced by pigs, and the dog is dead – the reason why the rate of audience of some radio programs for taxi drivers went down was not because there were better shows, but the drivers were busy taking orders with DiDi instead of listening to the radio. It resonates with a ruthless quote from The Three-Body Problem that goes 'I will destroy you, which has nothing to do with you.'
This is another world, which cannot be explained by the knowledge and logic I've accumulated over the years. However, it is undoubtedly infiltrating into every aspect of my habitual life.
I started to fear that the world is taking a leap. If I was not curious and eager to learn, I would be like an ant stuck in the past, seeing the same world and same words, while the real world is no longer relevant to me."
–––– Quanling Zhang
Is it possible to start from scratch in the second half of life?
In 2015, Quanling Zhang published a long article "The second half of life" and announced her resignation from CCTV. She left the platform that has brought her tremendous glory but almost stereotyped her in the past 18 years. Later, she joined Purple Bull Startups, owned by Cheetah Mobile CEO Sheng Fu, as a founding partner, and officially entered the entrepreneurial investment sector.
In 2016, at the scene of releasing a new short video app by Cheetah Mobile, Quanling Zhang, a former "legitimate media person" who once reached Lop Nur on foot and pioneered at fighting against the SARS epidemic, seemed like a goddess who has walked off from the altar, by frequently saying economic terms originated from the Internet, such as "IP, mobile livestream, making money, online celebrity" and so on.
In 2017, Quanling Zhang joined the fourth season of the entertainment variety show "U Can U Bibi" as a mentor and shook off her serious label of a former "news professional" by chewing chicken legs while counting money in the costume of a fortune teller along with Dong Ma.
At the end of 2018, Zhenyu Luo announced in his New Year's speech: "Quanling Zhang will serve as Chairman of Shao Nian De Dao." The public speculated that she "turned to entrepreneurship due to investment failures". In response, Quanling Zhang calmly answered with smiles: "I'm just serving two roles simultaneously."
When Quanling Zhang just resigned from CCTV, she had no idea whether "it's possible to start from scratch in the second half of life". At present, she has made a "fresh start" so thoroughly.
Quanling Zhang once said that from time to time, one is trapped in a glass bowl in life. As time goes by, one would become accustomed to a certain logic that is self-explanatory. Some can even further create their own theory and put it into practice.
Indeed, she has been soaked in the sacred glass bowl of CCTV for too long from an outsider's perspective. Just like the story of the frog staying at the bottom of a well that is often talked about, even if the well is made of pure gold, the frog can only see the same sky day by day.
Most people would still feel satisfied, but it's not meant for those who constantly takes pleasure in embracing the unknown. Quanling Zhang happens to be the latter type, even though she was 42 years old at the epiphany moment. "I suddenly felt that if I was already curious about what's outside the fish bowl but I myself was still trapped inside the bowl, my mind would be confused. I began to ask myself a question. Should I resign from CCTV that I have worked for 18 years, and view the world from a different perspective?"
Gloria Ai: You once said that this experience at CCTV was like taking an elevator in your life straight to the top of the building and seeing various scenery. Now, you're willing to make investments and start your own business. Is it out of curiosity to see the view beneath the top floor, or that you would like to take one step at a time and enjoy diverse scenery along the way?
Quanling Zhang: As a matter of fact, in addition to seeing the scenery, you can also become a landscape yourself. You can become part of many landscapes. I think plenty of people may have misunderstood CCTV as a platform, thinking that I'm at a platform that's high-end enough. It is indeed from the perspective of the traditional media, but in reality, as a CCTV journalist, you also need to reach down to earth. The identity just places you at a very high-reaching platform.
Hence, about taking the sightseeing elevator, I meant to describe that the platform brought my younger self to a high position, but I never looked down in term of the perspective of viewing the world.
In fact, there is a benefit to being a journalist. It allows you to see the world behind the scenes from a different angle so as to understand the world diversely. At the same time, it enhances my curiosity. I've seen how the world works in some ways, and I'd like to see the parts that I've haven't seen before.
Gloria Ai: Every choice of yours has exerted significant impacts on both media professionals and young people. People would try to find out why you made the choices. For example, as Chairman of the recently launched Shao Nian De Dao, you went beyond the role of an investor. You're able to serve as an entrepreneur, Chairman and a businessperson simultaneously. Why?
Quanling Zhang: To outsiders, it may seem like a change of identity. However, things naturally happened to me. There were some coincidences that led to one another. Everything developed naturally.
In fact, it might not start with the idea of building a company. Instead, it could be a product, either small or big. Once you become an investor, you would understand whether the product can develop into a business pattern. If the pattern stands, as an investor, you would be clearly aware that if you desire to impact more people, a complete business organization would be a great tool and weapon.
You are not simply doing this by yourself. You need a business organization to cooperate with you, in that it's not just as simple as content distribution. The essence of education is service, and services can't be provided by a single person. There're things that you will understand clearly when you become an investor or a financial journalist, and the rest is the means.
Gloria Ai: Are you ready for entrepreneurship?
Quanling Zhang: I think entrepreneurship may be something you will always need to re-prepare for, because it is not as simple as a straight alley. For example, if you stand at the entrance of an alley and could see through what will happen tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, then you would need to get ready once.
Entrepreneurship is actually a rugged path. It's always full of sharp turns. You'd think you're ready, but somehow you wonder why you failed and why it's a dead end. Then you suddenly take a turn for the better, so you go ahead and prepare for it. Yet, after you get ready, you're told that it suddenly cools down. Temperature drops from 25 Celsius degrees to 12 degrees. This is entrepreneurship. Hence, I think entrepreneurship is a thing that always needs to be prepared.
