Hubei Chaozhuo Aviation Technology Co., Ltd. (“Chaozhuo Aviation Technology”, hereafter referred to as Chaozhuo) invested by Blue Lake Capital begins trading under the stock code “688237” on the STAR Market on July 1.
Founded in 2006, Chaozhuo has since been engaged in the aviation industry for more than a decade, dedicated to customizing additive manufacturing and repairing airborne equipment with military and civil aircraft maintenance as its major business. It is among the few enterprises in China that master the technique of cold spray additive manufacturing (CSAM) and apply the technique to aircraft maintenance and remanufacturing.
Chaozhuo has been committed to providing repairing services of airborne equipment, with years of technological accumulation and innovation in techniques. Its business now covers military and civil aircraft pneumatic accessories, hydraulic accessories, fuel accessories and electrical accessories.
In 2015, Chaozhuo made it a key objective to develop the CSAM technique before expanding its business to the remanufacturing of airframe structures and the production of aircraft parts, as it anticipated the technique would hold out great promise and recognized the limited role played by conventional maintenance techniques in the repair of aircraft parts made of materials like magnesium alloy.
In 2017, Chaozhuo participated in an aircraft renewal project in China as the major stakeholder providing technical support for repairing longeron cracks of landing gear of fighter aircrafts. It has developed the capability of using the CSAM technique to repair fatigue cracks in longerons of fighter aircrafts by giving its first try in the project. Later, it started repairing fatigue cracks in longerons of fighter aircrafts and remanufacturing the needed parts for repairing purposes in batch.
Chaozhuo is the only supplier of the A and B base overhaul plant under the Equipment Department of China PLA Air Force when it comes to the repair and remanufacturing of fatigue cracks in longerons of multi-type military aircrafts.
As a pioneer in remanufacturing with CSAM in the aviation industry, Chaozhuo will rely on its first-mover advantage in its core technology to continuously expand its businesses. It will proactively adopt additive manufacturing technologies in various scenarios as enablers to advance domestic industries for a rapid development.
The prospectus shows that Chaozhuo generated a revenue of CNY 140 million in 2021, and reported a CAGR of 66% during 2019-2021, with CNY 70.7311 million in net income attributable to stockholders of the parent company in 2021.
Chaozhuo’s business continued to grow rapidly in the first quarter of 2022, with its revenue reporting CNY 42.42 million, rising 63.87% YoY, and net profits reaching CNY 25.77 million, up 67.43% YoY.
Today, Chaozhuo Aviation Technology started trading, with its opening price up 42.86%. Its stock traded at CNY 74.37 per share by the time of publication, 80.2% above its listing price of CNY 41.27, giving it a market capitalization of about CNY 6.66 billion.
To be in line with China’s national strategy of transforming and upgrading the domestic manufacturing industry, Blue Lake Capital has been deeply involved in the field of smart manufacturing in recent years, and invested in Chaozhuo Aviation Technology in 2020. Its investment portfolio in smart manufacturing involves other industry leaders, including Avove Electronic, Cospower, PR Measurement, Raise3D, YHDA(SHE: 301029) and EMPOWER.
Although the past two years have witnessed great changes in the world, the digitization trend remains unchanged. Of all the uncertainties facing us, digitization is still the surest opportunity nowadays.
Editor’s note: China’s venture capital and private equity industry have undergone huge shifts over the past few years, thanks to a sea change in the global and domestic socio-economic climate.
As Chinese businesses struggle to adapt to the new normal, marked by more stringent regulatory oversight against overseas listings, a Covid-battered economy, dwindling household consumption, and stronger headwinds as startups move up the value chain, so will their financial patrons.
How are VC/PE investors faring in these turbulent times? What are the challenges they deem the most intractable and what are their solutions? Conversely, which are the emerging areas of opportunities that can be turned into the next money-spinner with their Midas touch? More generally, how do they expect China’s entrepreneurial scene to evolve in the next couple of years? And most importantly, after having their finger on the pulse of the country’s innovations, are they still China bulls or have turned perhaps into China bears?
These are defining questions to which no one has the exact answer. But we at EqualOcean believe that one can at least get a glimpse into the future of the Chinese economy by looking at how VC/PE investors are planning and making their moves.
With this in mind, we start a new series called “China VC Interview,” in which our analysts will sit down with frontline industry practitioners to hear their opinions about China’s VC/PE industry.
The following is the second in this series, conducted after interviewing Ray Hu, founder and managing partner at Blue Lake Capital(Chinese:蓝湖资本).
About 「Blue Lake Capital」 and Ray Hu
Blue Lake Capital is a next-generation, research-driven venture capital firm, founded by Mr. Ray Hu in 2014, which focuses on big market opportunities primarily on cloud software with a strong portfolio of investments including Meicai, Momenta, JST, Leyan Technologies, Zhenyun Technology, Cloud Helios, Moka, Thinking Data, Zaihui, Asinking, etc.
Ray Hu has 15 years of experience in venture capital investing. Before founding Blue Lake Capital, Ray worked at GGV Capital and the Boston Consulting Group. Ray holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree in economics from Fudan University and an MBA Degree from the Kellogg School of Management of Northwestern University.
EqualOcean：What are the different types of venture capital firms?
Ray Hu：Relatively speaking, some firms tend to source their deals extensively while Blue Lake Capital focuses on two lanes: intelligent manufacture and SaaS. Of course, extensive sourcing is a precondition for finding quality deals. The purpose of doing research is to raise the efficiency and accuracy of investment decision-making after quality deals were found through early-stage sourcing and to be more targeted when sourcing deals.
My team was able to build a set of methodologies through research that promises lesser time and lesser decision-making in the future. After all, our investments — the startup companies — are high-risk assets. Oftentimes, their products are yet to be formed, the competition landscape unclear, and many variables awaiting in line. We research so we can locate the relevant variables to investment ROI and rule out the irrelevant ones. After that, we still need to distinguish between the knowable and the unknowable within the relevant range. Focusing on the relevant and knowable parts could bring about a small lift in investment success rate in one deal. That way, our fund as a whole could embrace a giant leap in return over time.
EqualOcean：Are you satisfied with the work of these eight years since Blue Lake Capital was founded in 2014?
Ray Hu：I’d give it a pass, but not without regrets. We’re not depressed for missing deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars, but we feel sorry for locking down on some deals in later rounds rather than earlier when their valuations were lower, which means more return for us. For example, we had a chance in a SaaS startup during their angel plus fundraising. But we ‘thought’ that the founding team had no sales team management experience which could leave them vulnerable. At the round following angel plus, when the team had proved their ability to manage the sales team, we then worried that their future expansion might hit a rock. This has given our team a lesson: base our decisions on the knowable and not waste time on the unknowable.
The success probability and achievement ceiling of a startup lie heavily on its founding team. But as investors, we can hardly reach a reliable judgment of the founder’s capacity based solely on several hours of communication and that would be meddling with the unknowable. Since then, we’ve made a turn towards objective and knowable questions, such as business progress, client contracts, price level, client conversion rate, and efficiency per capita. Venture capital firms need to look for universal patterns that could quantify a startup’s levels and risks.
EqualOcean：In the two sectors you’re experienced, intelligent manufacturing and SaaS, are founders’ backgrounds relevant to what they later do?
Ray Hu：Not so much as for academic degrees. But of course, more founders of intelligent manufacturing startups are of science and engineering background and have experience in relevant industries. It would be rare for a total stranger to come into this industry. Most SaaS founders also come from within the industry. For example, the CEO of JST was once CTO of a shoe company with the experience of ERP development and the founder of Thinking Data worked previously as a developer at Tencent Interactive Entertainment Group. They were aware of certain needs underlying the industry, and how to design products accordingly, hence successful companies.
EqualOcean：In hindsight, are there commonalities among successful founders?
Ray Hu：Of course. First, successful founders are good learners. They will find themselves in an emerging industry in China with a perplexing marketplace and few predecessors to learn from. Besides, SaaS founders mainly worked as PMs or programmers before and lacked experience in managing a functional organization. Things such as managing a sales team, issuing performance indexes, remaining independent, recruiting partners, and constantly adjusting to the external environment could be challenging.
Another important quality would be to get ahold of the Pareto Principle — the law of the vital few. It’s both tricky and essential for founders to recognize with accuracy the fundamental issues of the given moment right in the given business line. The first half-year after getting financing would be a dangerous period for many startups when they tend to proceed too aggressively. The familiar financial condition for most SaaS startups in China would be in deficit. To ration limited resources while losing money and expanding quickly could be complicated. Different companies face different situations such as whether to expand territories or to expand product lines and how. In the meantime, a lot of opinions coming from investors and from within the team are interfering with the founder constantly.
EqualOcean： Is the plummet of major SaaS indexes in the US stock market a hit on your confidence?
Ray Hu： I wouldn’t worry about the stock market too much because I am optimistic about the fundamentals of the SaaS industry on solid grounds. When we look into some holistic indicators, we would see a fast growing market. The companies in our portfolio have acquired a lot more business leads this year than those of two to three years ago with more and more potential clients showing up with a clear budget and project. Based on companies’ communication with clients, we have the confidence to say that the market maturity has lifted prominently. Two to three years ago, clients would raise concerns about data security which hardly anyone would mention nowadays. What the buyers frequently bring about is whether the software could meet their operation standards and allow for flexible deployment suiting their organizational features. No longer is SaaS deemed mere “paperless tools”, but also a booster of elevated core competitiveness. Lots of industries do appear to move forward towards what the Chinese government calls for — digital transformation.
Here let’s raise an example of a contract management SaaS company we’ve invested in. In the past, we assumed contract management as helping companies to draft, approve and ratify contracts. Much more than that, lots of companies have procured the system to improve operational efficiency. Salespersons used to bring back a contract from clients to their direct leaders and district managers along with financial and legal departments within. Several weeks have passed before a contract could be finalized. Not to mention there might be hundreds of clients for a company and thousands of contracts involved. Now, using SaaS, the average contract signing period could be reduced to two to three days. That’s a huge lift of efficiency and motivation for salespersons to lock clients. We now see more SaaS applications have been approved by clients as of their value to businesses and have become a must to companies. That’s why I wouldn’t be too worried about stock performances since the SaaS business models are getting more recognition.
EqualOcean： How does the market view SaaS nowadays?
Ray Hu： When I started to talk about SaaS when raising funds in 2016, 90% of limited partners were not optimistic on it. Now, most of them do. With some SaaS companies going publicly listed and the frenzies about consumer internet cooling down, most importantly all general partners believing in the future of SaaS, limited partners are more open to this business model.
The same situation has befallen publicly listed SaaS companies over the past few years. Stock prices went high at first, then dropped. This implied that the market held expectations toward SaaS companies. Investors voted with money when companies with quality benchmarks went public, then vetoed when they were disappointed by bad performances. The currently listed SaaS companies derive their revenues mainly from customization, but the majority of their incomes go to building SaaS businesses. So they’re in transition. We do need eight to ten IPOs of high-quality and fast-growing SaaS companies to boost market confidence. Based on my evaluation, there are currently over 20 SaaS companies with Annual Recurring Revenue or ARR over CNY 100 million. It takes them two to three years to grow to the size qualified for IPO — which is USD 100 million of ARR at least.
EqualOcean： What would be your suggestion for fundraising SaaS companies?
Ray Hu： The financing environment may not be very friendly to SaaS companies this year. At the end of the last year, the valuation of SaaS companies in the US stock market was at its peak, most of which reached a dozen to twenty times Price-to-sales(PS). Now that number has dropped more than half. SaaS companies with a growth rate over 50% are valued eight to ten times PS, yet those with less than 50% are valued only six to seven times PS. This means for SaaS companies seeking financing this year that revenues need to be doubled than that of the previous year only to get a valuation equal to the previous year’s. For many entrepreneurs and former investors, mentality needs to be modified and the market status quo needs to be recognized. For worse, the fund is not guaranteed even if revenues double and valuation is equalized. Many VC investors are so overwhelmed by the turbulence in the stock market that they haven’t had the time to rebuild a sound evaluation pattern. We’re all in the process of adjustment.
I would recommend SaaS startups to hold a steady expanding pace, be prudent on cash flow planning, and resume financing the next year unless they were willing to bear the extended fundraising duration and harsher valuation and terms. We are hoping that long-term economic policies could be more explicit after the 20th CPC National Congress. We’ll see if it would be possible for some companies to seek IPO in the US stock markets. The HKSE is at a relatively low spirit for an IPO now. We’ll wait and see what happens next. We expect some good news to boost the market.
