iAsk Lianqiang Ji: How to run a business as an investor?
Since the first issue of " iAsk Entrepreneurial Investors", we have shared the stories of too many entrepreneurial investors. Whether it is Boquan He, Founder of Robust, or Zhe Wei, Former CEO of Alibaba, or Hang Zhou, the pioneer of the domestic car-hailing services, they all switched from running businesses to making investments.
As an entrepreneurial investor, Lianqiang Ji, who was born after 1980s, seems to have taken a path that is exactly the opposite. He shifted to operating a business entity through investing.
In 2015, Lianqiang Ji, General Manager of Beijing Cultural Center Fund (BCCF) then, acquired 75% of the shares of AirMedia at the cost of RMB 2.1 billion yuan. Many people questioned the high acquisition cost, the gloomy prospects of the traditional media industry and the ability of an investor to run a business.
A year later, AirMedia responded with a record-high business performance. Three years later, AirMedia covered more than 30 airports in China and controlled 90% of the domestic digital media resources. Under the management of Lianqiang Ji, AirMedia has become a veritable leader in the domestic aviation media industry.
“At that time, I acquired 75% of the shares at RMB 2.1 billion. Nowadays I won’t even sell it for RMB 10 billion yuan.” With the wisdom of operating enterprises, the power of capital and a unique entrepreneurial investment layout, Lianqiang Ji is becoming a leader and integrator in the field of aviation media.
Story No. 1:
Lianqiang Ji, who has been engaged in investing for more than ten years, shifted to running a business because of the acquisition of 75% of the shares of AirMedia.
“The acquisition was a decision jointly made by all of the investors of BCCF. But because it was a trading acquisition, we basically bought out the company, meaning we must actually manage the business, which I think should be the most responsible attitude towards the investors and investments. The first generation of Chinese entrepreneurs may start a business solely based on a technology. The second-generation entrepreneurs focused on marketing due to the large market size in China and the need to meet the demand. The third-generation entrepreneurs may need to be well-versed in financial knowledge so as to transform into an entrepreneur."
At the time of the acquisition of AirMedia, the traditional media was falling, and the emerging media was not yet mature. Where should merchants invest their money in advertising? “We made a bold bet that they might invest in scarce outdoor advertising.”
He was right on the bet.
AirMedia reached its record-high business performance and profits during the first year under the management of Lianqiang Ji, with the market value rising from RMB 2.8 billion to 4 billion. At present, more than 90% of the airport digital media resources in the country have been controlled by AirMedia; the company’s advertising revenue jumped to the second place in the world. However, Lianqiang Li aimed higher.
iAsk Lianqiang Ji: What’s the difference for an investor to run a business?
Gloria Ai: In the past three years, you have changed from an investor to a chairman and a leader of a company. What is the biggest change personally?
Lianqiang Ji: It is sensibility and rationality. For example, when someone presented a subject, a budget or a project, I would reasonably discuss the input-output ratio of this subject matter. How much do I have to invest? how much money can I make? What to do with the project?
But to run a business, you have to strike a balance between sensibility and rationality, and you can't do it purely rationally. For business management, you have to invest love and responsibility, which is totally different from operating funds or managing finance.
As an entrepreneur, you need to contribute more. Sometimes you feel like it’s unfair because you don’t get paid pack in return as much. But when you get up the next morning, you will feel pumped again and continue to contribute, because you need to have a sense of responsibility to run a business, fulfill your obligations, and share your love. These three things may all be unrequited, but they’re required for running a business.
Investing is different. You are still Party A when you devote 80% of your time. But running a business is not the same. There is a saying in my WeChat feeds that goes "Bending down does not shorten your height". Operating a business needs you to be prepared to "bend down."
Story No. 2:
Lianqiang Ji has achieved success smoothly in the media sector, but he has not abandoned his old business. In addition to being Chairman of AirMedia, he has another identity, i.e. General Manager of the Beijing Cultural Center Fund. “It’s just that the time allocation has changed from the previous 5:5 to 1:9. 10% of the time is reserved for investing; 90% for AirMedia.”
How much value does the media industry have? Compared with entrepreneurs, investors have obviously different answers. Lianqiang Ji is transforming AirMedia with the mentality of investors. In the second year of taking over AirMedia, Lianqiang Ji publicly stated that the company did not want to be a lone wolf. He hoped that more companies would join, bring in new patterns and mentality, and make the field of airport media more dynamic.
