Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Baidu's Six Years(Part 2) (9/12/05)

The formal start of Baidu was in March, 2000. Besides the few working in treausre, accounting and adminstration area, all the employees were from technical background. Yanhong Li and Yong Xu also carry the burden of sales. There were only five full time employees. The rest were part-time students from the prestigious Peking University and Tsinghua University. Yanhong Li recalled the then situation in China. He said he wanted to hire many technical staff but there were just not many people who understood search technology at all. So they have to do everything themselves and train others at the same time.

Li's new company chose to rent offices in the Ziyuan Building owned by Peking University. It is very close to Peking Univeristy. The Zhongguanchun high tech zone as well as the the Loop4 highway are also within sight. It's an ideal place for a high tech startup. He selected the location based on his Silicon Valley experience. Many companies are built around the Stanford University in the Silicon Valley. It's very convenient to have professors and students taking on part-time projects.

They were lucky to get the last two available rooms in the Ziyuan Building. Room 420 is near the corner. It is a bigger room good for technical development. Room 406 is right in the middle of the hall way and only as big as about 200 square feet. Yanhong set up the finance and administration in the smaller room. He set up his desk next to the window in Room 420. From there he could see clearly the Beida(Chinese name for Peking University)' Dormitory 43 where he spent his college years. In the evening, the lights from Dorm 43 often refreshed his memory of his college years.

Ziyuan Building was surronded by many trees. The big scholar tree was at least 30 years old. That summer, cicadas were singing all night long on the tree. Seems like they were having an endless discussion. The lights were on all night in Room 420. Someone got too tired and fell asleep on the chair. Others went to restroom and washed their sleepiness away with cold water before coming back to work more in front of their monitors. The "smoking citizen" were having a better way to fight the darkness by sitting in the open hallway next to the restroom. They clouded the air while listening to cicada's singing.

Baidu was born like a campus folktale. In two years, they have captured 80% of the Chinese search market. At the begining of 2002, the company moved to a much larger place in the High Technology Building.

After the Chinese new year of 2002, Baidu started second round expansion. This time it is all because of Google.

Google has started it's Chinese version of search for about two years. It was spreading quickly through the word of mouth among Chinese internet surfers. A pressure started to build up on Yanhong Li and that made him unsettled - One one side, Baidu was occupying 80% of the Chinese search market. One the other side, Google has become the main stream search engine around the world. And Google has started it's ascend like a giant search engine killer. It quickly defeated Infoseek and Yahoo. Yanhong got motivated. He said to himself, in other parts of the world, Google may have won many battles easily. but in China, Yanghong would fight to the end.

Starting in March, 2002, Yanhong Li started to build their special tech forces. They spent heavy incentives to hire research talents. They wanted to chase and surpass Google's technical advantages. Yanhong named this tightly-lipped move as "Lightning Plan".

According to Yanhong Li's instructions, the members of the "Lightning Plan" tech team must catch up the overall level of search technologies at Google; increase the daily pageviews by ten-fold, surpass Google's daily download content by 30%; cut the responding time to as short as Google's; and make content refresh rate faster than Google's . . .

That summer was extremely hot.

The "Lightning Plan" team were focusing their effort on technical innovations. At break time, they also made a small but unusual innovation. They bought a remotely controlled toy car. The disks are put on the car and were sent to whoever needs them. That have saved them quite some time. Someone also brought in a skateboard and riding on it to the treasurer's office to get a fast reimbursement. "Lightling Plan" took fun from the burning maddness.

By August 2002, Yanhong Li was not satisfied with the progress of the "Lightning Plan". He took over and named himself the head of the team and worked together with the team members. With his accumlated knowledges in search engine technology and his good understanding of the leading technologies in the world, his participation sped up "Lightning Plan" dramatically. By December of 2002, the last leaf on the old scholar tree next to where they used to live had fallen. The "Lighting Plan" in the new building is finally finished. The dusts have settled down from the long busy period.

The result of "Lightning Plan" was tremendous. Inside Baidu, many quietly removed their Google links. They started using Baidu themselves with confidence. Among the net surfers, Baidu's praises were catching up Google's. When Yanhong met his friend, he was still too shy to "Baidunize" them. So the marketing chief, Sheng Bi helped him out: "Baidu is better than Google now!" he told Yanhong's friends. It is known now that many of these "Baidunized" friends, no one has felt they were "cheated" to Baidu. Many independent critics have said that since then, "Baidu is as good as Google in the area of search in Chinese".

It is clear, "Lightning Plan" has succeded. It is not only beat back it's largest competitor, but also greatly expanded Baidu's market share. It also greatly strengthened Baidu's research and development. The research team had grown bigger. There were no "victory celebration". Yanhong took the team for a couple of hiking trips in the suburb to thank everyone.

The road ahead for Baidu is long and treacherous. Compare to collegues in the Silicon Valley, Yanhong is only knowing the Chinese way better.

-->Part 3


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