EqualOcean： Do you believe that Chinese SaaS companies could win global markets?
Ray Hu： Mostly I do. Firstly, there are a bunch of Indian companies with ARR of USD 30 to 50 million that live in Western markets. So SaaS companies from non-Western countries can open Western markets. Chinese SaaS companies usually start in domestic markets. The adaptability to global markets varies with product types. But it is reassuring that one SaaS startup in our portfolio that develops reimbursement systems has successfully won several Japanese key accounts despite all the obstacles, such as gaps in finance and taxation administration, approval procedures, FMIS, and HRMIS — that would be Financial Management Information System and Human Resources Management Information System.
Since startups themselves are in the process of probing, it would be hard for me to make assertions. But we can deduce from experiences that expansion would not be too quick for SaaS companies serving key accounts since they need time to adapt to the complicated operation procedures of global markets. While things could be different for SaaS companies who provide tools for small and medium-size companies in emerging industries, such as e-commerce and games, tools are often more applicable in a universal sense and they could bring about quantitative outcomes which help speed up clients’ decision-making process.
EqualOcean： What would be the challenges and opportunities of business service SaaS companies when going global?
Ray Hu： Building local teams would be the most challenging part, much more than mere recruitment. For example, SaaS companies targeting key accounts need at least pre-sales, delivery, and customer success departments to work together. In China, companies may win over a client with a broad tender and make modifications throughout the delivery process. But in Japan, they may need to submit a 300-page pre-sales proposal that wholly displays every interface of the software to the client. Once the proposal is agreed upon, there will be no modification commands from the clients. The whole team needs to cooperate functionally, including the local teams abroad and domestic supports. Besides, conditions in every market vary from each other. It may take six to nine months on average to recruit one employee in Japan!
There are not as many challenges at the technical level as in the product sense. Again take Japan as an example. Japanese companies hold zero tolerance for interface and language imperfections. They emphasize data security and compliance. The clouding environment is different there. So we’re talking about a lot of localization to be done.
Challenges aside, Chinese companies still stand a chance with better services. The western SaaS giants are somewhat slow speaking of their response time to Japanese clients’ needs. After all, it’s just a regional need of a regional market to them. But Chinese companies can be quick to respond when it comes to meeting clients’ demands. Besides, just like to China, Japan is also a foreign market to the west. So we’re equal in terms of localization.
EqualOcean： Do you think that this round of the Covid-19 epidemic would hurt entrepreneurs’ morale? How about the influence on your following investment allocations?
Ray Hu： Their morale appears to be higher than I thought. Since June 1(the day the city-wide quarantine was called off), I had been going around about the companies in our portfolio. Founders are generally in positive spirits based on the fact that over 90% of sales leads acquired before quarantine are still in pipeline. Market needs are not erased, maybe a little postponed. There would not be many changes to my investment allocations. CNY funds would be divided pretty much evenly between intelligent manufacturing and SaaS. USD funds would flow mainly to SaaS. In all, the SaaS industry would take up around 60% of the fund and intelligent manufacturing about 30%. The remaining 10% is for consumer Internet.
EqualOcean： While the economic growth has slowed down, what new Chinese narrative would you bring about to global investors?
Ray Hu： I would speak frankly to investors. The current environment may seem discouraging, but the future is bright. Economic policies could be more explicit after the 20th National Congress and the customs administration could be more liberal at the end of this year. In terms of asset allocations, it would be impossible for global investors to ignore an economy with such size and growth rate as China. Their perception of China needs adaptation: it is no longer the wasteland as ten to fifteen years before. The environment for investment has changed. Every VC firms, and every investor, need to have this question constantly in mind: how to better design their investment portfolios.
The science and technology innovation system(STAR) is still full of fast-growing opportunities. Big firms like Sequoia Capital, Hillhouse Capital, and GGV Capital tend to source from broader ranges and distribute their resources in sectors from consumer technology, and industrial technology, to even more advanced ones. For more compact organizations like ours, we focus on two fields so that the personnel and funds assigned to each field still have an edge in competition with big firms.
All in all, we hold a prudently optimistic attitude toward the economic trend. But this is not drawn from anything. We would keep a close eye on the companies in our portfolio as of their performance in the following two quarters. Being a venture capital investor is just like being an entrepreneur, “you gotta stay alert and react promptly to the outside world, and all the time.”
Author: Lina Peng Editor: Yiran Xing
In a recent online talk organized by Blue Lake Capital, SaaS operators of the Blue Lake portfolio had a discussion on topics of common concern to SaaS entrepreneurs, such as the investment and financing environment under the new cycle, improving company management and HR efficiency during the pandemic, and post-pandemic era business layout and sales management.
Ray Hu, Founder & Managing Partner of Blue Lake Capital, shared his views on the SaaS Valuation Environment in 2022 and the Pace of Investment and Financing in VC Circles:
Below are condensed and edited shareable highlights:
Bessemer’s SaaS index in the US outperformed the stock market by a wide margin until November 2021 because of two substantial reasons. First, unlike traditional businesses hit by the pandemic, the software sector had been buoyed by the storm to a certain extent. Some SaaS enterprises reported positive changes in their fundamental secondary markets. Second, amid the high-risk environment, investors preferred assets with high certainty, such as SaaS products featuring recurring revenue and visibly compelling business. As a result, tech growth stocks, especially SaaS stocks, had attracted considerable attention since 2020.
However, the market turned around considerably after November 2021.
As the pandemic alleviates, traditional businesses become less uncertain and show high PS, thus regaining distribution from growth stocks. Therefore, without much correction in the general index, SaaS companies ’stocks have retreated.
A further driver is the correction in valuation multiples for these SaaS companies. SaaS entrepreneurs seeking funding this year are more likely to suffer from the effects of the secondary market. There has recently been a sharp retracement in valuation multiples for SaaS companies overseas. According to Meritech, the average EV/NTM Revenue has fallen from over 30x to 11x, and the median has fallen from nearly 20x to 7x.
If there is no major rebound by the end of this year, mid- to late-stage investors will generally anchor SaaS companies at around 10x PS. Of course, higher valuation multiples are available if the company grows at a rate of 70-80%, and even higher if over 100%. Take the US market as an example. US-listed SaaS companies generate a median revenue of $500 million. Under such a scale, these companies maintain a YoY growth of nearly 30% on average, and those with faster revenue growth have naturally obtained a higher PS premium (about 20x).
I believe that halving valuation multiples from last year will become the market norm. If a company has closed a round of funding in 2021 at a valuation of 25-30x PS, during its next round this year, the valuation amount will not differ greatly from last year, even if revenues have increased by 80-100%.
At this point, management needs to timely adjust their mindset. In the case of relatively abundant funds, the financing window can be adjusted for the first half of next year with a more optimistic macro environment. The process is certainly subject to uncertainty. Or, with expected valuation cuts this year, we raise money at the expense of diluting more shares.
The liquidity of the primary market faces an even more severe situation than the valuation. There was a significant QoQ decline in both the number of investment projects and the funding amount over the first quarter of 2022. When communicating with some of our peers, we noticed that this year, institutions focusing on early-stage and growth projects invested in less than 1/3 of the number of projects in the same period in the previous year, and the investment pace of the whole market is going to be very slow. This is partly due to the macro environment (like the pandemic) and partly because some software companies with mediocre performance, or that were packaged as SaaS companies, also got financed last year. And when their performance this year falls short of expectations, investors will react against the attitude of the whole industry.
In addition, the delisting risk of Chinese concept stocks from the US stock market also has a negative impact on the macro environment of the primary market. Especially for mid- to late-stage investors, a potential for delisting was not previously taken as the main risk—the business itself was. When this factor became a risk item, as it is today, institutional investors’ willingness to invest was further affected. This should be defused by valuation reduction.
Therefore, we do not have an optimistic financing environment this year. From a quantitative perspective, the valuation multiple is estimated to be only half of last year, and the number of projects expected to be closed in the market is 1/3 to 1/4 of last year.
Earlier, I shared that the US market has also seen a drop in SaaS valuations and a slowdown in the pace of investment, which is being hotly discussed in Silicon Valley. Here are the tweeted opinions of Bill Gurley, the managing partner of Benchmark and a well-known American investor, who has been involved in venture capital for nearly 25 years and who has gone through several cycles. His advice is objective and to the point:
Opinion 1: Forget last year’s market madness.
The market price throughout last year was very unreasonable, and we must learn to forget the institutional offers of last year.
Opinion 2: Lower expectations for valuations.
If you stick to a measure of company valuation, 10x PS is ideal.
Opinion 3: Focus on cash flow and profitability.
Tech companies will ultimately return to focus on cash flow and profitability. Facebook has a YoY rise of 23% in revenue but only 14x PE.
Opinion 4: Ultimately, return to revenue and profitability.
Always keep in mind that the revenue and long-term profitability of the company remain the priority in the end.
Despite the recent gloom in capital markets, we are fortunate to be in a very appealing industry today. SaaS business is attractive to investors for its distinctive highlights, such as sustainable revenue, high gross margin, high growth, etc. Once the competitive landscape of the software market is established, there are usually only 2-3 top companies left in the end. If one becomes the market leader, they will enjoy a higher dominance and market share. SaaS businesses can generate strong operating cash flow after growth stabilizes.
From an investment perspective, SaaS business has a big competitive edge and high entry threshold and deserves long-term bullishness.
Amidst the overall market slowdown in investment pace this year, investors are expected to continue focusing on software projects in the technology sector, and in frontier technology, such as semiconductor and unmanned technology. The company’s management simply needs to adjust valuation expectations.
Despite the wave of dramatic changes the world has undergone in the past two years, the digitalization trend has not changed. Whereas digitalization was previously just a way to improve the business of some enterprises, today it is necessary for survival.
It was supposed to take 30 to 50 years to go digital, but now the process has been greatly accelerated as a result of the pandemic. Amid all the uncertainties ahead of us, digitalization remains the most certain and the biggest opportunity.
On June 15th, Shanghai Zhenling Technology Co., Ltd., a SaaS solution provider of CVLM (Contract Value Lifecycle Management), announced the completion of a Series A financing round of 53 million RMB, the second financing within six months. The financing round was led by Yunqi Partners and followed by the old shareholder Blue Lake Capital. Yiren Capital was the exclusive financial advisor. And all funding of this round will be used mainly for product development to deepen the value management of the performance phase of the contract.
As a leading contract management solution provider in China founded in 2021, Zhenling Technolgy’s core team was developed from HAND, a well-known enterprise digitalization service provider, having been equipped with digital service capability. “One Contract Cloud”, a self-developed product by Zhenling Technology, through controlling major nodes of CVLM—before signing, during signing, during performance, and after performance— organically integrates the three major processes of enterprise operation: business operation, financial accounting, and contract management. One Contract Cloud can better verify enterprises’ real business and financial data, implement upgrades from business finance to business finance law, help enterprises control operational risks, and improve their management systems.
Xie Weihu, CEO of Zhenling Technology, said, “Contracts are the carriers of economic activity and naturally carry all aspects of an enterprise’s economic activity, especially the liquidity management of funds. From time to time, enterprises will have various troubles in the actual performance process, which greatly impacts funds. Coping with these situations faster and more efficiently is a lesson (and a headache) for every business owner. Therefore, contract management is not the goal, but rather the solution.”
Considering that, Zhenling Technology has positioned its product as a “Contract Value Lifecycle Management.” While other vendors focus on contract signing and provide solutions to improve the efficiency of signing contracts from offline to online, One Contract Cloud extends its service focus to contract performance. By linking enterprise business and financial systems, One Contract Cloud sees each node of contract performance as a key, drives the execution of these key nodes, provides real-time feedback on the current situation, and exerts positive and timely influence.” Business owners may not have time to find out every detail, but now they can find the key points and deal with the difficulties in advance by watching the overall situation through the dynamic feedback of the contract,” Xie Weihu explained.
“This is a hungry market,” Xie Weihu added. “After beginning to operate independently, business opportunities have increased 2.5-3 times on average, with the number of customers signed in the first half of this year approaching the whole of last year.”
