'Bill' Yao Xin, president of PPTV.com (formerly known as PPLive.com), created the world's leading peer-to-peer streaming website when he was 24 years old. From Monday to Friday, Yao says he is not a typical member of the post-80s generation member because he has to behave like a 'big boss' but during the weekend he will take the subway with his wife to watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster movies and never misses any discount seasons. Provided to China Daily
PPTV.com's president says he planned an IPO on the day he launched the business
BEIJING - At first glance, dressed in an azure polo shirt and carpenter pants, Yao Xin appears to be no different from many other Chinese college students with their love of football and bashfulness in the presence of girls.
However, the young man has more in common with fresh-faced entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook aged 19, and Larry Page and Sergey Brin, both 23 when they developed Google.
Yao is president of PPTV.com (formerly known as PPLive.com), the world's leading peer-to-peer streaming website, currently with 175 million users, which he founded when he was 24.
Born in 1980 into a generation regarded as candid, forward-thinking and ambitious, Yao adopted the English name Bill in tribute to his business idol Bill Gates of Microsoft fame. He is now dedicated to establishing his own "Bill's Kingdom".
Since its launch in 2005, PPTV has received around $40 million in leading international venture capital funds from such luminaries as Softbank China Venture Capital, Draper Fisher Jurvetso and BlueRun Ventures.
PPTV currently makes available online approximately 1,000 live TV channels provided by 300 television stations along with 100 million video clips and a library of more than 200,000 licensed films and TV series. PPTV has exclusive rights as the online video provider of the content.
Yao said: " To put it simply, the idea and initiative for creating PPTV originated from my enthusiasm for soccer at a time when my roommates and I were upset because we had no TV set in our dormitory to watch the European Football Championships held in Portugal during the summer of 2004.
"IT technologies are not limited to words and numbers. I wanted to apply what I had learned to help my friends enjoy online sports matches smoothly so we could cheer on the games together."
Yao then took the brave step of dropping out of Huazhong University of Science and Technology, where he was a postgraduate student, and started concentrating on peer-to-peer Internet technology.
The first version of PPLive came to fruition at the end of 2004 in a dusty apartment near the university using only five or six computers. Only five months after they uploaded the software to the Internet, the number of users exceeded 2,000, making it one of most popular pieces of online video software among college students.
One day in 2005, Alan Song, managing partner with Softbank China, called Yao to say his company was interested in PPLive. "Initially, I thought this can't be true and he must be a fraud," Yao said.
The pioneer took Song to the poky and sweltering apartment on his old bicycle. As one of the founders of UTStarcom, Song said the sight of several young men stripped to the waist and busily working on computer programming reminded him of when he and his partners started their business from a garage in Silicon Valley, in the United States.
With a first investment from Softbank, Yao registered Shanghai Synacast Media Tech Co Ltd (PPLive.com) in April 2005, and then moved their headquarters to Shanghai.
"At the time, there was a huge batch of Chinese university students devoting themselves to creating their own businesses. However, more than 99 percent of them had to put a miserable full stop on their startups," Yao said.
Yao was not afraid of failure. He recalled the old Chinese proverb that new-born calves make little of tigers. "We didn't care much about losing or winning because we could just go back to job-hunting or apply for higher education like many other college graduates if we could not make it," Yao said.
Yao attributed his success to good fortune and also high demand for the service he provided. "These are requirements for successful student entrepreneurs," he said. "Another of my classmates tells a similar story in that he created a hit online game called Growing and Stealing Vegetables at Kaixin001.com, one of the most popular social networking sites in China."
However, being just a college student is a disadvantage for fledging entrepreneurs. It means less experience and less possibility of success.
"Especially when I was raising funds and negotiating with investors, I really wished I could apply make-up to give myself more wrinkles and gray hair," he said, laughing.
From PPLive to PPTV
"The initial version of PPLive didn't look like much. It lacked serious consideration and competition," Yao said. "But when investors have seen your development, you will be asked to return. Combining my initial idealism, studiousness and mature attitude, which exceeded those of my peers, helped me press on to become a mature entrepreneur."
As a computing engineering student without much knowledge of economics, Yao initially worked like a housewife, only taking notes of daily spending and earning, which was the sum of the company's accounting procedures at the time.
"The key point of competition at that time was focusing on the learning capacity of enterprises' founders," Yao said. "It was necessary to learn billions of things. I even improved my English through communicating with foreign investors. The first time I went abroad seeking financing with my English dictionary I made lots of language errors."
Yao was a shy student at school, sitting at the back of the classroom and seldom raising his hand to answer teachers' questions.
"Reality forced me to change my personality and now I have become talkative," he said.
