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The Future Startup Dossier: How Baidu Has Become China's Google

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Jul 8, 2021

Baidu is a Chinese technology company known as China’s Google. According to Investopedia, it is the 6th largest search engine in the world and as Google is banned in mainland China, Baidu holds a 78% market share of the Chinese search engine market.

Baidu was founded by two co-founders Robin Li and Eric Xu in January 2000. The name Baidu is inspired by an ancient Chinese poem whose general meaning is “100s of times. Although Baidu is a Chinese technology company, its journey started in silicon valley. Back in 2000, Robin Li was working in Infoseek as a staff engineer, when the idea of building a search engine came to his mind. Hence Robin Li and Eric Xu raised $1.2 million from two silicon valley based venture capital firms to launch the company in China. The company started by offering search services on other Chinese platforms, it later became a search engine. 

Before founding Baidu, in 1996 Robin Li founded RankDex, a search engine that used a ‘link analysis’ mechanism that assesses the popularity of a website based on how many websites are linked to it. Two years later in 1998, Google used a similar mechanism and Google co-founder Larry Page referenced Robin Li’s work in the patent. Later Robin Li used the same mechanism in Baidu.

In 2001, Baidu offered advertisers to bid for space for advertisement on Baidu, before Google following the same approach. In 2003 Baidu launched a news search engine and a picture search engine. At present Baidu offers 57 services on its platform including search engine, Baidu maps, Baidu Baike (encyclopedia), Baidu Wangpan (cloud storage service), Baidu Post Bar, Baidu Knows, and Baidu IME. On Baidu, advertisers bid on keywords that will accelerate the display of their ads enabling them to reach more people. Advertisers can pay for priority placement in search results of Baidu also.

On August 5, 2005, the company went public on Wall Street via VIE (Variable Interest Entity). In December 2005, Baidu became the first Chinese company to be listed in NASDAQ-100 Index.

In 2017, Baidu announced its Apollo Project (Apolong), which is currently one of the world's leading artificial intelligence and autonomous driving vehicle platforms. In September 2017, Baidu launched a $1.5 billion fund to invest in 100 autonomous driving projects for three years. As of 2020, the Apollo Project represents one of the largest partner groups with 210 global partners including Intel, Microsoft, Hyundai, Honda, Grab, Nvidia, and ZTE.

Baidu also provides services outside China, which is controlled by the Baidu Global Business Unit (GBU) called DU Group. DU Group’s portfolio includes Simeji and Facemoji keyboards, PopIn (content recommendation platform), Japanese smart projector popIn Aladdin, MediaGo (an advertising platform), etc. DU Apps Studio a platform that provides apps and services has more than 2 billion active monthly users worldwide.

Currently, Baidu is one of the largest technology companies in the world. As per Forbes, the company has a market cap of over $75.4 billion as of May 2021.

Read

The Rise of Baidu (That’s Chinese for Google): An excellent look into the rise of Baidu from the NY Times.

The Story of Baidu - Google's Only Competitor: With the help of his partner Eric Xu, Robin Li created the biggest search engine in China, unaware that one day, their invention would push Google to second place in the biggest Asian market.

So how did Robin and his partner come up with such a project, despite facing the worst financial conditions, earning billions, and on top of that becoming something unthinkable until then - Google's rival?

Here's the story of Google's one and only competitor- Baidu.

The Baidu Success Story: The relentless aspiration to create something new and different despite all odds often leads to success. The success of Baidu, the Chinese version of Google, is nothing short of extraordinary, achieving tremendous growth and success that no other tech company could emulate to date, somewhat akin to beating Yahoo and Google on home turf.

Robin Li: The Man Who Took On Google and Won: The world is filled with millionaires who saw an industry just as it was about to take off and decided to get in on the ground floor. But it takes a true visionary to see an industry on the decline and turn it into a multi-billion-dollar Goliath that dominates the space in the most populous country in the world. That’s exactly what Robin Li, co-founder of China’s internet giant Baidu has done.

Watch

Baidu at 20: From a search bar embedded in portal websites to the world’s one of the leading technology companies. The story of Baidu told by people who lived it

A Conversation with Robin Li, Baidu Co-founder & CEO: In this exclusive interview CEO and Co-founder, Robin Li tells Bloomberg's Tom Mackenzie about Baidu's decade-long journey that transformed it from being a search engine to a company that does everything from cloud computing to producing autonomous vehicles and state-of-the-art chips.

Baidu: How China became the World Champion in AI: Baidu has made a significant investment in AI, spending over $15 Billion in R&D. In the next 5 years, Baidu will train 5 million AI industry professionals.


Lessons from Baidu 

Localizing the experience: The reason behind Baidu’s huge success as a technology company is localizing its services for China. On Baidu search results are censored according to the regulation of the Chinese government. It provides other services like video streaming platform, maps, encyclopedia, cloud storage services, etc.

Baidu’s cloud storage service Wangpan is the largest cloud storage platform in China. By localizing the platform Baidu has not only become a technology giant in China, but also the only company to be capable enough to compete with Google.

Investing in the future: The Chinese technology giant Baidu launched its Apollo project in 2017 which is now one of the leading artificial intelligence and autonomous driving platforms of the world. Even before this project, Baidu had already started to work on AI-based technology. In 2015 Baidu introduced ‘Little Fish’, voice-controlled home assistance which uses deep speech to parse through vast reams of language data and then extrapolate patterns, a process known as deep learning, helping it to understand the voice commands even better.

In September 2017, Baidu announced a $1.5 billion fund to invest in 100 autonomous driving projects for three years. In April 2021 Baidu launched driverless taxis in Beijing, being the first company to commercialize autonomous driving in China. Since 2017 Baidu has made a significant amount of investment in AI technology, making it one of the leaders of the AI industry.

Having a growth mindset: It may sound cliché, but one of the best lessons entrepreneurs can learn from Baidu CEO Robin Li, who is known as the man who took on Google and won, is to acknowledge the mistakes and learn from them. Along its journey, Baidu had to face criticism for various incidents.

In April 2016, Baidu faced criticism after the death of Wei Zexi, a 21-year-old Chinese student who was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma and spent a huge amount of money on DC-CIK, an experimental treatment which Wei Zexi came to know about after seeing a promotional post of a hospital on the search engine of Baidu.

After this sad incident, Baidu CEO Robin Li sent a letter to his managers to inspire them to learn from the incident and to focus on creating a more user-centric platform. The growth mindset of its CEO explains why Baidu has become the largest search engine in China and one of the world's largest technology companies.

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Tithi Chowdhury is an undergraduate student majoring in Botany at the University of Dhaka. She is a Trainee Analyst at Future Startup and looks after our Collective Knowledge initiative where she prepares interviews and writes articles on interesting topics. She is a voracious reader and loves listening to podcasts in her spare time.

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