Since its establishment, Zhenling Technology has cooperated with nearly 130 large enterprises, including LVMH, Siemens, BECKMAN COULTER, Hello Inc., 360, Moka, and China Resources Capital. It has accumulated considerable experience in several industries and has been implementing productized solutions to certain professional cases, which can be rapidly promoted and applied to more enterprises in the future.
Zhang Yifan, Investment Director of Blue Lake Capital, said: “After our first round of investment, Zhenling Technology has exceeded expectations in team-building and market expansion, winning contracts from many major clients. The product has also been quite ahead of the game. We are very optimistic about the future of contract management and One Contract Cloud.”
This article is reproduced with permission from 36 Kr, written by Wu Sijin and edited by Wang Yutong.
The SCC (Supply Chain Collaboration) platform ZONE (Shanghai Zhenyi Technology Co., Ltd.) announced the completion of Series A financing of 70 million RMB, led by Blue Lake Capital, followed by Redpoint, INFAITH GROUP, and YI Capital, with Yiren Capital as the exclusive financial advisor.
“Complete supply chain digitization should internally improve the efficiency of departmental collaboration while supporting multi-party collaboration with the external supply chain. Disappointingly, the fact that enterprises prefer to apply IIS (Inside Information Systems) + SRM (Supplier Relationship Management) while in the integration of internal and external SCM (Supply Chain Management) means they still need to arrange people to be stationed at the production sites of offline suppliers and OEMs to monitor real-time progress, inspect quality, manage costs, support business upgrades, establish traceability systems for multi-party collaboration plans, and regularly dispense feedback to concerned departments using relevant business systems (or by sending word or excel documents via email or WeChat). All of this not only takes time and effort, but requires plenty of manpower,” explained Zheng Xiangtian, CEO of ZONE.
Considering that, ZONE—incubated in China’s well-known IT consulting service provider, HAND—started using SCC to further its SCM in 2020. Its core product, Zone Cloud, an SCC SaaS platform, connects the demand side (large manufacturing enterprises or brands) with the supply side (suppliers and OEMs). Besides the application, customers can connect to the business systems of suppliers through the Octopus connector—a real-time production schedule tracker developed by ZONE to reduce internal waste, minimize conflict between supply and demand sides, and achieve common goals through early warnings (and timely control) of problems with delivery time, quality, and cost.
Specifically, ZONE proposes solutions for various cases, including master data collaboration, multiple suppliers, OEM manufacturing process, inventory management, change management and statistical analysis, quality forwarding and traceability, supply chain planning, supplier logistics, checking, supply chain exception sensing, analysis, and other cases that require supply- and demand-side collaboration.
Within two years of independent operation, ZONE has over 50 cooperative customers in various fields, including equipment manufacturing, lithium support, 3C, footwear, central kitchen pre-prepared dishes, and other fields, and over 1,000 linked supply-side enterprises.
Revenue mainly comes from two areas: SaaS subscription fees, including the basic and deep collaboration versions, with an average unit price ranging from 100,000 to 300,000, and an SaaS service fee, which is calculated separately, according to demand.
There are nearly 200 members of ZONE, of which 60% are product researchers. It’s reported that this round of financing was mainly used for product development and marketing.
Ray Hu, the founder and managing partner of Blue Lake Capital, had this to say:
“Enterprises have a higher demand for monitoring OEMs and suppliers with the digitization of the supply chain. However, a complete solution that satisfies enterprises well does not exist in this field.
ZONE aims to meet these needs by building a software platform that involves understanding production processes, adapting multiple business systems, and polishing out-of-the-box tools. It seems to be simple but requires continuously integrating diverse customer scenarios into a standardized SaaS product.
ZONE has accumulated over ten years of relevant experience. We are optimistic that ZONE will help Chinese companies build a tighter supply chain network to improve efficiency.”
On June 6, Blue Lake Capital received the certificate of the “TOP 20 Investment Firms in Enterprise Services that are Most Focused by LPs in 2021.” made by FOFWEEKLY on the first day of returning to office work after the Shanghai lockdown.
After exploring the ways of building a core driving force for the GPs that are surviving and thriving in the new cycle of global economic development environment and local market development stage, FOFWEEKLY has put forward a relevant evaluation system and found many active firms including LP and LP-recognized GP.
Based on the above principles, FOFWEEKLY compiled a FOFWEEKLY “2021 Annual Investment Firm Ranking List” through its research on China’s equity investment industry. This listfocuses on leading firms with the most sustainable development in the new ecological environment. Important indicators include length and prosperity of Firm, continuous return on investment, and social responsibility. In addition, it publicly recognizes the leading investment Firms that play an exemplary role in advancing social development.
As a new generation of research-driven venture capital funds, Blue Lake Capital has been closely following tech innovators in China’s digital transformation. Upgrades and enterprise services have been the key areas that Blue Lake Capital has focused on. With years of extensive and in-depth communication and engagement with entrepreneurs, the Blue Lake team has accumulated a broad base of know-how in the field of enterprise services. A multi-dimensional analysis mechanism has been established from products, implementation, sales, competitors, and cash flow, as well as administering a post-investment service system with unique Blue Lake characteristics. This was accomplished by creating a Blue Lake enterprise service ecosystem and integrating post-investment resources. In recent years, Blue Lake has invested in many industry-leading projects including JST, Zaihui, HELIOS, Momenta, and Moka.
Moving forward, Blue Lake Capital will continue to seek investment opportunities in the field of enterprise services and cooperate with outstanding entrepreneurs to create value for Chinese enterprises.
As a new generation research-driven venture capital fund, Blue Lake Capital focuses on technology innovators in China’s digital transformation, with enterprise software as one of our key investment areas.
Blue Lake’s portfolio companies, including Jushuitan SaaS ERP, Leyan Technology, Moka, Momenta, Going Link, Helios, Shopastro, and Thinking Data, provide more efficient solutions for a wide range of industries through innovation in information science and technology.
With new fiscal and tax policies, such as the 14th Five-year Tax Reform Plan and all-electronic invoices, the fiscal and tax environment for enterprises has changed drastically over the last two years. With unprecedented digital capability, the Taxation Department can supervise enterprises more strictly and more frequently. In addition, to deal with internal and external audit sampling, walk-through tests, and periodic industrial and commercial legal inspections, enterprises have had to spend many workdays sorting and searching files of different legal persons across various departments and even for different periods.
Facing these challenges, Helios came up with the first online audit solution in the industry to help enterprises meet the regulatory requirements of internal and external auditing in a more efficient and compliant manner. This solution can significantly enhance file utilization efficiency, reduce manual file searching and sorting, and address the problem of low audit efficiency.
Using an E-archive query-tracing feature, Helios establishes relationships among various unstructured documents by relying on a flexible configuration of a chain of evidence. According to external auditing and supervision requirements, standard templates are created for corresponding investigations of the Taxation Department and compliance checks, audit sampling, and walk-through tests. It can perform an intelligent search and provide complete sets of archives useful for internal and external audits with a click. It also supports tracing and file searches for different legal persons across various departments, warehouses, and accounting periods. No longer using an offline paper accounting approach, it dramatically improves the efficiency of internal/external audits.
Helios’ E-archives system is helpful for archival storage for enterprises; it also leverages its advantages to make better use of data. It helps enterprises build a more compliant, efficient, intelligent, and shared archive management system for paperless accounting and effectively meets compliance requirements for accounting documents, including electronic invoices. Moreover, it launched two innovative schemes: intelligent matching with categorized storage and online auditing, which significantly reduces time sorting and binding vouchers by more than 90%, and reduces time spent on compliance with internal and external audit requirements by more than 80%. Using comprehensive electronic image borrowing increases the efficiency of archive retrieval by more than 90%.
On March 31, Jingdong released its annual winners’ list of excellent service providers for 2021, with Jushuitan as a winner for its software services.
Covering 17 categories and involving both upstream and downstream portions of the e-commerce industry chain, this reward is considered the highest honor JD’s service market awarded to its service providers. It reflects an affirmation of the comprehensive capabilities of awarded service providers, including their transaction amount, service quality, contract performance ability, merchant satisfaction, and degree of cooperation, and constitutes an important reference point for JD merchants to select service providers.
As a leading SaaS software service provider in China and a quality partner of JD e-commerce merchants, Jushuitan stands out from many other enterprises by virtue of its excellent technologies and services to secure this annual award, which shows the affirmation and recognition of the JD platform and its merchants for their quality service.
Jushuitan’s SaaS ERP system has been provided to more than 300 e-commerce platforms to deliver comprehensive information and digital solutions for businesses. Up to now, Jushuitan has more than 4,000 employees and has set up more than 100 offline service outlets nationwide, covering more than 400 cities and towns. Over 70 million orders are sent through the SaaS ERP system every day, and one out of every 5 or 6 packages in China is sent through Jushuitan.
Ai Analytics, well-known digital market research and consulting agency in China, recently released the 2022 Panoramic Report of AI Manufacturers. With outstanding products, quality service, and a good reputation, Leyan Technology was selected as a representative manufacturer of intelligent customer service and marketing. Previously, Leyan Technology was also listed in the 2021 Panoramic Report of AI Manufacturers as a representative for intelligent robotics and intelligent quality inspections. As can be seen, Leyan Technology has been recognized many times for its comprehensive strength.
As an important driver of the digital economy, artificial intelligence improves production efficiency and serves as a catalyst for new products and models, which in turn promotes the reconstruction of the entire industrial chain. It has become an essential engine for social progress and sustained economic prosperity.
Now, facing rapid growth of online business demand and consumers’ demand for high-quality service, brands must combine their products and services with better intelligent marketing operations to stand out from the competition.
By using AI tools, such as intelligent customer service, marketing, and advertising, Leyan Technology provides consumers with complete, high-quality, around-the-clock online services, thereby helping them refine their store operations and decision-making tools to help develop their marketing strategies.
Leyan Technology is a high-tech firm focusing on the industrial application of AI technology. Led by its CEO, Dr. Shen Libin, and other outstanding experts in natural language processing and knowledge graphs, it is an outstanding provider of overall AI solutions in China.
With the mission of “pioneering AI technology to create value for customers,” the company is committed to enabling e-commerce customer service, intelligent education, government and medical consultation, and other public service verticals with advanced cognitive computing technology to improve efficiency, reduce labor costs, and create more customer value. After many years of involvement in e-commerce, Leyan Technology has built a complete set of AI solutions for e-commerce businesses that cover all links from marketing to services.
Thinking Data recently released TA system 3.6, upgrading three aspects of its core functions, adding 10+ functions and 20+ optimized items, and improving its overall analysis capacity, efficiency, and intelligence. The new version supports complex data types and can create SQL statement labels, add field-level permissions, extend time ranges, and upgrade functions for behavior sequences, including more forms of data visualization, better alerts, and daily pushes.
Since its launch in 2018, Thinking Analytics (TA System), an extensive data analysis platform developed by Thinking Data for games, has won unanimous recognition within the industry with its capabilities in data collection, flexible and robust data analysis, and safe, rapid deployment.
As a professional platform for data analysis, the TA system continuously delivers pioneering data awareness and experience and constantly upgrades and iterates products according to customer needs.
Thinking Data always adheres to its “customer first” corporate value and implements it throughout its product development and innovation, always believing that connecting functionality to customers’ needs is the lifeblood of products.
In the future, Thinking Data will continue to focus on the gaming industry and adhere to its corporate mission of “making the value of data accessible at the touch of a finger.” It will continue to improve the depth and ease of TA analysis to create the most professional data analysis products and build a new data infrastructure for global gaming.
According to the Notice of the Zhejiang Department of Commerce on Organizing Public E-Commerce Services (2021, No. 62), which includes important instructions for department leaders, it is necessary to combine online and offline businesses under the new normal of COVID-19. The Zhejiang Provincial E-Commerce Promotion Center has explored more options for e-commerce service providers. It has integrated and sorted many high-quality ones within and outside the province. Offering preferential prices for the Double Hundred Project, the Center has launched a series of activities to help enterprises with public e-commerce services.
“Shopastro Going Overseas” has always responded actively to a new mode of government-enterprise cooperation by helping achieve win-win development of cross-border industries and enabling more high-quality domestic brands to go overseas quickly. Honored to be recommended in the Double Hundred Project, Shopastro will provide better commercial services for Chinese brands and sellers.
