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国内竞争太激烈,拉美国家成为中国创业公司新宠

彭博社 2018年03月07日

在中国的竞争已经非常激烈了,对于一些小公司来说,到其他国家寻找机会也是一个合理的选择。

2017年1月13日,哥伦比亚首都波哥大。Daniel Garzon—VW PICS/UIG/Getty Images

两年前的唐欣从没到过墨西哥,也根本不会说西班牙语。现在他的西班牙语依旧没有多少长进,但他却打造了墨西哥最热门的应用之一。

据数据分析公司App Annie称,这个名叫Noticias Aguila(翻译过来叫“新闻鹰”)的应用目前已经拥有2000万用户,去年更是成为了墨西哥Google Play上的第一大新闻应用。与此同时,唐欣和他的开发团队并未常年坐阵墨西哥,而是仍然留在与香港近在咫尺的中国科技创新之都——深圳。

唐欣创业前曾在腾讯工作过。近几年来,包括唐欣在内的不少中国开发者和投资者都相信,下一波科技淘金热将来自拥有6亿多人口的拉丁美洲。在财力雄厚的中国大陆投资人的支持下,现年40岁的唐欣等创业者开始将国内的成熟经验向拉美输出——即首先实现快速市场扩张,盈利问题可以往后放一放。

根据英国咨询机构Preqin公司的数据,从2017年年初到现在,中国注入拉美的风投资本已经达到10亿美元。而2015年,这个数字才只有3亿美元左右。

唐欣目前大概有四分之一的时间是在墨西哥度过的。他表示:“原先中国经常复制海外的经验。但是现在,我们发现更多机会来自复制成熟的业务模式,出口到相关领域并不成熟的国家。另外,在中国的竞争已经非常激烈了,对于一些小公司来说,到其他国家寻找机会也是一个合理的选择。”

目前挺进拉美的中国公司不在少数,比如杭州的天鸽互动,该公司想在墨西哥打造一个互联网金融平台。手机制造商传音控股则准备打入哥伦比亚市场。中国手游娱乐集团也计划将旗下手游引进墨西哥。另外共享单车公司Ofo的美国业务负责人克里斯·泰勒表示,Ofo也打算将墨西哥作为拉美市场的突破口。

这些年来,中国的大规模基建投资也为广大科技公司进军拉美铺平了道路。到今年1月,中国累计已有2000余家公司在拉美地区投资2000亿美元以上。

当这些创业公司到达拉美时,市场上其实并没有他们的位置。比如布宜诺斯艾利斯的MercadoLibre和Despegar.com早已是当地电商和在线旅游行业的重量级公司了。

和中国的基建投资一样,科技公司进入拉美也存在水土不服的问题。在中资进军拉美的道路上,各类项目遭遇失败的悲惨案例不绝于耳。以中国汽车厂商为例,一些厂商虽然在巴西等国建立了工厂,但依然很难在相关国家立足。

浙江外国语学院拉美研究所副所长唐俊指出:“投资拉美是有风险的,这些企业必须将他们的产品本地化。另外拉美也有政治环境的风险,因此很多拉美国家经常出现政权更迭和政局动荡。”

然而这些风险并未让中国企业望而却步。据传阿里巴巴和腾讯都在拉美寻找投资机会,同时滴滴成功收购巴西99公司一案也表明,在拉美,中资的相关交易可以进行得很快。不像在美国,中资的相关收购往往会因政治因素被拒。

中资的挺进势头也吸引了圣地亚哥的内森·卢斯蒂格等外国投资人的关注。卢斯蒂格近期也与北京的一名合作伙伴展开了相关合作,他们想将有项目的中国投资者介绍到拉美做生意。卢斯蒂格的目标是帮助中资尽早且尽量便宜地收购当地有价值的公司。

卢斯蒂格表示:“我认为,对于拉美地区的创业者来说,中资的收购是一个很重要的退出策略,这可能将成为接下来五年的重头戏。”

唐欣的公司原名深圳英威诺科技有限公司,唐欣本人对收购没有兴趣,他的目标是成为地区内最大的互联网公司。Noticias Aguila最初是靠转载其他新闻网站的内容起家的,转载对象多是独立新闻网站或社交媒体,因为它没有权利转载其他大型出版物的内容。该公司雇佣了一些本地人从事翻译工作,并与当地渠道构建合作关系,同时公司的深圳团队主要负责研发算法,对新闻进行聚合和用户推送。

该公司只用了两个月左右,每天聚合的文章就达到了10万篇上下。接下来要做的就是与媒体合作了。目前它已经与墨西哥十大新闻出版物中的七家签订了传播协议,包括《环球报》和《Publimetro》等知名媒体。

与传统出版物主要依赖编辑推荐不同,Noticias Aguila主要根据用户的口味来推送文章。这种做法已经在中国取得了成功。据独立智库CB Insights估算,中国新闻应用今日头条的估值已经达到了110亿美元。

唐欣在深圳接受电话采访时表示:“最重要的是你给文章的标签做得有多准确。标签越准确越详细,你就能越准确地定位和推送用户想要的东西。”

