After two investment rounds by Qihoo.com and Shanghai-based D-hui Investment to the tune of $10 million last year, Wu Xisang, legendary programmer of original online games and now CEO of Guangzhou-based Huoshi Software, had to fight off the impulse to sell his company-for the fifth time.
For Wu, it’s high time he put the nickname he has been stuck with the past 7 years, Taoxian Chengxuyuan-“programmer that keeps cashing out [the companies he founded]”-behind him.
“You can easily make 1 million yuan from almost nothing, but might never be able to make 100 million yuan,” NetEase President William Ding once said to Wu, who had been Ding’s savior when the Internet bubble burst in 2000. At the time, Ding bought out Wu’s online game studio, the Guangzhou-based Tianxia Technology Ltd., to boost NetEase’s stock price from less than one dollar back to nearly $100.
Wu, now 34, was one of the earliest Chinese beneficiaries of the Internet boom. After graduating from Jinan University in 1995 he founded Feiying Computer Company in Guangzhou. In the following years he started another three companies-Xiangtong, Tianxia, Yibang-and later sold them off. Huoshi Software is his fifth start-up.
Having navigated the tricky waters of creating an Internet start-up, Wu has transformed himself from computer programmer into CEO. “I felt pity every time I had to leave or give up a business during these years, but I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned,” said Wu.
As early as 1995, when Wu was still a senior in Jinan University, he took first place in a software competition between universities in Guangdong Province. After graduation, a Hong Kong businessman decided to invest in Wu’s prize-winning concept-a multimedia platform for southern Guangdong. With that 300,000 yuan investment, Wu was able to start his first business, Guangzhou Feiying Computer Company.
“Although it was risky to invest in an inexperienced graduate fresh from college, turning my invention into a final product was a pretty cool experience,” recalled Wu.
Cooperating with the software research center of Jinan University, Wu transformed his platform into a product: Feiying Multimedia Innovation Tools, which is similar in function to Microsoft’s PowerPoint.
“I had never planned to be a programmer my whole career,” said Wu. “It was my dream, a dream shared by many excellent engineers, to have a business of my own.”
Soon after the product was developed, however, he clashed with investors over the development plan and how best to attract investment. Disappointed, Wu left Feiying with the fourth version of his tools.
“Without patience and perseverance, nobody can overcome difficulty by himself,” Wu said of the lessons he learned from his first venture into the business.
After leaving Feiying, Wu planned a trip to Silicon Valley. While waiting for his visa to travel to the United States, friends invited him to co-found Xiangtong Digital Technology Company, a provider of Internet applications and e-commerce solutions, in late 1999.
One year later, Wu sold his shares-about 15 percent of the company-to CEO Chen Zhongwen, because he “held different ideas about where the business should be led.” From this experience Wu said he learned that “trust among partners and team spirit play a vital role in a company’s success.”