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The Interview: Yang Lifeng

Internet Entrepreneurship, Technological Disruption, and Global Expansion: An Interview with a Visionary

Q1: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us. Please tell us a little bit about your professional background.

A1: I entered the workforce in 2000, and since then, I have witnessed groundbreaking changes in every industry worldwide due to the Internet. The past two decades have brought more dramatic transformations to the human world than the previous one thousand years combined. It is this extraordinary era that we should be grateful for, as it has allowed us to witness countless wonders and legends.

Throughout my career, I have primarily held the position of a product manager. This role has given me firsthand experience and insights into the emerging trends of the Internet, enabling me to move beyond theoretical understanding and apply my knowledge in practical ways. As one of the first wireless Internet product managers in China, I successfully developed an SMS game product that achieved a remarkable monthly turnover of 5 million. I have also been at the forefront of developing various Internet products in China, including avatars, multiplayer Internet chat rooms, social networking sites (SNS), user-generated content (UGC), and network videos.

Since my graduation, I have dedicated myself to the Internet industry. Working as a product manager for both Chinese and American listed companies, startups, and various other Internet companies, I have witnessed and experienced the rapid growth and development stages of the Internet. From the advent of the World Wide Web, Java, and C++ to the advancements in artificial intelligence, big data, blockchain, and other vertical technologies, I have seen firsthand the iterative and transformative nature of Internet products.

My professional experiences and backgrounds have significantly influenced my personal choices and career development. Leveraging my expertise and practical skills honed over the years, I carefully analyze the Internet industry to identify promising opportunities. As a result, I made the bold decision to become an entrepreneur.

Venturing into entrepreneurship has provided me with a broader perspective on Internet technologies, products, and markets. The fast-paced evolution of the market and intense competition have compelled me to find innovative ways to align my product ideas with market demands. Consequently, I have successfully launched a series of products that have consistently amazed clients and delivered ongoing benefits. Throughout my decade-long entrepreneurial journey, I have progressed from a product manager to a coordinator of Internet service providers. By serving global brands such as Disney, AIA, MLB, and Blackberry, as well as numerous domestic clients, I have gained valuable insights into Internet marketing and incorporated their needs and perspectives into our products and marketing practices. This journey has deepened my understanding of the power of the Internet, especially in the realm of business marketing.

In recent years, my research focus has shifted to the application of blockchain and big data in product development. I firmly believe that these innovative technologies will fundamentally revolutionize conventional business marketing within the Internet model. It brings me great joy to remain at the forefront of Internet development, constantly acquiring new knowledge, and transforming it into products that benefit my clients.

Q2: As co-founders of Zhayanmao (Beijing) Technology Co., Ltd and Xinghui Shengshi (Beijing) Technology Co., Ltd., could you please tell us about your company’s main business model and the services you provide to the public?

A2: Over the past 13 years since the establishment of Xinghui Shengshi, our primary focus has been on assisting corporate clients in achieving more efficient marketing through Internet-based solutions. Whether the objective is to gain attention or directly sell products, our products are designed to develop websites, apps, and WeChat mini programs for clients. Through these platforms, we help showcase their products, attract attention, organize online interactive activities, and facilitate online marketing.

Our business model has evolved significantly over the years. Initially, we operated on a straightforward service fee collection model. However, as our company has grown and developed over the past 13 years, our business model has undergone substantial changes.

During the first three years, we adopted a “customized” development approach that allowed us to provide targeted services efficiently. At that time, websites were the dominant form of online platforms, and we customized website development functions to suit the specific needs of each client. We were among the pioneering companies in China capable of building “multimedia” websites for clients and introducing new concepts and technologies such as “interactive websites” and “responsive websites.” This customized development approach enabled us to gain firsthand knowledge of client demands, establish trust through flexible and relevant customization services, and achieve high client satisfaction. However, the development costs associated with this approach remained high. Fortunately, traditional enterprises had substantial budgets for Internet platform construction, which, coupled with our unique strengths and technological expertise, resulted in our success not only in financial performance but also in client satisfaction.

As Internet technology advanced, and we gained deeper insights into client demands, we began materializing the common requirements of many clients and built our own SaaS (Software as a Service) service platform. This platform allowed us to rapidly provide standardized services to a broader client base, including small and medium-sized clients with limited budgets seeking Internet-based presentation and marketing solutions. It took us three years to establish and commercialize the SaaS platform from scratch. During this period, we designed hundreds of templates with various functional combinations and demonstration patterns, focusing on “low core and high scalability.” Ultimately, we developed a SaaS platform that enables users to generate their presentation and marketing schemes within three minutes by selecting a template. Presently, we have over a thousand paying clients running their websites, public accounts, or mini programs on this platform.

In 2018, after implementing the SaaS service model, we recognized the significant impact that blockchain, big data, and artificial intelligence would have on the Internet landscape. Our larger clients began discussing with us how to leverage these new technologies and modes to efficiently reach users, secure and transmit data safely, and precisely market their products. Given the novelty of these technologies and the inability to develop generalized products for all clients, we reverted to a “customization” approach for large and powerful clients interested in exploring cutting-edge technologies. Simultaneously, we identified common demands for the application of these new technologies and sought ways to generalize them. Consequently, we have developed a range of products that utilize these cutting-edge technologies. However, there is still much progress to be made before creating a widely accessible and usable SaaS platform.