To couple with the Double Hundred Project, Shopastro launched the Starry Sea Plan for government-enterprise cooperation and offered a 50% discount for one-stop services for 1,000 high-quality brands to go overseas. The benefits include independent website building, year-round website operation, and overseas advertising. From building the website to marketing transformation and repurchasing, Shopastro can walk brands through its development cycle by meeting their needs at every step.
Shopastro is a one-stop and full-link service provider helping Chinese brands go overseas. Focusing on “building and operating websites, marketing transformation, and repurchasing,” it is dedicated to serving B2B foreign trade factories, domestic brands, cross-border brand sales, and existing DTC brands. Shopastro is committed to solving the pain points of Chinese brand sellers aspiring to go overseas, including independent website building, efficient advertising, accurate customer acquisition, and all-around marketing, and to realize brand value and cash in on internet traffic through focused operation driven by big data and AI technology.
Ray Hu, founder and managing partner at Blue Lake Capital, was recently invited to the “Dark Horse SRDI Industry Convention” hosted by Dark Horse and delivered a speech titled, “Consensus and Anti-consensus for SaaS Entrepreneurship .”
In the speech, Hu gave his thoughts on the outlook of the Chinese SaaS industry and suggested innovations for SaaS products and its entrepreneurial process.
The following are excerpts from the speech:
We at Blue Lake Capital manage both CNY and USD funds, and we pay great attention to the digital transformation of the Chinese economy. The core part of our business is enterprise software. Over the past three or four years, we have heavily deployed our investments in the enterprise software sector, covering nearly 40 companies.
During the process, we as investors feel lucky to learn while making investments and growing together with many outstanding SaaS companies as China’s digitalization continuously deepens.
Under certain circumstances, when we look at the growth of these companies as a board of directors, we consider different perspectives as we notice the development of these emerging firms.
Today, I’d like to share what we have seen and experienced during this process.
When we talk about SaaS, we are first challenged with the market scalability of SaaS start-ups, which is the concern of most entrepreneurs in the initial stages. When people compare SaaS with the thriving consumer internet industry of the past ten years, they often worry that either the market isn’t big enough, the growth of companies isn’t easy enough, or action isn’t fast enough. Entrepreneurs to investors, including even our LPs, are concerned that SaaS start-ups may not reach an impressive size even with a long time to develop.
From a macroscopic perspective, we’re not too worried because China is among the top countries in the world in terms of GDP growth rate. If we break down the figure to look at the growth rate of each industry, we’ll see that digitalization, information technology, and software-related sectors are all growing at 2-digit speeds. Such high growth speeds are very rare, even compared with global rates.
For anyone who’d like to start a business, finding a rapidly growing environment is essential. Only high growth leads to significant opportunities and only when there are enough opportunities can start-ups seize upon one and enter the market. Information technology and software industries are undoubtedly rapidly growing environments that provide great market opportunities.
We are often asked that if a Chinese software company succeeds, what kind of scale can be achieved? And how much can its market value be on the secondary market? To answer these questions, we have consulted a large amount of data from third-party research institutions. According to a research report from JP Morgan, the market scale of the SaaS industry is forecasted to exceed ¥260 billion by 2025, and that of the software industry will be even larger.
Suppose the P/S ratio of a software-related company is 20-25x, which is equivalent to a market value of $1 trillion on the secondary market. It means that if an average company has a ¥100-billion market value, at least 50 companies of a similar size will emerge. Suppose the average market value of a company is only ¥50 billion. In that case, over 100 companies will arise in the next few years with the boom of the Chinese software market, each with the opportunity of becoming relatively large companies in capital markets (in Mainland China, Hong Kong, and the US). We are very optimistic about both the size and the growth rate of this industry.
Lately, we’ve heard a lot of feedback saying that a significant drop came in the secondary market, making investors worried about the software industry not receiving enough attention and potentially leading to a bleak prospect for starting a software business.
We’ve given this a lot of thought. First of all, the question is a little weird because, in essence, the drop reflects short-term fluctuations in the secondary market but not the fundamentals of the software market. To a degree, the instability of the secondary market provides an excellent opportunity to eliminate companies with relatively poor production capacity from the industry. Companies with unhealthy businesses will have difficulty in raising funds in the market. On the contrary, those with excellent products and high-quality businesses will be able to withstand the fluctuation.
The other side of the coin is that we’ve seen very positive signs in the Chinese software market even in the last two or three quarters. In Q1 of this year, the production capacities of China’s top integrators barely met the unprecedentedly high demands of middle-to-large enterprises for IT-supported and systematized solutions. This means the digitalization of the Chinese economy is prospering. Whether for entrepreneurs or investors, it is a good time to get involved.
Why do we say there are opportunities for the SaaS industry this year? And why are opportunities happening now?
One important reason is the maturity of public cloud infrastructure. The second reason is that Chinese enterprise software users use ERP on their computers at work but consumer applications on their phones, which offer hugely different experiences. Also, the upgrading and iterating of companies’ businesses are getting faster while traditional, locally-delivered, customized software is having difficulty catching up with the demands generated from the development of these businesses.
An increasing number of entrepreneurs are asking where the opportunities are. The demands of enterprises for IT products have been fundamentally changed. We’ve noticed some obvious trends: apart from application development and product-centric approaches, improving artificial intelligence is essential but difficult to achieve in traditional, locally-delivered software products. Even if you look from a global perspective, Chinese entrepreneurs today have the opportunity to overtake their competitors because in terms of AI algorithms or human resources, China is leading the world when you make horizontal comparisons.
The timing for our software products is perfect for integrating intelligence with information. The product power thus produced is highly likely to exceed that of European SaaS products of the previous generation. We’ve seen increasingly more cases of the practical application of this integration in software products.
Next up, let me share with you our thoughts on product value.
First, how do we weigh up the value of a software product? Which target is better, KA clients or SMBs? It’s not simply an either/or question. There have been cases of success for both KA and SMB clients. The type of clients you choose is not the key to success. But the product positioning and the value it creates for a client have to match the client’s positioning.
Usually, products for KA clients are positioned to reduce costs and increase efficiency. KA clients are usually more complicated in their organizational structures and attach more importance to the transparency of business operations, efficiency improvement, and controlling costs. Software products can generally meet clients’ management demands. However, it would be unprovable if we told a large enterprise that our software product could increase their revenue. Too many factors influence a large company’s sales, so it isn’t realistic to expect revenue to increase with a mere SaaS product.
Contrary to the above, the organizational structures of small to medium enterprises are relatively simple and owners of SMEs know how to save money. If we told them our software products could help them save money, they would probably be unwilling to spend an additional ¥100,000-200,000 per year to save a little money. They care more about generating extra income and how our software products can help them increase their revenue and improve the efficiency of client acquisition. For example, among our portfolio, JST specializes in order processing and inventory management. Zaihui focuses on precision marketing for catering businesses. Leyan Technologies deals with intelligent customer service. Lingxing is dedicated to PI analyses of the cross-border e-commerce industry. All of them base their businesses on their respective value propositions. When it comes to small to medium enterprises, your growth curve will be impressive if you can find the right target clients for your products and show the value created by the products.
At this moment, SaaS is a highly feasible field with a huge market for both investors and entrepreneurs. It provides an opportunity rarely seen in other verticals. From Blue Lake’s perspective, this is the best entrepreneurial opportunity in 15 or even 20 years.
From an entrepreneur’s perspective, running a business is a long-term game. It is necessary to consider whether a company can succeed and become an asset and whether the products can match client positioning, accumulate WoM, and gain higher customer satisfaction. If the answers are yes, success will naturally follow.
Ray Hu，Founder & Managing Partner of Blue Lake Capital，remarked：“ZKNOW’s Yanqianyun has become our new player in the SaaS industry. IT innovation has stayed focused on monitoring tools and data analysis, but few have set foot in IT service management (ITSM). It sets a higher standard for the team to have rich experience in operation and maintenance and competence in developing management software, especially PaaS solutions. The team behind Yanqianyun happens to have it all. As the enterprise applications increase and IT operation and maintenance are complicated, we believe Yanqianyun will become the ServiceNow of China.”
ZKNOW has completed raising 70 million yuan in its debut round. Matrix Partners China and Blue Lake Capital have co-led the investment, followed by Baidu Venture and An’s Information. Yiren Capital was the exclusive financial advisor. The funding is for product R&D and market expansion.
Founded in May 2021, ZKNOW was spined off from HAND Enterprise Solutions, which was established in 2002, and listed on the ChiNext board in 2011. With 20 years of experience in development, HAND now provides IT applications for product R&D, consulting, and technical support. The company started with ERP implementation and has become a solution provider. It has grown to be a comprehensive digital service provider. Their rich experience has enabled HAND to satisfy customer needs and offer excellent solutions in particular sectors by incubating several SaaS companies. ZKNOW is one of them.
Huang Jianhua, Chairman of ZKNOW and CTO of HAND Enterprise Solutions, attributed the birth of ZKNOW to two opportunities. First, HAND has served over 6,000 customers and completed more than 20,000 projects in its two decades of engagement with enterprise IT service. Such accumulated experience had come together to meet the needs of IT operation and maintenance during the digital transformation, including software not implemented by HAND. Second, enterprise software and hardware needed more diversity in type and quantity as user applications and system maintenance became increasingly complex. The software helped enterprise management liaison with customers and suppliers but presented challenges to digital transformation. The upgraded digital operation also required enterprise management and service solutions. This is where ZKNOW came in.
Yanqianyun, ZKNOW’s flagship product, works as a leading service platform for enterprise digital transformation. Specifically, it supports three areas with operational AI solutions: IT service management (ITSM), enterprise service management (ESM), and customer service management (CSM).
Since 2019, based on its 16-year experience in service management in HAND, Yanqianyun has transformed itself into providing platform-level service in operations and maintenance. It provides enterprises with IT lifecycle management and internal knowledgebase integration, improving IT service and efficiency.
With the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020, the demands for remote service, self-service, and other enterprise services have soared. To provide more digitally intelligent services, Yanqianyun launched Yanxiaoqian, a virtual assistant available 24-7 for online service, which has helped solve recurring problems and reduce labor costs.
With the normalization of the pandemic in 2021, enterprises became more motivated to accelerate digital transformation and attach more value to a high-quality experience for both employees and customers. Therefore, Yanqianyun gradually expanded its services by including back-office ITSM, such as human resources, legal affairs, administration, customer success, etc. This provided employees and customers with a unified one-stop service portal, achieving more efficient inter-department collaboration through automated and intelligent processes. Meanwhile, it also links with instant messaging applications like DingTalk, Feishu, WeChat Work, and others to make daily communication and collaboration easier and improve employee and customer experience.
In 2022, Yanqianyun further perfected its multi-channel service, including online customer service, call center, email, instant messaging, etc., and launched customer success solutions for SaaS enterprises.
As Huang Jianhua introduced, when customers use the enterprise application, it involves coordinating various internal systems and departments. So, across different scenarios, it all comes down to digital services management, whether ITSM, CSM, or ESM. The design of Yanqianyun, according to Huang Jianhua, is based on ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) industry’s best practices and concepts. It serves as an enterprise digital service center, bridging business service with IT solutions and employee and customer experience, and offers a comprehensive and professional out-of-the-box digital service package. Such achievement owes credit to the cooperation of innumerous HAND customers over many years, which has made it easier to understand the real needs and obstacles of enterprise digital transformation and how to meet the demands of management, technology, and product design. “We will pay attention to reporting, access control, workflow, multilingual functionality, and transnational collaboration,” said Huang Jianhua.
Yanqianyun’s platform relies on HAND’s business background in terms of product architecture. Such an advantage enables Yanqianyun to provide SaaS and PaaS services to customers. Plenty of SaaS companies build their own PaaS application at a certain point in their business development to avoid becoming an outsourced service provider. Still, ZKNOW can skip years of business development by relying on accumulated experience.
Another advantage is that ZKNOW is connected with many high-value customers through HAND, among which are ZKNOW’s hundreds of customers and various leading companies in multiple industries, such as Chang’an Ford, Siemens, AVIC Lithium Battery, Ganso, MINISO, etc.
For example, Anew Global Consulting provides professional services regarding EHS (Environment, Health, and Safety) to improve supplier performance and reduce operational risks. Anew has developed its own database of EHS laws and regulations, complete with problem tracking and research systems, but its cluttered collaboration tools drag work efficiency down. Yanqianyun provides Anew with low-code workflow management that applies non-standard ITIL solutions. It helps build the EHS platform and connects with PKULaw, which imports and automatically sets up a database to obtain real-time customer feedback and improve enterprise service for investigation management. Additionally, the report center can visualize multi-dimensional data, facilitating data analysis.
