Jean Liu is the 37 year old President of Didi Chuxing, the company that today just raised another $6 billion – just one month after Apple invested $1 billion at a $25 billion valuation. Now, with 300 million users, and 14 million rides each day, Didi is far ahead of Uber in China and is calling itself “The World’s largest mobile tech-based transportation platform.”
How did Jean, at 37, get here so fast? When she was 17 years old in 1996, Jean was inspired by Bill Gates’ book, “The Road Ahead” where Bill predicted in the future “We’ll find ourselves in a new world… in which market information will be plentiful and transaction costs low.
It will be a shopper’s heaven” Inspired to be a part of this “new world”, she followed in Bill’s footprints, leaving China for Harvard, and then working her way up the banking industry until approaching Chinese ride-sharing company, Didi in 2013.
As Jean says, “I was quite intrigued by the fact that they had so many investors chasing them.” Jean joined the company when it was only one year old, and as President, she grew the team from 700 to 5,000 staff in her first 18 months.
She also merged it in a billion-dollar merger with its main rival, Kuaidi Dache in 2015. That move gave Didi a big advantage over Uber, and Jean sees their market strategy as ahead of Uber’s, saying: “I think Uber has a short-term strategy to subsidize heavily to get drivers and passengers. But, if I were them, I would think very carefully.
It is a highly competitive market. It’s already a healthy ecosystem. We have five million car owners; we do insurance, car sales.” While Uber is competing, Didi is collaborating, and works with the China taxi industry instead of against it: “We are trying to serve every Chinese in every situation.
We launched our taxi service three years ago, and later we figured [taxis are] in such a big shortage that there is a lot of unmet demand on that platform. Then we provided private car service to fulfil those demands.”
“Then we figured there are a lot of drivers who want to earn extra money. That’s why we launched the chauffeur business.” Didi also helps you find private buses and shuttle buses. “So our philosophy here is you don’t really need seven individual apps to fulfil your commute need. You just need one.
That one app will make sure you will get a ride anywhere in three minutes.” Because of this focus on serving the customer more than fighting on price, Didi will reach profit far faster than Uber. While Uber is losing $1 billion a year in China, Didi is already profitable in 200 out of the 400 cities it operates in.
Jean said at the recent Code Conference, “I find it quite cute because I’ve never seen a company put their competitor’s brand on their own homepage”. Uber advertises their pricing on their app as 30% less than Didi’s. “This is a very strong proof to show that we have better service, and I’d like to see this more often.” Jean’s forward-thinking is also what drives her team.
Inspired by Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In”, she has created a vibrant culture in Didi’s workplace, saying: “To be a great company you need not just the best product but also the best people. We aim to get the best young talent from many different fields and make sure that they have the feeling that they can have a huge impact.”
20 years ago, Jean read a book that altered the course of her life. Today, her company has 87% of China’s private ride-sharing market, 100% of the taxi market, and another $7 billion in the bank. What book might change your life today? “Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” ~ Joseph Addison