There used to be tens of online video operators between 2004 and 2006 and three or four of them attracted risk capital. Only two or three of them survive now.
Since 2005, PPLive extended its tentacles in more and more areas. It has expanded the number of its partners and the level of its content. The company broadcast the Super Girl Contest, CCTV Spring Festival Gala, the FIFA World Cup, the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and many other big-audience events, gradually developing its brand among Chinese netizens.
Yao is a person who is good at self-examination. "My biggest disadvantage is that I have never worked at other companies or witnessed other people's failure," he said. " Unfortunately, I have to pay for the lessons by myself."
Yao solved that problem when he invited former Microsoft Online Services executive Vincent Tao to become chief executive officer of PPLive in 2009.
At Microsoft, Tao was responsible for global online services product development and business strategy, as well as leading the operations and marketing of Virtual Earth and mobile search for the Asia-Pacific region. He also founded 3D Internet visualization provider GeoTango, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2005.
"My final target is to make online TV become a part of people's daily lives, changing people's way of living," Yao said.
"In my childhood, the most exciting moment was at 6 pm every day when TV cartoon programs such as Capital Black Cat or Astroboy were aired. TV is a necessity in my daily life. I hope one day that online TV will integrate all video resources and replace traditional TV sets."
Abandoning the word "Live" in their brand name, Yao and his partners unveiled their new logo and the brand name "PPTV" to illustrate a new direction for their business in January 2010.
"Bill Gates's target was to have all personal computers installed with Microsoft software," Yao said. "My target is to have every family TV set bear the logo and the functionability of PPTV."
Born to an ordinary family, Yao was not brought up like many other post-80s Chinese youngsters, who are often regarded as little princes and princesses as a result of the one-child policy.
"I have experienced millions of frustrations during my years with PPTV but I still insist that I owe my initial ambition to my parents' education which can be described as a combination of carrots and sticks," Yao said.
They encouraged the boy when he got bad grades in examinations but blamed him when he scored 98 or 99 points rather than full marks.
Yao remembered his parents seldom rewarded him for getting good grades. Once he won a gold medal in an "Olympic Mathematics Contest" in primary school. His father only took him to a bookshop and let him to buy his favorite book.
"It was a book about basic language in computing that I had read many times previously," Yao said. "I was extremely interested in such complicated matters. A section of the book is about the programming of my favorite computer game, Super Mario Bros.
"It was cool when other kids were playing computer games but I did my own programming. It was early working experience for my current industry.
"A good business leader must have a high emotional quotient and I'm lucky that I do. Many of my achievements over the past several years should be attributed to my honesty and simple mind which help me to win a reputation for reliability."
Many of the young employees at PPTV want to copy his success and become another Bill Yao.
Their boss has an open mind toward the job-hopping of his staff. "Some have asked my opinion, saying they want to start their own business," he said. "I suggest they stay longer if they are not ready but I will also let them go if I see they have the potential to be good entrepreneurs."
From Monday to Friday, Yao is not a typical member of the post-80s generation because he has to behave like a "big boss".
"But, I will have at least one day a week to be a pure post-80s," he said. "I will take the subway with my wife to watch the latest Hollywood blockbuster movies and never miss any discount season."
As a senior online shopper, Yao enjoys searching for IT products at Taobao, China's largest e-commerce site, and also routinely buys clothes and food for his dog online.
He also downloads vouchers from Dianping.com, the largest website providing guidance to local services so he can get discounts when eating out with friends.
"I want to be like all Chinese young people who are major customers of PPTV," he said. "To serve them better, I need to be close to them."
Yao and his wife, both class monitors at university, got married in June and videos of their wedding ceremony are available on PPTV. "She never comes to my company and doesn't even know what PPTV is. At the same time I want to have a place purely for myself," he said.
According to AC Nielsen ratings, PPTV streams video to 35 million people worldwide every month.
Figures from China Internet Network Information Center show there were 140 million online video users in China by the end of last year. Nearly 40 million users said they watched videos only on the Internet.
Turnover for China's online video market hit 516 million yuan in the second quarter of this year, an increase of 217.5 percent over the same period last year, according to figures from Analysys International.
Vincent Tao, CEO of PPTV, said that Chinese video-sharing firms have seen explosive growth in their advertising revenue this year.
"I think there will be an IPO (initial public offering) wave of Chinese online video sites in the next one to two years," he said.
Yao has been planning an IPO overseas from the first day he created the company. He hopes it will be in 2012 or 2013 when the company and the market are both ready. "It means a bigger platform and a larger dream for us," he said.
"Windows, Microsoft or Facebook - there is no a word in the language of IT that relates to Chinese people," Yao said. "I hope PPTV will be the first one."