The Story of Baidu - Google's Only Competitor
The rise of the internet opened a new horizon for many, especially for those with innovative minds, determined to create something groundbreaking. One such man is the Chinese internet entrepreneur and billionaire Robin Li, the co-founder of China's biggest search engine and Google's serious competitor, Baidu.
With the help of his partner Eric Xu, they created the biggest search engine in China, unaware that one day, their invention would push Google to second place in the biggest Asian market.
So how did Robin and his partner come up with such a project, despite facing the worst financial conditions, earned billions, and on top of that become something that was unthinkable until then - Google's rival?
Here's the story of Google's one and only competitor:
The First Steps
Robin Li was born on November 17, 1968, in Tangquan, China in a worker's family, as the only boy out of five children. His province was underdeveloped and lacked resources for education. Despite that Robin worked hard on his education and was able to pass the entrance exam at Peking University where he was accepted in 1987, and he earned a Bachelor's Degree in Science degree in library information management in 1991.
Soon after he finished university, he was determined to find a job. Robin started to work in a company in Beijing for over a year and a half, but he had intentions to leave his homeland for better education. That's when he received admission to the Fellowship program at the State University of New York.
Robin wanted to complete his Ph.D. in computer science after earning a master's degree in 1994, but he decided to give up on the doctorate and started looking for a job instead. He landed a job at Dow Jones and Company's IDD Information Services as a software engineer.
Here, Robin got the chance to work with search engine algorithms.
While working at IDD, Robin began his work on his page-ranking algorithms and shortly after developed the first search engine named Rankdex, with page-ranking and site-scoring algorithms.
Setting the Stage for Baidu
It didn't take long for Robin's work to get noticed, as his work was the inspiration behind Google's PageRank algorithm. Finding this extremely interesting, Robin switched his focus to search engines, and shortly after he developed Rankdex as a self-standing ranking algorithm. Seeing the potential in this line of work, Robin left his position at IDD in 1997 and found a new job, this time at Infoseek. Their chief technology officer William I. Chang learned of Robin's talents and hired him straight away to supervise search engine development in the company.
Infoseek seemed like the perfect place for Robin, as that company was working on search engine algorithms. During his two years at Infoseek where Robin developed a new function for Go.com, which was now able to do image-based searches. In 1998, while on a summer picnic, his friend Eric Xu introduced Robin to Yahoo's search engine team leader John Wu.
John quickly noticed Robin's potential and it was this meeting that set the stage for Baidu's birth.
In 1999, Robin left his position at Infoseek, and with his good connections at Silicon Valley, he and Eric moved back to China - but not before raising $1.2 million from two Silicon Valley venture capital firms, Integrity Partners and Peninsula Capital so they could create their own internet company!
With the money in their hands, the two partners flew back to China and started Baidu, with the same algorithm used within Rankdex.
Baidu is Born
Not every big creation is made from the comfort of your home. Back in China, they didn't have an apartment to live in, so both partners did all the work from scratch inside a hotel room overlooking their well-known Peking University. In September 2000, they received $10 million from the VC company IDG Technology Venture and Draper Fisher Jurvetson to further boost their invention.
With these funds, Baidu was launched as an independent search-engine, offering services to other Chinese portals, marking them as the first Baidu users. Robin became the Chairman of the company, while Eric was appointed as the first CEO.
In 2001, Robin and Eric started Baidu's own site - Baidu.com, and the way people search in China was changed forever. The site was initially making a profit by allowing its customers to bid for ad space on the site and paid Baidu each time a customer clicked that advertisement. Just like that, Baidu went 'live', and quickly found its way into Chinese computers.
By this time, the internet bubble was bursting in the United States, Baidu took over in China as the leading search engine and was often called 'The Chinese Google'. In that same year, Robin was named among the "Chinese TopTen Innovative Pioneers", quickly becoming well-known in the search engine sphere.
Baidu is Taking Over!
Robin was aware that the moment his product hit the market, he'd have to go against Google, which was used on every Chinese computer at the time. In 2004, Eric left the company and was replaced by Robin as the new CEO. Reasons for this are unknown, but Baidu stayed alive and kept developing.
On August 5th, 2005 Robin took Baidu public on the NASDAQ, and after their shares skyrocketed by 350% from $27 to $122, it became the largest opening on the NASDAQ since the Dot-com bubble burst.
In the blink of an eye, Robin's company managed to become a $4 billion-dollar valued business. All that in just 24 hours!
Despite the board of directors doubting him over the ads, Robin noticed a shift in the market through the new company Overture that was selling advertising space based on search results. Members from the board of directors then realized that Robin's vision wasn't just a pipe dream, and ended up trusting him to build a brand around search.
By 2010, Baidu was China's No.1 search engine and was now the actual 'Chinese Google'. Robin made partnerships with companies such as Qualcomm and Bosch, and there was no slowing down.
Soon, Robin wanted to create more products from Baidu and started a project in AI, eventually resulting in the design of Baidu's self-driving vehicle, nicknamed the Apollo Project.
After becoming ultra-popular in China, Robin felt the need to create more internet-related services, and nowadays Baidu offers over fifty of them!
But not even this kind of product faces challenges. Robin and his management are under constant pressure to deliver massive growth every quarter.
In 2015, Baidu had 78% of the searches in China, pushing Google way back with only 16% searches, followed by Yahoo! with under 10%.
How is Baidu Doing Today?
Nowadays, Baidu is one of the largest tech companies in the world. Their search engine is used by around 130 million internet users in China, the second-largest market after the US. Being a sophisticated search engine, Baidu also offers various features such as Baidu MP3, News, and Image search. Baidu's website draws a plethora of young Chinese people eager to download music, create blogs, or search for images.
Robin Li is now one of the richest and most respected individuals in China, and he's currently the 8th wealthiest man in China with $16.5 billion in net worth.
Today, Robin remains CEO, after Eric departed some years earlier. Their vision to create a better internet experience for the Chinese people is fascinating, knowing that Baidu was initially thought off on foreign soil, in the era where giants like Yahoo! and Google dominated the global market.
Robin and Eric managed to do the impossible, to become Google's only competitor to this date, putting their connections in Silicon Valley to good use.
These partners are living proof that all relationships in life are there for a reason - regardless of how long they last!