MINISO found shortcomings in its service platform for employees, complaint channels, problem tracking, and feedback efficiency. Based on the original IT operation and maintenance, MINISO’s IT team took the lead in building the ITSM. Through Yanqianyun’s service platform, an intelligent service portal replaced the original call center and transformed online reporting and processing for all issues. All teams, including headquarters’ desktop operations, SAP management, and store service teams, use the same platform to communicate and manage data. Every problem in the business system is processed online, where service data is also analyzed and addressed. MINISO has boosted operations and maintenance efficiency by applying the enterprise management service platform in over 90 countries and regions. It provides strong support for MINISO’s continued business development.
Though HAND shares its customer resources with ZKNOW, as Huang Jianhua pointed out, ZKNOW highlights the brand and channels it’s developed on its own. After this financing round, ZKNOW will continue product R&D and market expansion, hopefully speeding up its development and commercialization.
Partner at Blue Lake Capital
“Having frequently invested in cross-border e-commerce firms in recent years, Blue Lake Capital has seen rapid growth in the cross-border e-commerce sector, especially for stand-alone e-shops. Cross-border e-commerce is the way for Chinese companies to transform themselves from ‘manufacturers’ to ‘brands’ and global value chains. There is enormous space for growth for Chinese sellers using cross-border stand-alone e-shops. In Europe and the US, the GMV (gross merchandise value) of stand-alone e-shops accounts for about 20% of the e-commerce market. Despite stand-alone e-shops being a major force in e-commerce in Europe and the US, Chinese sellers possess only 2-3% of all stand-alone e-shops in the two markets, leaving room for further market penetration. With more players coming into the game, competition becoming increasingly fierce, and advertising costs continuously rising, delicacy management and attention to detail have become the key to success. Having sensed this opportunity, shopastro is now transferring its professional e-shop building, advertising, and marketing capabilities into comprehensive solutions for stand-alone e-shop management for cross-border sellers.”
shopastro, a full-chain service provider for Chinese brands operating in overseas markets, has recently received over $10 million in series A financing. The leading investors were GL Ventures and a major USD fund, while its angel investors, Blue Lake Capital and Shenjin Capital, also joined in the round.
The funds raised will be used for talent acquisition, improvements to operations and services teams, and national market development. The company plans to continuously improve its Baijing intelligent marketing tool by accumulating data, building better models, providing more diverse and intelligent marketing strategies, and covering more links in the value chain.
Over the past few years, cross-border e-commerce has been booming and the infrastructure construction has progressively improved. With Chinese supply chains growing mature, companies hoping to go global are shifting from a low-price strategy to brand-building. However, difficulties exist in overseas markets not only in consumer education, but also in advertising and traffic acquisition.
On one hand, confused positioning in terms of target users, product categories, and media channels often leads to “vain attempts” at advertising and unsatisfactory conversion rates. On the other hand, with so many service packages to choose from, it is a challenge for brands to decide on the optimum solutions, and they may become frustrated from repeatedly taking wrong paths regarding costs and advertising practices.
Therefore, this marketing need provides a great opportunity for SaaS providers specializing in building stand-alone e-shops. Established in 2021, shopastro provides one-stop, full-chain solutions for brands seeking to expand their business overseas, with stand-alone e-shop building at the core of each service package. Meanwhile, with big data and AI technologies, it helps sellers to refine their operations and increase traffic conversion rates. Headquartered in Hangzhou, with branches in Yiwu, Shenzhen and Xiamen, shopastro has now provided services to over 100 enterprise clients.
Specifically, unlike many of the homogeneous products on the market, shopastro’s service products are superior in two aspects: First, they cover a complete electronic transaction system. According to Liu Qingfu, founder and CEO of the company, shopastro’s transaction system covers multiple eco-systems including logistics, payment and ERP, which means an open design since the initial stage of the platform building. With various standard APIs, the system is accessible to service providers from different sectors involved in the cross-border business. Second, they include Baijing, an intelligent marketing SaaS, which, based on AI algorithms and big data, can generate high-conversion materials and match them with suitable market regions, media channels, and target groups according to each seller’s category and positioning. “Take children’s wear brands for example. Children’s wear has high repeat purchase rates, and thus the key in this sector is to educate customers. And based on our data and algorithms, we have stratified all our users so that we can choose different traffic and marketing tactics aimed at different strata,” said Liu Qingfu. Meanwhile, all shopastro data can form closed loops on Google, Facebook and TikTok. In Liu Qingfu’s opinion,the key to going global for a brand lies in the growth of its customer LTV (lifetime value). Marketing is a labor-intensive practice, but the Baijing intelligent system is equipped to handle it.
“In the current stage, traffic acquisition and advertising in overseas markets is still labor-intensive, and with high employee turnover, the labor costs are pretty high. Moreover, the data gained from manual operations usually doesn’t accumulate. Therefore, advertising based on AI algorithms and big data can help sellers accumulate data and close the loop. This type of advertising is more accurate in terms of matching materials with categories and platforms.” Regarding future development, Liu Qingfu observes that more and more traditional sellers and factories are transforming themselves into branded sellers, and many Chinese brands involved with new forms of consumption are going global, which means their service providers must be good investments with long-term value. Going global requires facilitation from multiple ecosystems, and the stand-alone e-shop is just one of the many channels. At the end of the day, the key is to educate overseas consumers to increase customer LTV.
In terms of personnel, shopastro’s founding team consists of ex-members of management teams from Alibaba, ByteDance, and Baidu. Its core members came from Alibaba International, AliExpress, ByteDance, Baidu, Ant Group and more, including P8 and P9 members of Alibaba’s product, operations, design, and tech departments. Many of shopastro’s team members have over 10 years of product development, operations, and commercialization experience in the fields cross-border e-commerce, payment, and SaaS. The lead of the shopastro project at GL Ventures (the leading investor in this round of fundraising) told us that “the one-stop, full-chain services shopastro provides to Chinese companies going global combines stand-alone e-shop building with marketing while solving sellers’ main problems during the process, such as traffic acquisition, marketing and customer retention. They are different from other homogeneous products and services available on the market. shopastro is highly capable of independent R&D and serving its clients throughout the user life cycle. It knows what sellers need and knows overseas markets well. We expect shopastro to meet Chinese sellers’ specific demands in their expansion to overseas markets and become an excellent local service provider for Chinese brands going global.”
Blue Lake Capital, likewise, has noticed the historic opportunity behind the surging demands for stand-alone e-shop building in overseas markets. They believe that shopastro can transfer their professional capabilities in e-shop building, advertising, and marketing into their service products and serve cross-border sellers with stand-alone e-shop management solutions. Having been well-received by sellers upon launch, shopastro’s products have proved to meet the market demands. Blue Lake Capital is optimistic about the long-term prospect of shopastro’s professional team in the cross-border field. As a research-driven venture capital fund of the new generation, Blue Lake Capital pays attention to technological innovators contributing to China’s digital transformation and upgrading. The company has extensively deployed its investments in the SaaS and cloud software field. Its portfolio includes JST, Lingxin, Leyan Technologies, Helios and Going-link.
The end of the year of the ox saw the Blue Lake Capital Investor Conference of 2022. Upon invitation, three entrepreneurs specializing in manufacturing SaaS—Wang Pei, Chairman of Zhenyun Technology; Wang Zhongtian, CEO of FS Cloud; and Zheng Xiangtian, CEO of Zone Science and Technology Co., Ltd.—were present to share their experiences in delivering brilliant SaaS products focusing on the integration of manufacturing and software in procurement, after-sales, and collaboration.
Together with Zhang Yifan, the Investment Director of Blue Lake Capital who has years of involvement in SaaS, they had a talk about three hot topics among SaaS practitioners.
The answers all come back to customer satisfaction.
Zhang Yifan: SaaS is such a hot vertical as more and more investors have realized the inherent advantage in its business model: high renewal rate. Indeed, this situation depends on companies’ dedication to customer satisfaction. During our usual conversations with CEOs, they will claim that they have a great emphasis on customer satisfaction. However, due diligence reveals that their actions actually vary greatly. There is a gap between many CEOs’ statements, the actual implementation of frontline employees, and the corporate culture. The process may require specific mechanisms and methods. So, can you share your experience and strategies to improve customer satisfaction?
Wang Pei: Here’s a story for you. We once received job applications from many employees from an SaaS company. When interviewing them, we would ask why they left, because this company had just finished financing and was in a great vertical market. They left that company as a result of its low customer satisfaction. They all replied, “Our current project has too low customer satisfaction to be launched, and we failed to settle it. It is too stressful and hopeless.” Upon deeper inquiry into the reason, it turned out that the company’s R&D personnel were assigned to new projects that were of interest to the boss, leaving no one to solve product issues. As a result, many other projects were affected, leading to a vicious cycle. Customers would be naturally less satisfied, and employees would feel hopeless. So we can see that no matter how you emphasize customer satisfaction, if you follow the wrong approach to take care of it, the outcome won’t be positive.
So customer satisfaction can be a highly complex issue or a simple one, which requires an eye only on two core points: First, provide adequate service. To serve enterprises in terms of SaaS, well-qualified consultants need to straighten out customer demands to facilitate the progress of projects as planned. Second, ensure product stability to enable rapid iterations to satisfy customers. Zhenyun has now signed contracts with 200+ customers, and this figure will reach 400+ next year. Failure to stabilize the logic and mechanism will certainly affect customer satisfaction. This is how we understand customer satisfaction. We may be all well aware of the core point, but the difference lies in whether we persist or not.
Wang Zhongtian: It is pretty challenging to score high in customer satisfaction. We should first make it a corporate culture. Employees need to be committed to customer satisfaction, to smooth the process from customer engagement to successful delivery, then to the continuous and stable operation of the system delivered. Things will be streamlined if such a culture is in place. Otherwise, there is inconsistency between the sales team, the consultants, and the customers. Everyone focuses on their own concerns, leading them to fail to realize the actual goal. In the case of signing contracts, for example, customers may expand their needs. If there is no such culture, the sales team will overpromise. We often find that our customers signed contracts with others at a meager price, who promised that they could solve anything. However, the customers would finally come to us for solutions. When signing contracts, our sales staff will inform the customers what we can or can’t solve. And the contracts will be reviewed by a consultant. In this way, we can ensure all the orders signed are in line with our product’s future development path without upsetting the pace of the R&D department.
Moreover, new requirements may arise regarding the delivery and customer operations during the process, so we need to harmonize with R&D staff. At the weekly project meeting, we will judge the customer’s status and new project requirements to determine whether it is a need or just a want. And we’ll schedule proper development pace to fulfill customers’ needs, and keep iterating on our product to satisfy their new needs.
Zheng Xiangtian: Customer satisfaction is a complex concept, requiring specific systems and methods throughout all sales stages.
Firstly, overpromising in the pre-sales stage is like a loose cannon. Suppose what you promise runs against the direction of future iterations of your products. In that case, customer satisfaction will not go up no matter how hard you try. This is especially true in the case of SaaS companies because the project can’t be made up of customized methods.
Secondly, two situations may be involved during sales: One is that we proactively satisfy customers, and the other is that we passively fulfill their requirements. For example, in the former case, we helped a supplier’s factory with connections some time ago. We found that many workers in the factory were elderly with poor cultural education and poor eyesight, and they even felt uneasy about using an app with a lightweight design. However, we managed to turn it into voice control, enabling planning to be finished by voice guidance. We had this idea when upgrading products before, but we did not know the applicable scenarios. If our project manager and sales staff did not care about customer satisfaction and didn’t give us feedback about this, we would be leaving the older workers to use the small PBA. If that happened, the customer will definitely be dissatisfied.
Thirdly, to secure sound and stable product quality in the after-sales stage, the company needs a mechanism for analyzing and fulfilling customer feedback. After-sales service in SaaS companies is a tough job, subject to the risk of product instability caused by every iteration and connections with some customers’ internal systems and APIs. Suppose you don’t have a solid technical team to support after-sales iteration or a mechanism to respond to customer feedback. In that case, you will be overwhelmed by complaints from your customers.
