October 25, 2011
Steve Bell is one of my most enthusiastic interviewees so far in Asia: he looks at me intently, rarely breaking eye contact, forgetting to eat the brunch he ordered at a swanky hotel cafe. He looks so intent that I feel rude glancing down at my notes, but it’s a friendly and open intensity.
I can imagine him, with a similar look, giving feedback to the startups he advises: Bell is a cofounder of a VC firm in Beijing called Trilogy Ventures, which invests in recent university graduates working in games, mobile and web apps, and new media.
Most of Bell’s portfolio companies are targeting the Chinese market – for now. What he is really looking for is the next Google or Facebook, which he thinks will emerge from China in 10 or 20 years. I ask him why and he says, half jokingly, “the law of large numbers.” But then he continues: the students he talks to in China are exactly the same as innovative students in the United States, and opportunity costs are low in China – you can start a company, hire cheap labor, and live on a tiny budget.
As a result, Bell’s companies have a slightly different strategy than lean startup devotees in the West: Bell doesn’t encourage them to iterate constantly and build what users want, but follow their vision of the future, a vision of a product that users might not know they want.
“We’re here for the long haul,” Bell says. Watch the video below to hear more on his investing and how “made in China” will become “innovated in China.”
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