Everything happens for the best
During the interview, Quanling Zhang said that she is an unconditional optimist and she admitted that "everything happens for the best."
This sounds like "Buddhist-style", but as the interview proceeded, iAsk (iask-media.com) found out that Quanling Zhang's optimism is not equivalent to little desire. It's similar to the "Six Realms of Existence" from Buddhism, or to the saying by Laozi that goes "The rule of universe can be told, but the rule always change; the name of everything can be named, but the name is not eternal."
Quanling Zhang: I am an unconditional optimist. Deep in my mind, my underlying logic is very optimistic. My life background is the opposite to that of Dong Ma. He said his was based on pessimism, while mine is optimism.
At every stage, I would stay rational and cautious. I know that I will experience pain at some point. So, from my perspective, if I was asked whether everything happened for the best at each stage, I would definitely say yes.
Gloria Ai: Everything happens for the best.
Quanling Zhang: I always feel that I've been so lucky. First of all, I felt lucky that I was given access to a high-end platform by CCTV at a young age. I learned not to rush in life.
If you're no longer young, at a high enough position, you may not realize that you don't need to rush in life. Yet, when I was around 26 years old, I secured the best position for the best show at CCTV-4, as a moderator for a daily talk show.
I said to myself, then what? I was only 26 years old. What would I be doing when I turned 28? What would I be doing when I was 30? I suddenly realized an issue. If I was able to do something for life at the age of 26, I wouldn't need to rush in life.
Then I transformed into an investor. Am I lucky? I am. In an era where the Internet and mobile Internet are flourishing and the world is changing rapidly, I was given the opportunity to try something different. My mother didn't have such opportunities.
At present, for example, I am running Shao Nian De Dao. I have a dream that maybe I can share with others how I educate my son.
Today, there are business organizations that can support you to make breakthroughs as an individual. I am lucky for sure.
It's commonly said that it's a blessing that contentment brings you happiness. Quanling Zhang's optimism is not the same as negatively "accepting the fate". It comes from the gratefulness that she upholds.
In 1996, Quanling Zhang, who had just graduated from the university, was assigned by "luck" to Shenhua Group, which is mainly engaged in coal business. She was upset, saying: "I don't want to sell coal at all." So she tirelessly studied for the experienced recruitment test by CCTV and got hired successfully.
In 2015, Quanling Zhang, who had just resigned from CCTV, could no longer be as experienced as a former moderator. In the face of a ton of business that she had never been exposed to, she broke into tears alone anxiously. "But I'm leading the team. There're so many team members relying on me. I need to stay calm." So she wiped off tears and started the next project in a confident manner.
Whether it's being a young achiever, or starting from scratch and entering the entrepreneurial investing sector along the wave of the Internet in this era, Quanling Zhang did not rely on pure "luck" as she claimed, but herself. This probably is Quanling Zhang's "karma", her "samsara", her "rule" and her "name". Just as she put it, "everything happens for the best".
Quanling Zhang never emphasizes on the hardships she has gone through. There may be relentless hard work and endless ups and downs behind, but she still understates those and regards everything as "destined".
This might be her way to maintain optimistic. She is grateful for every encounter that she strives for through her own efforts, and she is never satisfied with every comfort zone.
Gloria Ai: Your definition of investors impressed me a lot, i.e. investors live like dogs and it's not a glorious transformation. How would you describe entrepreneurs?
Quanling Zhang: Donkeys? No, donkeys make turns at the same spot, which is not good. However, I feel that there're indeed many things that are not as glorious as they appear, which is true.
Gloria Ai: But you have a peaceful mind?
Quanling Zhang: It's not that peaceful, but I am quite optimistic.
Gloria Ai: What is your driving force at this stage?
Quanling Zhang: I think that there're usually two stages for the driving force. The first stage is called better life, which refers to a better personal life and personal value. The second stage is called better world. It is not personal anymore, but whether I can bring a better life for more people. I have a dream of achieving something that benefits more people.
Gloria Ai: To foresee the future in ten years, where do you think you will be and what will you be doing? What kind of attitude will you have to collaborate with society?
Quanling Zhang: I don't really know. I don't know what I will be doing in ten years. There is one thing I am probably certain about: do what I want to do now. The workload can be quantified. It will be at least 5 to 7 years of work. So what will I be doing in ten years? I have no idea, because I'm not sure what I will encounter in the coming 5 to 7 years.
But at least I know that it won't be blank because I have a long list to fulfill.
iAsk Media offers in-depth coverage, distribution, and brand-building services for founders in both China inbound and outbound markets. Over the past five years, iAsk Media has published over 1300 pieces of founder-focused original text and audio content, and produced over 120 premium video dialogues with leading entrepreneurs and investors.
iAsk Capital further supports founders by complementing media, brand-building, and marketing solutions with a wide range of investment and advisory services, from growth capital and direct equity investment to fundraising, asset management, and M&A support. To date, iAsk Capital has completed investments in some of China’s fastest growing ventures, including Bytedance, Himalaya, Movietime, and Horizon Robotics.
Gloria Ai is the founder of iAsk Media and the founding manager of iAsk Capital, and a former venture partner at the Softbank Asia Infrastructure Fund. She serves as the international brand ambassador to her hometown of Huangshan, and was Forbes 30 Under 30 in the Media, Marketing & Advertising category. She is a graduate of Harvard Kennedy School and Peking University. Prior to founding iAsk, she served as a financial news correspondent for China Central Television in New York.