What constitutes the product soul? How to make a product distinctive?
Zhang Yifan: High customer satisfaction will contribute to a high renewal rate. However, it is a complex process. We observe a phenomenon among 2B software products: players on the same track share similar content on their business plans, especially in the features. Does that mean that 2B software products will end up being homogenized? Obviously not. According to our experience, the first echelon of each vertical track will generally take shape after four to five years of total competition. The leading vendors can significantly outperform competitors in software products. So how can we characterize our products and build up comparative advantages?
Zheng Xiangtian: You can’t work on products without reference to what the world requires. It is necessary to observe other players on the same track. For example, E2open, which was listed in the US last year, and SAP’s HANA under Ariba are born out of market exploration.
More importantly, we have to be clear about our products in response to specific scenarios of our target customers. Here’s a case. We had a project helping OEM with customer-supplied materials, and we won the customer because we can help manage them. If we can’t support that, we can’t differentiate ourselves from other competitors because we all have general features to manage the process, BOM, material, work order, and inventory. So, our products have high value and are competitive because we solve customer problems in specific scenarios. This is the most fundamental thing.
Wang Zhongtian: It is impossible to see a real difference in just a few functions. It’s like an order system designed by a college student as their capstone project. That kind of system allows order placing and payment; so seemingly, it has all of the features available. However, this two-month design is just a program that can run. It is ten times more difficult to turn a program into a project, and a hundred times more challenging to turn a project into a good product. This is because good software requires superior work in three aspects:
The first is the process. Software should adapt to a company’s operations—whether that’s spare parts, service, or settlement—and doing that requires synergy. There is a problem that procedures vary from company to company. It is not easy to manage all the processes. There must be a top-down systematic mechanism.
The second is data, that is, how your data help enterprises with management and decision-making. For example, users can see workers’ performance by looking at their utilization rate.
Third, interactive experience. Software is increasingly focused on the interactive experience. Many internet professionals can deliver concise software, but that software can’t handle enterprises’ affairs. For example, customers want the software to show all of the customer information when the customer service staff receives a phone call, which requires a deep dig into the actual operating scenario.
As a result, it involves a very difficult process to turn a program into a project and then into a software product. That is why SaaS requires enormous investments.
Wang Pei: It’s fascinating to me. Speaking of consumer products, you may all realize a phenomenon in online shopping. If one store is launching a new feature, that feature will soon be found in another store. Strictly speaking, this is also the case in the 2B business model. We’ve learned that in creating SaaS products targeting large enterprises, you must build up the product’s soul. With a soul, others will have a hard time copying your products.
We all know that 2B SaaS products must be designed based on best practices of to be standardized while still unique. An investor once asked me why Zhenyun could handle 200+ projects a year given the same number of staff as peers who could handle only 20 or so. Then I said the truth is simple. We all design products based on a set of best practices for that use case, but many of our peers are based on business processes because this allows them to get a set of products quickly. It comes with a probability that if you are lucky to meet customers with similar business processes, your products will be applicable and can be delivered promptly. However, this luck is often not there. For example, manufacturing involves numerous sub-sectors—like equipment, heavy machine, electronic, and chip manufacturing—each requiring different business processes. If you meet customers with different processes and product designs, you may have to change the underlying logic of your products to make them deliverable.
In terms of Zhenyun’s enterprise procurement, considering the incredibly diverse industry demands, we choose to design products based on the best practices of those categories. For example, most businesses will have a similar procurement process for a bottle of mineral water, regardless of their industry. In this regard, breaking products down into categories will make your products applicable to all customers, to a certain extent, without considering their sector. In this way, your competitors may copy your interface, but they won’t be able to touch your product DNA. Such DNA is the barrier formed by our team based on decades of experience in this field.
Of course, a company’s competitive advantage is attributable to many different things, such as products, marketing methods, customer acquisition methods, and service capabilities. The more aspects you are strong in, the more competitive you will be.
Breaking stereotype: How to standardize large-scale management software products
Zhang Yifan: Our three guests today all specialize in software products targeting large enterprises. People maintain a strong stereotype about SaaS for large enterprises, believing that large Chinese enterprises have too many unique use cases which can only be satisfied by customization. Is this the case in real life? As you’re all working on standardized products, can you share with us your experience in this regard? Also, is the customization case diminishing with our investment in research and development over the years?
Wang Pei: We design a product based on the category, so strictly speaking, we won’t be much bothered by special personalized needs as long as the enterprises—whether central enterprises or state-owned enterprise—use our product to purchase this category. This is because our products are designed based on the best practices of nearly 300 categories. And for any category we’ve never met before, we’ll add its best practices into our design. The personalized needs, and even those beyond our product boundary, don’t constitute our pain point. Our product has very fast building capability as aPaaS platform, so we can quickly tailor to customers’ unique needs.
Wang Zhongtian: Large enterprises tend to have more complex needs, so I think we should first learn to optimize SaaS by focusing on one niche demand, where standardization can be process-driven.
Secondly, your software must also be management-based. Your communication with the customers is a two-way process; the customers are also observing you. The result may be that you convince the customer, or that the customer convinces you. In the latter case, if your software isn’t designed based on best management practices, you might easily promise the customer asks for. Therefore, the software must be practice-based to show the practices of other excellent enterprises. Domestically, we have served Oppo, Vivo, and Xiaomi with the management mode. In this case, customers will trust you and drop unreasonable demands.
Thirdly, an aPaaS platform is still desirable. With an unchanging core, various forms and processes of enterprises can be configured using aPaaS platform to meet their needs.
Zheng Xiangtian: First of all, customer needs vary to a certain degree in the pre-sales stage, so we need to take orders within our product capacity while making customers realize that the SaaS service model can gradually meet their needs. Regarding internal product operation, besides the aPaaS platform for effective personalized development, we should make employees aware of how the company’s products work. As the team grows, many employees have no idea how to effectively use the company’s products even after internal training. They may not even know that a combination of the product features can fulfill particular customer needs but regard such needs as personalized needs instead. Therefore, the reason why the customer needs turn into personalized needs is that they are beyond the product boundary in the pre-sales stage, and employees don’t know much about the product.
The ideas about integration and personalization differ among people. For example, if a key account has already employed ERP, CRM, etc., it wants to use your module to solve specific problems, and so you have to integrate it with existing systems. To achieve this, the customer may ask you to write something or display a system value on the interface in addition to the API connection. There is no way to avoid this. In this case, better tools are needed from aPaaS and for companies’ technical staff and industry research staff to satisfy customers. Nevertheless, in the face of personalized needs, we should estimate the product boundary and consider whether our future product iterations can cover such needs.
Born out of the IT consulting company HAND Enterprise Solutions Co., Ltd. (stock code: 300170), Zhenyun Technology is a domestic digital procurement management platform provider. Aiming to revolutionize the digital procurement of enterprises, it provides medium and large enterprises with digital solutions to the procurement of productive and non-productive materials, making enterprise procurement management intelligent, improving supply efficiency, and reducing risks and costs in the process.
Through SaaS, Zone Science and Technology Co., Ltd. engages core manufacturing enterprises in supply chain production collaboration to form a collaborative industry networks.
FS Cloud is a SaaS application for after-sales and field services management dedicated to providing one-stop intelligent service management solutions for medium and large enterprises. By building intelligent service management platforms, it helps enterprises to digitalize their services and drive their service efficiency, customer exper
In recent years, additive manufacturing has become an important keyword for industrial upgrading in China. Unlike subtractive manufacturing, additive manufacturing fabricates objects with successive layers of materials. Without extra cost, it can deal with more complex design and product diversification, and enjoys more design freedom with less pressure from assembly and delivery. As a new technology that integrates intelligent and sustainable manufacturing with new materials and precision control, it plays an essential role in the “Made in China 2025” strategic plan. The Wohlers Report 2021 revealed that additive manufacturing (both products and services) have grown rapidly in the last decade, reaching a value of nearly $12.8 billion in 2020, with an annual growth rate of 27.4%.
The growth of additive manufacturing coincides with Blue Lake Capital’s investment focus on “technology for industrial innovation.” In the past few years, Blue Lake Capital has invested in many innovative additive manufacturing companies in China, including Shanghai Fuzhi Information Technology Co. (“Raise3D”) and Hubei Super Aviation Technology Co.
With the goal of becoming the leading 3D printing equipment manufacturer in the world, Raise3D has achieved a lot with its global strategy and supreme products. According to Context’s statistics, Raise3D ranks third in the world and first in China in the 2020 professional 3D printing market sales.
Raise3D closed its Series B+ financing round—led by Blue Lake Capital—last May and secured 100 million yuan in its Series C round last week (February 18), in which Blue Lake Capital also took part.
During the “Blue Lake Capital Investor Conference 2022,” Haitao Wei, Partner at Blue Lake Capital; Andrew Lu, Senior Associate at Blue Lake Capital; and Edward Feng, Founder and CEO of Raise3D, discussed “The Value and Application of Additive Manufacturing in Intelligent Manufacturing,” taking a look at the additive manufacturing industry from the perspective of both investors and entrepreneurs.
Andrew Lu: Additive manufacturing is still new to many people, who may only see the term in the core industries listed in the 14th Five-Year Plan. Blue Lake Capital has been active in this sector in recent years. So how do you see additive manufacturing in the big picture of intelligent manufacturing?
Haitao Wei: Additive manufacturing is an advanced processing technology that Blue Lake Capital has followed with keen interest for many years. In the automotive industry, powder metallurgy and injection molding of metals or ceramics are very mature technologies in this regard. It is the opposite of subtractive manufacturing, such as the cutting process in metal manufacturing, and so additive manufacturing enjoys a higher material utilization rate, using 98% or even 100% of raw materials in finished products.
It has a variety of applications, and Blue Lake Capital values technology innovation with this kind of industrialization possibilities. Applying new processing technology in manufacturing brings enormous potential and power for development. As you can see from Raise3D, the technology can upgrade production while reducing costs and receiving high customer acceptance. Therefore, we are very optimistic about the additive manufacturing industry and about investing in it.
Edward Feng: Our vision is for flexible manufacturing based on 3D printing. Traditionally, large-scale production is in quantities of millions or above. At the same time, flexible manufacturing is about producing only hundreds or thousands. With hardware, software, materials, and a platform built on 3D printing, we can realize customized and small-scale production.
Andrew Lu: In 2021, both primary and secondary additive manufacturing markets at home and abroad kept booming, and companies like Bright Laser Technologies and Farsoon Technologies have attracted a lot of attention in the domestic market. From an industry perspective, what makes 3D printing so popular?
Edward Feng: From where I stand, the popularity of 3D printing has a lot to do with the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has held back the development of many industries, but not 3D printing.
In 2020, when the supply chain suffered from the material shortage in Europe and the United States, many people turned to 3D printing for COVID-19 prevention supplies. There was a news report, in May 2020, about a U.S. soldier using two 3D printers to print out four N95 masks in 45 hours. It was beyond our imagination because the supply chain in China was intact. People were saying things like, “Isn’t that stupid? Why not just buy them instead of wasting two days printing them?” What people didn’t understand is that the production of a mask requires a dozen suppliers working together. However, with a 3D printer and raw materials, one person would be enough, and it may take a long time but it can help people to cope with the shortage of supplies.
From the supply perspective, the 3D printing industry woke up the leading material manufacturers, such as BASF SE and Covestro AG. They started to focus on how to switch to 3D printable materials and to solve the problem of material shortage, which is where 3D printing fits in.
From the demand perspective, on the one hand, engineers, especially in Europe and the United States, begin to see how 3D printing can increase output. This is why the application of 3D printing in dentistry in the last year or two has grown dramatically. And in addition, the decreasing price of 3D printers has accelerated market sales.
Last year in collaboration with Peak and Jordan, Raise3D launched several 3D-printed shoes in China. It really highlighted that the manufacturing industry, especially for footwear and apparel manufacturers, has seen rising labor costs due to recruitment difficulties while shifting to Southeast Asia. And 3D printing came to the rescue.
3D printing can effectively reduce the labor costs, and this is a new solution that additive manufacturing brings from the manufacturers’ perspective.
Haitao Wei: From our perspective, additive manufacturing can be of great value to the manufacturing supply chain. First, this new technology enables manufacturers to improve production capacity economically. Second, given China’s huge market and export capacity, more global companies like Raise3D can emerge. The enterprises will be able to embrace a larger market size and a higher level of development. This is what people get excited about and why the capital market has started to lay eyes on additive manufacturing in the past year or two.
