comScore

Brand Makers

Bookstrapping: Influence Empire - The story of Tencent and China’s tech ambition

Lulu Chen's book is a window into the brainchild of Pony Ma, Tencent’s 'influence empire'. Bookstrapping Rating: 4 stars

By  Reeta Ramamurthy GuptaAug 26, 2022 2:03 PM
Bookstrapping: Influence Empire - The story of Tencent and China’s tech ambition
A master of creating products so convenient and intuitive that billions of users want to join his network, Pony Ma is a private entrepreneur in a state dominant economy with a gift for survival.

Which company powers video games such as Fortnite, Pokemon Unite, Call of Duty, League of Legends, Arena of Valor, Honor of Kings etc?

The answer is Tencent, the brainchild of Ma Huateng, also called Pony Ma.

Notwithstanding the fact that Jack Ma of Alibaba calls Tencent a copy cat company with no innovation, Tencent is one of the highest grossing multimedia companies in the world and ‘the largest’ video gaming company. It has been in the news in August 2022, for repurchasing its shares more aggressively than ever!

Pony Ma (not related to Jack Ma) built Tencent along with co-founders that he met in school; they would spend time competing to recite the digits of Pi in the hallway after class. School halls reverberated with the epigram shi bu wo dai, meaning ‘time will not wait for me.’ One part of the Tencent story could almost belong in a parallel universe like its products. One of three people in the world, use the web accessing it through a filter that obscures Facebook, Twitter Snapchat, Instagram, The New York Times and YouTube! This universe loves WeChat (called Weixin locally.) The other part of the Tencent story lives in the entire world of the eight billion. Flouting the irrational need for overnight success, Tencent has been built over two and a half decades, with tons of collaborative minds. That’s a good thing!

A few other great things about the book.

1. Pony Ma, a programmer, realised early that devices are not instantly scalable like internet platforms. He stepped out of his reticent shell much later in his life when he realised that there was a business need for it. Masterstrokes such as getting soccer superstar Lionel Messi to campaign for WeChat and negotiating with Elon Musk and Evan Spiegel for stakes in their companies made his voice heard.

2. Colleagues describe Pony Ma as temperate, stoic and almost irritatingly self-aware! With his dogged persistence, he rallies people, many of whom he considers smarter by his own account to undertake his mission. A master of creating products so convenient and intuitive that billions of users want to join his network, Pony Ma is a private entrepreneur in a state dominant economy with a gift for survival. And part of this gift is knowing how much and when to talk.

3. The story of the initial hustle is endearing - Pony himself posed as a woman and engaged users in the chat rooms of OICQ his initial venture, inspired by a service ‘ICQ' (I Seek You), a ground-breaking online chat system created by a bunch of Israelis in June 96. OICQ was built on the concept of a fully centralised service with individual user accounts focused on one on one conversation. When AOL bought ICQ, they filed a lawsuit accusing Tencent for violation of intellectual property rights. Tencent had to shut down OICQ. They found a way to rally back.

4. There is a wonderful lesson for modern business owners in the book. When Nasper’s Wallerstein offered Pony Ma a valuation of 60 million dollars, requesting that he become the largest shareholder in Tencent, he refused because he wanted the team to keep control over their company. It wasn’t until Naspers found a way for Tencent founders to maintain control, that the deal worked out.

5. Pony even found his future wife while chatting with a music teacher called Wang Danting for 3 months on his own Internet product QQ.

Naturally, in 2017, when Tencent took over Facebook to become the world's 5th largest company, for many, it came as no surprise at all. What is brilliant is that Tencent has transitioned into a global voice, producing Hollywood blockbusters like Wonder Woman, Men in Black International and Venom.

In being able to reach both the Chinese people and the worldwide audience by entertaining them, lies its ‘influence empire.’

Reeta Ramamurthy Gupta is a columnist and bestselling biographer. She is credited with the internationally acclaimed Red Dot Experiment, a decadal six-nation study on how ‘culture impacts communication.’ On Twitter @OfficialReetaRG.

First Published on Aug 26, 2022 1:59 PM