... The most valuable Chinese companies today are typically "mega ecosystem" players... the number of unlisted Chinese companies valued at $1 billion or more -- the so-called "unicorns" -- has risen to 59...



The extraordinary power of China's corporate 'mega ecosystems'

Companies like Didi and Meituan are increasingly coming into competition


Edward Tse, Nikkei Asian Review

February 9, 2018


Some observers have criticized China's market economy for lacking the "creative destruction" that is said to give Western capitalism its lasting vitality.


Such doubts are misplaced as the new year is likely to underscore. In recent weeks, Didi Chuxing, the country's predominant ride services app, has moved to add bike-sharing options to its platform and has acquired Bluegogo, a bike operator that had run into difficulties. The move clearly positions Didi, already one of the world's most valuable startups, to take on current bike-sharing leader Mobike. Meanwhile, Meituan-Dianping, which is best known for its food delivery service and has more than 250 million users, has moved to offer car-hailing services in competition with Didi.


The fight is on. Didi Senior Vice President Chen Ting has already said Meituan's move will touch off the "war of the century." In the background is the increasing overlap between the business networks of China's two most valuable listed companies, Tencent Holdings and Alibaba Group Holding. After a series of mergers, both have ended up as key shareholders of Didi. Tencent also backs Meituan and Mobike while Alibaba is a major investor in Ofo, which is Mobike's top rival as well as a partner of Didi's.


Not long ago, many argued that state-owned enterprises were becoming increasingly dominant in China's economy at the expense of the private sector. These observers highlighted government protections enjoyed by state companies and noted their privileged access to resources and market niches.


In reality, the fastest-growing companies in China over the last few decades have predominantly, if not entirely, been entrepreneurial companies from the private sector. According to a study by the Institute of Population and Labor Economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, new economy sectors, ranging from e-commerce to car-hailing services, expanded twice as quickly as China's overall GDP over the 10 years to 2016. These new economy companies are nearly always private sector companies.


The most valuable Chinese companies today are typically "mega ecosystem" players which operate networks of businesses that can support each other and supplement each other's capabilities. A milestone was crossed last year when Alibaba and Tencent, the mega ecosystem leaders, surpassed Facebook in market capitalization.


The growth of entrepreneurial Chinese companies has been amazing. According to tech-sector funding research company CB Insights, the number of unlisted Chinese companies valued at $1 billion or more -- the so-called "unicorns" -- has risen to 59. The U.S., with nearly twice as many unicorns, is the only country where CB Insights counts more.


The Chinese though are closing the gap fast. Five years ago, CB counted only three Chinese unicorns, less than a quarter as many as it tallied then in the U.S. Those in China now valued at $30 billion or more include Didi, Meituan, Ant Financial Services Group and smartphone maker Xiaomi.


The notion of a business ecosystem is not new. Apple...