Andrew Lu: Blue Lake Capital attaches great importance to technology industrialization. However, there is still a long way to go from a technology to a product that can be mass-produced and bought in the market. So what are the critical elements in between?
Edward Feng: There are two aspects. First, the product—what the technology can produce—Is everything. In my eyes, the most challenging thing about innovation is not to solve but to find the problems. Raise3D believes that the product comes first. In the United States, we have tens of thousands of users. We directly communicate with them through a dozen engineers to fully understand their needs to upgrade our hardware and software products constantly.
Second, engineers still need to bridge the gap between technology prototypes and mass production. The requirements of the supply chain, operation system, and R&D system vary with the production scale, and a perfect prototype always exposes many problems in mass production.
Haitao Wei: As you said, a seemingly simple task of 3D printing takes a lot of effort. Raise3D’s products are made in China and sold directly to Europe and the United States. The long distance between the R&D team and the clients sets very high requirements for the software and hardware supply chain and assembly required to achieve excellent product quality and stable performance. But Raise3D has managed to do so.
This is how convincing a product can be, and it is the reason why we invested in Raise3D when we had only met each other once. This cooperation is attributed to your trust in Blue Lake Capital. What strikes me the most is the way that Raise3D stands out in the extraordinarily ferocious competition in 3D printing. In 2015, countless 3D printing companies rushed into the market. They focused on the domestic market, selling a few products to researchers in universities. But Raise3D decided to go for the challenging overseas market, because they wanted to be tested in a more mature market. Even now, we still agree with this decision. Now, 3D printing is gradually becoming an essential production tool in Europe and the United States, and China is also on the way.
We see technology industrialization come down to the following points: Firstly, there must be a real problem to solve. If a product cannot solve customers’ issues, there’s no way to sell it. Secondly, it matters whether the product and technology can meet customers’ needs. Finally, the market has to be big enough to allow the company to obtain a revenue like 500 million or a billion yuan to scale up. If all of those are in place, then with product innovation and iteration, the company can stay as a leading player in the industry.
The gap between technology and industrialized products is enormous. But more Chinese companies are playing leading roles by bringing them together in the global market. I feel lucky as an investor to be in this field.
Andrew Lu: As a booming industry, what are the new or noteworthy opportunities in the sector of additive manufacturing?
Edward Feng: After a 30-year development history in 3D printing, why did it grow so quickly in the last decade after 20 years of slow steps? The turning point was the RepRap Project in 2008, which dragged down the price of 3D printers to thousands of U.S. Dollars, launching a new era of 3D printing. Before that, 3D printers cost at least hundreds of thousands, even millions of yuan, and the consumable materials cost thousands of yuan per kilogram. It was the high price that kept 3D printing away from applications.
For me, success in the additive manufacturing sector lies in three things: save money, save time, and solve problems. In the past two or three decades, additive manufacturing has been more about solving problems, such as aerospace and military industries, which have enough budget and urgent needs to keep up with requirements. Even with limited use, 3D printing had its application scenarios. It was like five-star luxury hotels in the hotel industry before the emergence of 3D printers at a few thousand U.S. dollars in 2008. The position of luxury hotels is limited, and smaller ones can be unsafe. The largest group of business travelers need convenience hotels. That was the situation with 3D printing. We entered the 3D printing industry in 2013 and failed two years later. But we came back in 2015 with the belief that 3D printing needs to be affordable and easy to access for further development.
I see great opportunities in three directions:
First, in the price zone from $25,000,000 to $20,000. Any technology that comes down in this price zone has a huge opportunity.
Second, the applications of special materials. When Blue Lake Capital was about to invest in us, we were developing 3D printing applications for metals and ceramics. With their help, we have a better understanding of the special materials market in this regard.
Last, for specific application scenarios. For example, after the material R&D for low-cost technologies—whether in the footwear and apparel industry or 3D medical applications, such as assistive devices and orthopedic insoles—reasonable solutions based on specific application scenarios are be promising.
Haitao Wei: The additive manufacturing companies we invested in have their specialty. Raise3D engages in productivity tools, while Hubei Super Aviation Technology provides solutions for end-to-end closed-loop scenarios. I think there will be more opportunities in both directions.
( Raise3D is a professional 3D printer equipment manufacturer that provides state-of-the-art 3D printing equipment and solutions for leading global manufacturing companies (including SpaceX, Tesla, Apple, DJI, etc.), helping them to accelerate R&D innovation and product iteration and realize flexible manufacturing in the future. Raise3D products are sold in 173 countries and regions worldwide, and more than 50,000 manufacturers worldwide have chosen to use Raise3D products. Statistics show that Raise3D ranked third in the world and first in China in professional 3D printing devices in 2020. )
Wei Haitao, Partner at Blue Lake Capital, remarked, “we firmly believe that any new process with a solid technical underpinning will have tremendous potential and explosive growth power in the manufacturing industry… Raise3D has had an impressive growth curve over the last six years since its founding. After leading the round of investment in Raise3D last year, we are very pleased to see the significant iteration of its premier model (Pro3) over the previous generation (Pro2), as well as whopping increases in sales. Furthermore, the industrial machine and metal 3D printing solutions successfully launched by the company last year attest to the remarkable exploratory spirit and product implementation of the Raise3D team in additive manufacturing. We are confident that the Raise3D team will replicate the high-growth shipment curve of the Pro2 and Pro3 series in its new product category, thus elevating Raise3D to an even higher level of business performance.”
Shanghai Fuzhi Information Technology Co., Ltd. (“Raise3D”)—a global professional 3D printer manufacturer—recently announced the completion of its Series C financing round, raising 100 million RMB. GP Hi-Tech Capital led this round of funding, followed by Chuangyu Investment, with B+ investors C&D Emerging Industry Equity Investment and Blue Lake Capital continuing to follow up its previous investments in Raise3D.
Raise3D is a professional 3D printer equipment manufacturer that provides state-of-the-art 3D printing equipment and solutions to leading global manufacturing companies (including SpaceX, Tesla, Apple, and DJI), helping them to accelerate R&D innovation and product iteration, and to realize flexible manufacturing in the future. Raise3D products are sold in 173 countries and regions and are used by more than 50,000 manufacturers worldwide.
As a fast-growing top-notch tech company, Raise3D has established global teams for collaborative innovation. Headquartered in Shanghai with manufacturing bases in Nantong and Suzhou, the company has proactively engaged in synergistic research and development in China, the United States, and Europe. It has now set up overseas offices and specialized international teams in California and Rotterdam.
After six years of development, Raise3D has established itself as a world-class brand with outstanding product strength and a high market share. In the past year, Raise3D sold almost 10,000 professional 3D printing devices worldwide, further expanding its market share. Statistics show that Raise3D ranked third in the world and first in China in professional 3D printing devices in 2020. Using the funds raised from this financing round, Raise3D will invest in new technologies and engineering applications to expand its product portfolio and its production capacity in Suzhou in addition to construction a new R&D center in Wuhan.
Feng Hua, Founder and CEO of Raise3D said that “as manufacturing companies continue to realize the changes and benefits brought about by digitization and in-house innovation, we have seen enormous opportunities for professional 3D printers which enterprises use for prototyping or small-batch manufacturing.” He continued that “the newly raised funds will enable us to develop a more diversified product portfolio for this market. We will expand our application fields from 3D printing equipment to consumables, especially our production in the high-precision industry. We will continue to invest in the research and development of 3D printing technologies for high-performance materials such as metals, ceramics and fiber-reinforced composites and strive to provide the replicability required for industrial production and empower intelligent industrial manufacturing. We are full of confidence in the new product forms we will develop at the next stage, and our customers are also looking forward to our products.”
Ray Hu, Founder & Managing Partner of Blue Lake Capital, delivered a recent speech titled “The Future of China’s Digital Economy from a Venture Capital Perspective” at the World Innovators Meet (WIM) 2021 Global Real Economy and Technology Summit, hosted by EqualOcean.
This speech has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Dear all, I am Ray Hu, the founder and managing partner of Blue Lake Capital. It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to you today.
Blue Lake Capital is a venture capital firm specializing in the technology sector. Since our founding in 2014, we have made investments targeting digital transformation and digital upgrades. We see two major motivations for digitalization: one is cost reduction and efficiency which can be improved through software for daily operation and management; the other is the constant need for upgrades and iteration in China’s vast manufacturing industry. Accordingly, we focus on investment in intelligent manufacturing and enterprise software, especially cloud-based SaaS software.
2020 proved to be remarkably special. It saw an almost 17% rise in GDP for the software and IT services industry. This high growth rate in a single sector in such a huge economy is partly fueled by the pandemic and partly because China is hitting rapid growth in digitalization.
China’s digital transformation is unique, and it’s only just beginning. There are almost 200 software companies listed in the A-share market, valued at a total of 3 trillion yuan, representing a significant revenue volume, and China is a leader globally in terms of research capabilities in artificial intelligence technology. As a result, digitalization and intelligence in China progress in tandem and largely on the same frequency as the world.
Digitalization has broad applications in China’s manufacturing industry. However, this industry has faced a considerable challenge: it’s big but not strong. To achieve breakthroughs in manufacturing capacity and efficiency, we, as the world’s most significant manufacturing power, should inevitably turn to “digital transformation and upgrades.” The country has high expectations and high requirements for the manufacturing industry, especially in terms of core process innovation, digitalization of production lines, intelligent equipment, and localization of industrial software. This turns out to be a good opportunity for entrepreneurship and investment.
So how big is the market opportunity in this industry? Let’s make a simple analogy. Informatization and digitization have been revolutionizing the consumer market in China since 2000. China’s six largest consumer tech companies add up to a market cap of almost $2.5 trillion US dollars. As the world’s second-largest economy, China is bursting with market opportunities even greater than the consumer market, if enterprise management and manufacturing can be intelligently and digitally transformed.
Among these opportunities, we see application-side enterprise software offerings as “low-hanging fruit” that will mature the fastest in the next 2 to 3 years. Let’s make a simple calculation of the growth of China’s SaaS market in the next few years. Based on a P/S standard growth rate of 20-25x (the average P/S for US SaaS companies is 20x), the value of China’s SaaS market is expected to exceed 6 trillion yuan in 2025. China’s SaaS software entrepreneurship is entering into its golden time:
First, the software market shows strong performance both in terms of supply and demand. China has one of the highest smartphone penetration rates in the world. The public cloud infrastructure here is expanding at an extremely rapid pace. Compared with 2015, AliCloud’s revenue grew 50-fold over five years, while its public cloud offerings saw a dramatic drop in unit price. This is a very representative signal. Similarly, the US SaaS software market also began to boom with the commercialization of AWS in those days. It made an affordable platform available for developers, which contributed to the blossoming of the SaaS market.
Second, we believe that Chinese entrepreneurs stand a perfect chance of making globally leading software products. For one thing, China already leads the world in AI algorithms and capabilities, and today’s enterprise software has undergone the digitization and intelligentization process. For another thing, China leads the world in the mobile internet ecosystem. Thanks to the accumulation of the consumer internet industry in the past two decades, we now enjoy the world’s leading mobile payment and communication software. Many applications can be exposed to end-users through mini-programs and enterprise-level communication tools—DingTalk, WeCom, Feishu, etc.
Third, Although China’s SaaS offerings remain in the early stages of popularization compared to the mature market in the US, we believe that, fueled by the previous two reasons, the penetration of SaaS offerings in China can increase from 13% in 2020 to 25% in 2023.
SaaS offerings are one of the few growing and reliable business models in the B2B market. The past 2 to 3 years have seen increasing attention in the software industry from the primary market. 2021 is a milestone year. Investment in the SaaS industry in the first half of this year was 70% of that in the whole of last year, and VCs are increasing their investment in the software industry.
In the secondary market, the cumulative market cap of the 40 leading cloud-based SaaS companies in the US has grown nearly 6.7 times over the past five years. In comparison, the Nasdaq index has grown 1.8 times, meaning that SaaS software companies outperformed the technology stock market by almost five times. This is similar to the Chinese market. We have fitted the market cap performance of A-share listed SaaS companies to the Blue Lake China SaaS Index. This index also outperformed the A-share index by 4 to 5 times. The capital market shows high investment enthusiasm for SaaS enterprises.