唐欣的宣传作风也颇有中国科技公司那种不计利润抢占市场的风格。虽然脸书按道理是Noticias Aguila的竞争对手,但唐欣还是在脸书上买了至少200万美元的广告以打动潜在用户。据App Annie称,今年二月,Noticias Aguila在墨西哥的所有新闻应用中排名第二,较去年11月下跌了一位。或许这也是为什么唐欣今年不计成本也要搞宣传推广的原因。另外唐欣也正在与手机运营商和制造商合作,希望能在一些机型上预装他的APP。

唐欣表示:“我们的有机增长速度正在上来,但我们主要还得依赖宣传推广,因为我们想要扩张得快一些。这也是成功的关键。”(财富中文网)

译者:朴成奎  

Two years ago, Tang Xin had never set foot in Mexico and didn’t know a word of Spanish. While his grasp of the language hasn’t improved much since then, he has built one of the country’s hottest apps.

Noticias Aguila, which translates as News Eagle, now has 20 million users and became the No. 1 news app in Google Play’s Mexico store late last year, according to App Annie. That has come as Tang and his development team remain based in Shenzhen, the Chinese technology hub just across the border from Hong Kong.

Tang, who worked for Tencent Holdings before striking out on his own, is among an emerging group of Chinese developers and investors betting the next technology gold rush will come from Latin America and its 600 million-plus people. Fueled by deep-pocketed mainland venture capitalists and success at home, the 40-year-old and his peers are exporting a formula honed in China of pursuing rapid expansion over profitability.

Chinese venture capital investment in Latin America jumped to $1 billion since the start of 2017, compared with about $30 million in 2015, according to data collected by Preqin.

“China used to copy from overseas, but now we see more opportunities by helping replicate business models that’ve taken off and exporting them,” said Tang, who now spends a quarter of his time in Mexico. “Competition is so fierce in China that smaller companies feel it makes sense to look for opportunities elsewhere.”

Chinese startups pushing into the region include Hangzhou-based Tian Ge Interactive Holdings, which wants to build an internet finance platform in Mexico. Phonemaker Transsion Holdings is preparing to set up operations in Colombia. China Mobile Games & Entertainment Group plans to distribute mobile games in Mexico. Ofo, the Beijing-based bicycle sharing service, is preparing to make its first Latin America foray by entering Mexico, said Chris Taylor, who runs its U.S. operations.

The push by the tech sector piggybacks on years of state-driven Chinese investments in infrastructure in Latin America, with a pool of 2,000 companies pouring more than $200 billion in the region as of January.

When the startups arrive in Latin America they don’t exactly have the place to themselves. MercadoLibre and Despegar.com, both of which are based in Buenos Aires, have become major players in e-commerce and online travel respectively.

Like China’s infrastructure investments in the region, there’s the possibility of pushback from locals. The road to Latin America has also been littered with cautionary tales of crippled projects. China’s automakers have struggled to establish themselves in countries such as Brazil even after building local plants.

“It’s risky and these companies will need to localize their products,” said Tang Jun, a deputy director at the Institute of Latin American Studies at Zhejiang International Studies University. “There will be political environment risk, as many parts of Latin America often go through quick cycles and turbulence.”

That hasn’t stifled investment interest. Alibaba Group Holding and Tencent are scouring for projects, while Didi’s acquisition of Brazil 99 showed deals can get done quickly, unlike the political opposition Chinese companies face in the U.S.

The trend has captured the attention of investors like Santiago-based Nathan Lustig who joined forces with a Beijing-based partner. Together they want to bridge Chinese investors with projects focusing on Latin America. Lustig’s goal is to scoop them up cheaper and earlier.

“We think Chinese acquisitions will be an important exit strategy for startup investors in Latin America,” said Lustig, managing partner of Magma Partners. “This will be a major theme over the next five years.”

Noticias Aguila’s Tang, whose company is formally known as Shenzhen Inveno Innovation Technology Co., doesn’t just want to sell out. His goal is to become the biggest internet company in the region. The company got its start by scraping news sites, mostly independent outlets and social media because it didn’t have the rights to larger publications. It hired locals to help with translation and build partnerships while the team back in Shenzhen developed algorithms to aggregate and sort the news for users.

It took the company about two months to be able to aggregate as least 100,000 articles a day. The next step was signing up media partnerships and now it has distribution deals with seven of the 10 largest publications in Mexico, including El Universal and Publimetro.

Unlike traditional publications that decide what users get to read based on editor recommendations — Tang’s company aggregates, labels and matches content to user preferences. It’s an approach that has found success in China, with the owner of Jinri Toutiao valued at $11 billion, according to CB Insights.

“It all comes down to how accurate you label items,” Tang said by phone from Shenzhen. “The more accurate and detailed the label, the more accurate you can target and push the content that the users want.”

In keeping with the Chinese model of spending to win over users, irrespective of profits, Tang has bought at least $2 million of advertising on Facebook to reach potential customers, even though the U.S. social networking giant is a competitor with its news feed. The app sat at No. 2 among news apps in Mexico in February, a notch down since November, according to App Annie. That’s part of the reason why this year Tang plans to quintuple spending on promotions and work with phone carriers and makers to pre-install its app.

“Organic growth is picking up but we rely on promotions mostly, because we need to expand fast,” Tang said. “That is key.”

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