Q3: As an Internet entrepreneur, what is the biggest challenge you have faced in the past 20 years? What are your expectations for the future?

A3: Over the past two decades, the rapid development of technology, particularly in the Internet sector, has presented numerous challenges for entrepreneurs like me. One of the most significant challenges I have faced is the constant need to adapt to new technologies, ideas, and business models. As an entrepreneur, making decisions about what to embrace, who to follow, when to change, and when to wait has been a daunting task.

In the past 10 years alone, we have witnessed the rise of social networking services (SNS), online video platforms, group buying websites, association marketing, peer-to-peer (P2P) finance, online-to-offline (O2O) business models, short videos, interactive live streaming, blockchain, big data, and other internet trends. In this dynamic landscape, there have been numerous opportunities for financial success based solely on “insights.” However, I have regretfully missed out on many of these opportunities due to timidity or lack of knowledge. Seizing these opportunities requires wisdom, vision, and boldness, making it a significant challenge for internet entrepreneurs like me. It is a continuous process of self-challenge, not just in terms of knowledge, but also in awareness and courage. Despite its challenges, I find this journey both exhilarating and rewarding.

Looking ahead, I believe the pace of innovation in the internet industry will not slow down; in fact, “revolutionary” changes may be on the horizon. Recent advancements in blockchain and artificial intelligence have the potential to disrupt traditional internet paradigms. Therefore, I anticipate that the challenges faced by internet entrepreneurs will only increase. Many of these new technologies and models are unfamiliar to traditional internet players, so it is crucial for entrepreneurs to step outside their comfort zones and approach these developments with the curiosity and passion of a 22-year-old graduate student, eager to learn and adapt.

I firmly believe that blockchain and artificial intelligence will fundamentally reshape the traditional internet landscape within the next five to ten years. The products and service models we are accustomed to will undergo fundamental changes. This aligns with the sentiment expressed by the late Steve Jobs: “Stay hungry, stay foolish.” Internet entrepreneurs must maintain a humble and curious mindset to embrace and adapt to the changing times.

Furthermore, I would like to express my perspective on politics, which is typically not a topic entrepreneurs delve into but significantly impacts business development. The rapid technological advancements we are experiencing will likely exacerbate existing conflicts and contradictions among major powers. The long-held concept of an “Internet without borders,” prevalent during the era of globalization, is now at risk of being disrupted. Politicians may further deepen the “digital divide” for their own interests. While I understand the need for governments to safeguard their technological competitiveness and prevent misuse of new technologies, I strongly urge them not to hinder the implementation and progress of new technologies by entrepreneurs in the internet industry like me.

Q4: Why do you wish to expand your business internationally? How do you prepare for expanding your platform in the United States?

A4: The desire to expand my business internationally stems from both my personal inclination towards exploration and the recognition of the United States as a global hub for new technologies and internet operations. As I have grown older, I have developed a strong appreciation for expanding my horizons, both on a personal and commercial level, and this inclination drives my aspiration for international growth.

Looking ahead, the United States will continue to serve as a cradle and testing ground for new internet technologies and operational models. As we are currently experiencing another critical phase of technological transformation, being closer to these emerging technologies is crucial. When I am physically present in the United States, I can more easily connect with partners in blockchain, artificial intelligence, and big data, allowing me to translate these technologies into practical applications and stay at the forefront of the internet industry. Additionally, being in the United States enables me to maintain a heightened awareness and responsiveness to shifting trends. Ultimately, I aim to position myself at the forefront of the internet wave, where significant opportunities lie.

In terms of preparing for expanding my platform in the United States, I firmly believe that information and time gaps can yield significant value.

China and the United States are the world’s two largest nations in terms of productivity and consumption capability. Many American companies, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, are seeking to enter the Chinese market. They invest heavily in marketing their brands on major Chinese internet platforms or enlist the help of advertising agencies to expand their client base in China.

While this approach has been successful in the past, especially when China was considered an “incremental market,” the landscape has shifted in recent years. With the simultaneous launch of new products in the United States and China, the concept of an incremental market has diminished. This raises questions about how American small and medium-sized companies, particularly those lacking core technologies and brand competitiveness, can enter the Chinese market without an information and time gap.

However, I firmly believe that the Chinese market continues to grow, rather than contract. What has changed is the underlying logic of marketing in China. Traditional advertising and marketing methods have become less cost-effective in the Chinese market. Instead, a new approach involving internal operations and closed-loop marketing is necessary to unlock the potential of the Chinese market. Given the limited number of companies that understand this underlying marketing logic and possess the ability to convey this knowledge to American SMEs, an information gap has emerged, creating a fresh opportunity.

Therefore, my expansion into the United States aims to provide the same services and goals for American enterprises, particularly SMEs, as we have been offering to Chinese enterprises. In contrast to the conventional approach adopted by advertising agencies, which relies on extensive funding and rapid expansion, we assist American companies in precisely identifying their initial users in China. Subsequently, we employ internet-based operations to gradually expand their user base, enabling them to establish a strong presence in the Chinese market. Our strategy for expanding the client base in the United States will mirror this sound, precise, and efficient operational approach. In essence, the process involves identifying initial clients, creating compelling case studies, and steadily broadening the client base.

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