As a venture capital firm specializing in digital transformation and upgrades, we have invested in nearly 30 companies in the software industry over the past five years, making extensive layouts. More than 10 of them have now reached first place in their respective tracks, each of them at least two to three times bigger than their biggest competitor.
These products focus on scenarios in various functional departments of enterprises, such as sales, human resources, procurement, finance, and legal affairs as well as subsectors like automobile, catering, e-commerce, games, and industry.
The application scenario in the manufacturing industry is particularly worth mentioning. If we split the business chain of the manufacturing industry, there are a lot of digitalization scenarios involved, ranging from supply chain collaboration, procurement, and design of core software components to the production process and the post-production inspection link. Blue Lake has also made investments in each of these segmented scenarios. The inspection link, for example, is perceived as a very traditional artificial link, i.e., engineers send sample products to the laboratory for quality inspection. However, this approach has made it increasingly difficult to meet production requirements. Many manufacturers have raised new requirements for inspection means and methods today, including demanding full inspections. In this regard, efficiently capturing the data collected in the inspection, like optical, vibration, and acoustic signals, and making quick and accurate judgments, has become an urgent issue. Digitalization enters the picture as the best solution.
Digital innovation spans a vast scope and is a world-class market where Chinese entrepreneurs can participate and make an impact. As a venture capital firm concerned with the digital transformation and upgrading of enterprises, we have seen an increasing number of startup teams on the front line make breakthroughs in technology and products. We believe China will bring world-class digitalized products to the global market.
Looking back, what is the core driving force behind China’s miraculous ability to sustain rapid growth over the last four decades from reform and opening until now? From a humanistic perspective, it is the hard-working spirit of the Chinese people. From an industrial perspective, China is now at a special stage of development. China spent 40 years advancing in urbanization, industrialization, and informatization all in parallel, covering a development course of nearly 200 years in Western countries. As the world’s second-largest economy, China still boasts a world-leading GDP growth rate today. As an investment institution, we feel fortunate to be able to do our part in the digital transformation and upgrading of China’s economy together with outstanding entrepreneurs.Thank you.
Blue Lake Capital was awarded the following at the World Innovation Award 2021 (WIA2021)
– 2021 China’s 10 Investment Institutions: Science & Technology
– 2021 China’s 10 Investment Institutions: Smart Manufacturing
HireEZ, the global AI talent recruitment platform formerly known as Hiretual, recently closed a Series B+ funding of $26 million USD led by US-based Conductive Ventures and followed by Blue Lake Capital, a leading Chinese venture capital fund.
HireEZ was founded in Silicon Valley in 2015. As one of the fastest-growing AI technology companies in Silicon Valley, hireEZ is committed to building the world’s largest talent knowledge map and AI recruitment SaaS system. Between its leading technology and products and its incredible 250%+ annual revenue growth, hireEZ was ranked top three in the recruitment automation category by G2 Crowd in 2022.
Traditional recruiting solutions are stretched thin in today’s tight labor market. According to a study submitted in January 2022 by SIA (Staffing Industry Analysts), the US’s top HR consulting firm, more than 71% of companies are facing a talent shortage and plan to increase their recruiting budgets. The high cost of recruiting has led many companies to use SaaS on a large scale to fuel talent acquisition. hireEZ is transforming the existing passive recruitment model with “Outbound Recruiting” which implants AI in each company’s HR system and improve the intelligence of recruitment of automated recruitment. The term “outbound recruiting” is derived from “outbound marketing,” which has been popular since around the turn of the millennium. For hireEZ users, the average time to find the right candidate has been reduced by 50%, while acquiring 5x more suitable candidates.
hireEZ’s entrepreneurial journey began with a common pain point that the two founders, Jiang Haiqing (Steven Jiang) and Zhang Xinwen, experienced at Samsung R&D. When Jiang first arrived at Samsung’s newly established R&D department, the biggest challenge was how to recruit the right talent for the job. From seven employees in the beginning to a team of two or three hundred a few years later, recruiting was an issue the two often discussed. Jiang found that the current recruitment process and methods made it difficult to complete the recruitment task with efficiency and high standards. In his opinion, recruitment is a basic problem faced by all industries and all companies. With their confidence in technology and business know-how, they decided to enter the recruitment SaaS industry, thus starting their technology venture.
Today, hireEZ is the market-leading intelligent recruiting SaaS system that provides employers with talent market insights. hireEZ builds data-driven recruiting strategies to engage with the right candidates by integrating with nearly 50 leading CRM/ATS platforms and having over 750 million candidate resumes. With hireEZ, employers can execute a proactive, strategic, and scalable recruiting strategy to achieve rapid team expansion.
Thanks to its globalization strategy, hireEZ’s clients among Fortune 500 companies include technology giants such as Cisco, Zoom, Facebook, Amazon, and many other established companies such as Visa, Mastercard, Verizon, and Adobe. hireEZ’s clients come from over 30 countries, with most coming from high net worth markets such as the US and Europe.
As a well-known venture capital firm with extensive investment in SaaS, Blue Lake Capital has been looking for investment opportunities in different segments of intelligent SaaS in the global arena. Based on the success of the “active marketing model,” Blue Lake believes hireEZ to be the ZoomInfo of the recruitment industry, allowing recruiters to proactively reach potential candidates. According to Chen Haohui, the partner at Blue Lake Capital, “hireEZ provides recruiters with a ‘talent resume database.’” In the coming years, as the proactive recruiting approach matures, it will gradually become an indispensable channel for corporate recruiting in the global market, just like the explosive growth of proactive sales a few years before.
With the completion of a new round of funding, the company has upgraded its branding from Hiretual to hireEZ. hireEZ is inspired by the company’s mission: Outbound Recruiting Made Easy (EZ), and is dedicated to truly realizing its revolutionary vision of “Make Jobs Find People.” “In this unprecedented era, recruiting has become an extremely challenging task,” says CEO and co-founder Jiang Haiqing. “Recruiting teams can no longer afford to wait for candidates to submit their resumes; they must take a more proactive approach to recruitment to effectively grow the company’s workforce. That’s why we upgraded our brand from Hiretual to hireEZ to clarify our mission.”
hireEZ is a global and multicultural company that has been committed to empowering global recruitment since day one. Currently, hireEZ has built a global driving engine with collaboration in Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou, Xiamen, and its Silicon Valley headquarters, with talent from seven countries working together for the success of hireEZ’s global clients. hireEZ employees have worked for some of the most innovative companies in Silicon Valley, and have graduated from Stanford, UC Berkeley, Peking University, China University of Science and Technology, Shanghai Jiaotong University, Zhejiang University, and other top universities.
Jiang Haiqing graduated from the University of Science and Technology of China with a degree in Computer Science, and the CTO Zhang Xinwen graduated from Huazhong University of Science and Technology with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from George Mason University. They have both worked at Samsung R&D. hireEZ has absolute intellectual property rights to AI technology patents and continues to collaborate with top AI labs and publish papers. After this round of financing, hireEZ plans to further invest in product innovation, expand operations, and initiate global recruitment of talented individuals to strengthen its global dominance in the active recruitment space, said Jiang Haiqing.
Haohui Chen, partner at Blue Lake Capital, has recently announced “It is a great pleasure to introduce another important investment by Blue Lake in the cross-border e-commerce sector. The sportswear category is enormous and growing steadily, and the increase in e-commerce penetration will further drive the growth of 3rd-party sellers and DTCs. Xiamen Dream Supply Chain Co., Ltd. (“Xiamen Dream”) is one of the few teams in the cross-border e-commerce field that is grounded in its supply chain integration, highly efficient, and dedicated in its operations. Xiamen Dream is gradually carving out its market share and has great potential to grow to become the best sports brand from China.”
In December 2021, the cross-border sports brand “Xiamen Dream” completed a Series A funding round of 100 million Chinese yuan led by CCIG Cultural Investment Fund (a subsidiary of China Capital Investment Group) and co-invested by Blue Lake Capital. Xiamen Dream owns “BALEAF” in addition to other sportswear brands, and it is a growing force in the international sportswear industry, with the brand becoming increasingly popular among consumers in North America and Europe.
Founded in 2014, Xiamen Dream focuses on sports apparel and peripherals in five categories: yoga, running, outdoor, cycling, and surfing & swimming. Their products are sold in North America, Europe, Japan, and South Korea, relying on brand websites and mainstream e-commerce platforms such as Amazon. Xiamen Dream is a leading company in the industry in terms of its supply chain, user scale, and brand awareness, and has maintained high growth for many years, making it one of the most promising companies in the field of cross-border e-commerce.
The core team at Xiamen Dream comes from numerous renowned Chinese Internet companies, including listed companies and traditional apparel industry giants. The team has rich experience in big data, e-commerce, supply chain, product development, brand upgrading, and more. The company greatly values its talent training and corporate culture, and has set up the Xiamen Dream Research Center to build its talent training system.
Xu Muxuan, the founder of Xiamen Dream, said, “This is a year of opportunity and a year of great challenge for Chinese manufacturers to build their brands globally. Behind a successful brand, there must be a consistent belief: a way to resist short-term temptations and consistently make the right choices. These are the questions we think about most often. We have helped a large number of suppliers grow from small workshops to companies with annual revenues of millions or tens of millions, and these partners have also worked with us to provide consumers with high-quality and cost-effective products. And it is our team, our partners, and our consumers together that have made Xiamen Dream what it is today. This new funding round marks a new starting point for Xiamen Dream. We will continue to invest in information technology, product development, and brand-building to continue to bring excellent and high quality sports products to our customers.”
Going forward, Xiamen Dream will continue to focus on the sports industry by building a brand omnichannel, continuing to expand its market scale and brand awareness, building an internal big data center, and gradually completing its digital transformation. Meanwhile, Blue Lake Capital will continue to help more Chinese brands go abroad through the standardization of the cross-border e-commerce industry.
In January 2022, the WeCom service provider “Tanma SCRM” announced that it has received a 10-million US dollar investment from Welight Capital.
In November 2021, Tanma SCRM received Series B+ funding from Zhong Ding Capital, followed by Series B funding in July, led by SoftBank Ventures Asia and co-invested by Shunwei Capital, and finally Bluelake Capital led the investment in Series A funding in May.
Founded in 2020, Tanma has nearly 500 employees with core team members from well-known enterprises at home and abroad, including Google, Tencent, Baidu, Huawei, Kingdee, IBM and SalesEase. Tanma R&D Center, led by a former Baidu scientist and supported by talents from top universities around the world, focuses on cutting-edge technological innovation based on its rich experience in enterprise services.
As an integrated SaaS platform for marketing, sales, and customer services, Tanma SCRM focuses on both B2C and B2B services enterprises. Its clients come from many sectors including education and training, finance and insurance, medical beauty, home decoration, manufacturing, enterprise services, and more. Consumers in these sectors have a long decision-making cycle, attach great importance product and service experience, and have high brand loyalty. So, they often need professional help from salespersons, consultants, and other experts to establish long-term, profitable relationships.
To address these issues, Tanma launched a social SCRM system with customer and sales management as its core which helps enterprises connect with customers more conveniently than ever. Tanma provides solutions for the whole process of customer acquisition—conversion, transaction, and operation—to reach and convert quality customers. At the same time, through a combination of content and tools, Tanma enhances the professional performance and effectiveness of enterprise employees, strengthens brand trust, and forms a virtuous cycle of word-of-mouth customer acquisition.
To help enterprise customers take full advantage of WeCom to boost business growth, Tanma uses SCRM products to provide operational strategies and SCRM-accelerated implementation support for companies in the private domain businesses. This support can help enterprises to avoid poor operational thinking and low efficiency by allowing them to build on their underlying operational capabilities to achieve cross-cycle, sustainable performance growth.
Some traditional industries do not know how to operate after diverting users to WeCom, resulting in a large number of user losses. Tanma’s training programs help to resolve these issues. As an example, with Tanma’s help, one group enterprise shortened the time of internal WeCom usage training from 30 days to just 7 days, and the activity of their 7,000 employees on WeCom and SCRM increased from 60% to 95%. Further, through tactical adjustment, their rate of WeCom diversion increased from 2% to 20%. Through user research and data analysis, the Tanma team helped this client to sort out the reasons for user losses and reformulate their operation strategy. After a few tests and adjustments, the user retention rate increased to 80%.
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