This article is a follow-up posting to my previous article about why China Mobile should buy Baidu.
One of the rules for mergers and acquisitions is that if one company wants to be acquired by another company, they have to be moving in generally the same directions. This way, less management attention needs to be spent on changing direction and redirecting resources.
If we take a look at China Mobile, they are a Chinese company which has been looking aggressively outside of China. With 500M+ mobile phone subscribers in China, it has the user base and cash flow to be truly a world-class company. China Mobile is proposing to set up a development lab with Vodafone and Softbank to work on widgets and others services to offer China Mobile and Vodafone subscribers. From the surface, it appears that these two leading carriers are trying to wrestle some of their technology dominance back from Apple’s iPhone, which will offer its own Apple App Store, selling mobile apps directly to Apple iPhone users beginning in June.
Interestingly, Vodafone is helping to bring Apple’s iPhone into the Indian market. According to a recent article, Apple may be discussing launching the iPhone officially in China with China Unicom. (Note: I disagree the author’s tone about Apple not getting it right in selling in China, I think that Steve Jobs knows very well what he is doing, and is biding his time until the 3G iPhone comes out in June. China is another piece on his chessboard, albeit a very important one.)
On the business side, China Mobile has been most agressive in Pakistan, following on its purchase of Paktel in 2007, and has just launched its Mobile Zone in the country. This looks like a test learning market for China Mobile. There are not many companies which can afford to “test” in a country with a population of 180M, China Mobile is one of them.
Based on this, it would be fair to say that China Mobile is leaning forward into overseas markets. It has enough money in its coffers to expand more quickly, but the most serious barrier is lack of international management talent who can execute in non-Chinese markets.
In contrast, Baidu is much more focused on the Chinese domestic market, where it continues to grow and pull ahead of Google. Everything suggests that the Baidu management believes that there is much more room for revenue growth domestically in China. The only tentative step Baidu has taken outside of the China market is with Baidu Japan (baidu.jp), which has only 0.3% of the Japanese search market.
Compared to Google, Baidu still continues to go after the easy money in China. Google continuously introduces and refines it search algorithms which are the secret sauce of its success. In comparison, Baidu relies less on search algorithms, instead using human search to assist in search results.
Baidu’s search results are also fundamentally different from Google’s. While Google’s search results strictly differentiate between unpaid organic search and PPC advertising, Baidu makes no such differentiation. The end result is that unpaid search results are pushed further back in position on the search results pages.
If there is one challenge in Baidu’s reliance on human-assisted search (as opposed to automated search algorithms as Google uses) and giving preference to paid advertising over unpaid in search results, it is that while it boosts revenue in the short-term, it is not extensible outside China, except for some of the other East Asian markets (Naver.com in South Korea is one such example. It would be nearly impossible for Baidu to oust Naver.com from its leading position as the home-grown leader in that very nationalistic market.)
Here lies the challenge: China Mobile is looking outside of China now, and Baidu is still looking to grow revenue on the domestic market, while nearly ignoring the overseas market.
Is there room to narrow the gap and create a new company for mobile search advertising and location services, first in China and then which can be extended overseas?
That is the challenge.