It’s fascinating to see the rise of some well-known huge China Tech companies (10s of 1000s of employees), e.g., Alibaba, Tencent, Toutiao, Baidu…
I’m going to write a series of posts about “old china tech”, introducing you some less known (outside China) Chinese software / websites pre / around 2000, which may directly or indirectly shape the landscape of current #ChinaTech :)
If you Google “hao123”, you may think this is just yet another Chinese malware / virus website :) Blame Baidu!
In 1999, 20-year Li Xingping started Hao123 in a small county Xingping in Guangdong. Hao123 was like Yahoo Directory (1995), curating a lot of websites & putting them in different categories. It was acquired by Baidu for ¥50m (~$7.3m USD) + Baidu stocks in the summer of 2004.
Li Xingping didn’t go to high school. He worked in a net cafe back then. He also made some money helping people assemble PC. His job (net cafe + assemble pc) made him discover new internet users’ pain point — website discovery (sounds familiar?). That was 1999. Where did people find websites?
Google was founded in 1998. I still remembered how bad Google’s Chinese search results were around 2000. Baidu was founded in 2000. Back then, I discovered interesting websites from PC magazines / newspapers & friends.
We all know that two Stanford PhD students manually curated ~2000 websites in 1994 and raised VC money, which became Yahoo.
Li Xingping, who didn’t go to high school, built Hao123 to help new internet users discover websites. Hao123 was just a static html site with a bunch of other websites’ urls.
About the name “Hao123” — Hao is 好, which means “good”. I don’t know why “123” — maybe the domain hao.com was not available; or maybe “123” means “abc” or “101” for new users.
Hao123 was so simple, so intuitive to use. It took off immediately. Hao123 was basically the start page of every IE browser in (almost) every net cafe in China. It was a major entry point to Internet for Chinese internet users. At the peak, Hao123 was making ~$120k/month — if Li Xingping had some business help, he could make way more money with that kind of traffic — imagine your website is the start page of almost every internet user in China, even in 2004.
Looks like great passive income? Nope. Li Xingping spent tons of time every day adding new websites & removing 404-ed or illegal (e.g., gambling, porn…) websites. It was quite tedious. Imagine you were managing 100,000 web links manually.
In the summer of 2004, Baidu bought Hao123. In the following years, Baidu did a good job capitalizing the web traffic of Hao123, e.g., cross-promoting a lot of their desktop software. It’s said that at one point, Hao123 accounted for ~40% of entire Baidu’s web traffic. Baidu certainly got a pretty good deal :)
Then iPhone + mobile internet came… Well, it was a good run for Hao123 & Li Xingping.
There were a few other companies interested buying Hao123 back then. I went to a talk by an executive from Sohu (Google the name “Sohu” if you don’t know what’s Sohu) in 2005. He said Sohu was also interested buying Hao123; someone from Sohu even carried a bag of cash to the small county where Li Xingping lived… Cai Wensheng (another incredible character in China’s internet history) was also interested buying Hao123 at one point.
What do you think about this “I can build this in 10 minutes” website Hao123 :)