When I look at web apps and ideas in China today, practically everything I see has to do with the retail consumer. Popular fields are gaming, because it proven and China has a large gaming population, not to mention the success of the major players including Shanda and The9, and music and search.
The result has been a plethora of startups in these fields. After all, they have a demonstrated and successful business model based on advertising. God knows that there are huge amounts of advertising dollars just looking for half-decent excuses to be spent in China. VCs can use these as references in their decision-making and in valuation, which is good.
But the real money is always made when a new company breaks out in a field which was considered dead or dying. Right now, I think that field in China is web productivity apps.
There is a big hole between Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint) and the web. In the US and Europe, this area is occupied by Oracle, SAP and Salesforce. There are Chinese competitors such as Yongyou and Kingdee. Google has made some significant headway with Google Docs, but there is still a long ways to go.
So far though, none of them have passed my Internet cafe test. This means that I have not seen anyone sitting on a computer in an Internet cafe using any of their apps. They are all playing games or chatting away.
This creates a chicken and egg situation; VCs fund companies which get the eyeballs, and hold back on those productivity apps which do not get the attention, but are far more meaningful and productive. And the companies which are making productivity apps, which take far longer to develop and mature, have trouble getting funding. The investment cycle gets shorter and shorter, but it takes longer to develop meaningful apps. As a result, the productivity apps market gets starved.
Something has got to change, and I hope that it isn’t too far away… Sometime soon, people will have to start earning money to play those games.