Born in 1965, Gong Hongjia would later become a leading angel investor in the Chinese technology sector. But at school he showed few signs of being tech-savvy, preferring literature to science. After scoring full marks in composition in his university entrance exams, Gong planned for a career as a reporter. But he says that he was then offered a place at the Hangzhou University of Science and Technology, in part because he was good at throwing the javelin. Knowing the university’s strong reputation, he accepted.
Gong graduated in 1986 with a degree in computer science and started his own business, trading electronic goods in southern China. Driven by a desire to produce a homegrown brand to compete with Japanese radio makers, Gong founded Tecsun General Electric in 1994. By selling much cheaper radio sets to younger Chinese consumers, Tecsun broke the dominance of the Japanese brands and grew into China’s largest radio maker.
Gong then ventured into venture capital and has since founded or invested in at least 15 technology start-ups. Some of his more successful deals include Asiainfo-Linkage, a software company and one of the earliest Chinese firms to go public on Nasdaq in 2000, as well as the mobile telecom software firm Funinhand.
When asked about his reputation as China’s leading angel investor, Gong says he may not be the best, but that he might have made the biggest profit from a one-off deal. In late 2001, he invested Rmb2.45 million for a 49% stake in Hikvision Digital Technology. At the time, Gong saw the investment more as a means to help out some college classmates. But Hikvision now makes 60% of China’s video surveillance systems, enjoying a market capitalisation of nearly Rmb60 billion ($9.63 billion) as of January 2013. In a list compiled by Hexun – ranking the wealthy according to market values of their stockholdings – Gong’s 22% stake in Hikvision was worth Rmb13.8 billion last year, a 6,000-fold return.
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Confessing that he doesn’t count himself among the smartest of technocrats, Gong says that he prefers to invest in start-ups founded by people without the most polished CVs.
But he is bolder when it comes to enticing the brightest talents to join his companies. Trying to secure the services of an exceptionally talented engineer for Hikvision, Gong got his man with a signing-on bonus that the employee would later describe as ‘so big I’d never need to work again’.
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