Behind the new development ideas is the investment theory from A to O (OPI) practiced by Lianqiang Ji at BCCF: based on the different stages of project incubation and development, BCCF integrates the capital of all parties to build a funding ecosystem covering the whole stage of enterprise development investment from Round A to Round O, with the invested enterprise as the center, completing the integration of industry resources and the re-engineering of industry structure.
Up to now, BCCF has cooperated with many domestic excellent business entities such as Zhejiang Huace Film & TV, Lander Sports Development and Qihoo 360, and has invested in more than ten cultural industry projects such as Huajiao Live Video and Canwell. BCCF has managed over 10 funds with the “A-to-O” funding pattern, with a total management capital of more than RMB 100 billion yuan.
iAsk Lianqiang Ji: How to manage a hundred-billion-yuan fund with only 10% of energy?
Gloria Ai: Do you still invest now? How do you allocate your time in AirMedia and investment funds?
Lianqiang Ji: It used to be 5:5, but now it is 1:9. Now 90% of the time is devoted to AirMedia; 10% to investing.
Gloria Ai: As General Manager of BCCF, you need to manage a large-scale fund with RMB 100 billion. It is really hard to imagine that you use one-tenth of the energy to manage a hundred-billion-yuan fund.
Lianqiang Ji: We created a system for the fund and turned it into a parent-and-subsidiary fund. We have 13 subsidiary funds. Each has a fixed business logic and direction. It covers content, mergers and acquisitions, game investments, equity, new media and so on.
Gloria Ai: What do you think entrepreneurs can learn from investors?
Lianqiang Ji: In addition to social responsibility, social obligations, and social contributions, enterprises still have to make profits. For a lot of entrepreneurs, during the current deleveraging crisis for example, they are sometimes too blind. Entrepreneurs must learn rationality from investors and learn when to stop, because everyone knows about business expansion, but I know when to stop.
I can yell out the goal of "I want to be at the top", but in the process of reaching the goal, I must strive rationally. I think this is something that entrepreneurs can learn from investors --- don’t be blind. This is what entrepreneurs must be alert and rational of.
Story No. 3:
Based on the transformation mentality of "industry + capital", Lianqiang Ji has formulated a "three-step" strategy for AirMedia: Firstly, strategic transformation. From an advertising company to a media company, the company changed its business idea from the previous supply monopoly to the mining of user value. Secondly, clear positioning. AirMedia deeply cultivates the market, taps the value of users, integrates commercial resources, and promotes professional talents. Thirdly, it has jointly established a fund with integrated capital from multiple parties, with AirMedia as the core GP, promoting its resources integration based on market principles and accelerating transformation and development.
Entrepreneurial investors must hold onto their market, but also should know how to expand the market. They should grow bigger and stronger in their own fields and invest their own funds and experience in the industry so as to promote the prosperity of the whole industry. This is the blueprint envisioned by Lianqiang Ji for AirMedia, which also reflects his vision as an entrepreneurial investor.
iAsk Lianqiang Ji: What the true mission for entrepreneurial investors?
Gloria Ai: What's your understanding of the concept of entrepreneurial investors? Business plus investment. Are you an entrepreneurial investor?
Lianqiang Ji: I count. You can't interpret the concept literally. Investing first running businesses later or the opposite are actually the same thing. Some people may say that entrepreneurial investors are new species, but I think it is inevitable for the next step.
First of all, you need to understand entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are a group of people who enjoy challenges. If the company is successful and the entrepreneur accumulates wealth from it, discovering new businesses, investing in them, helping them, and then discovering new industries and new species are the inborn mission of entrepreneurs.
Secondly, this may also be the next challenge for entrepreneurs. Not all entrepreneurs are good at investment, and not all investors are doing good at running a business, so there are very few people who can do both well. Because of the scarcity, people should put in hard work to study it and learn.
Gloria Ai: After getting in touch with entrepreneurial investors, I found out that outstanding entrepreneurial investors have a clearer direction and mission compared to pure investors.
Lianqiang Ji: An excellent entrepreneur should do a good job in his own business, and drill in deeply. He shares his experience with his upstream and downstream industries, or shares it with latecomers to help everyone jointly develop a prosperous industry. I think this is the true mission for entrepreneurial investors. This is the true spirit of entrepreneurial investors.