After graduating from Xi’an Jiaotong University, Zhou Hongyi joined Chinese technology conglomerate Founder Group. He eventually became deputy director of R&D.
In 1998, Zhou started his own website, 3721 (which is a shortened version of a Chinese proverb that means “regardless of the consequences”). It allowed netizens to use the internet in Chinese – so for example, if someone wanted to go to Sina.com, but they didn’t know the URL in English, they could just type “Sina” in Chinese on 3721.
By 2000, the company had received more than $2 million of venture capital. It survived the dotcom crash and started making money. It soon grabbed the attention of Yahoo, which at the time was struggling in China. The US search giant subsequently bought 3721 for $120 million, and a year later Zhou became the president of Yahoo China.
Under his leadership, Yahoo China became profitable for the first time in 2004, making $10 million profit from $40 million of revenue. But at the same time, the Chinese search market was heating up: Baidu was strengthened by a US IPO and Google started local operations. Zhou found it increasingly difficult to maintain profits, and in August 2005 he resigned, becoming a partner in a venture capital company.
In 2006, Zhou became the chairman of Qihoo Technology, a security software provider. Its main product, 360, is China’s most widely used anti-virus software. There is talk of a Nasdaq IPO in the first half of this year.
Qihoo last year got into a highly public spat with the provider of China’s most popular online message service, Tencent. Qihoo claimed that Tencent’s software, QQ, was scanning and leaking the personal data of its users. Tencent responded by blocking access to QQ for users of 360, while Qihoo reacted by blocking QQ access through its own software. They eventually resolved their differences – but the ultimate winner was probably Microsoft’s MSN Messenger, which attracted millions of new subscribers during the debacle.
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