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A scholar out to create a kingdom for himself

By Edith Lu in Hong Kong | China Daily | Updated: 2018-10-12 23:41

The development of the internet in China should not only be driven by user demand, but also by core technology in future.

That’s what Alex Chen Ye, founder and chief executive of Tigerobo, had in his mind when he started off on his own business. It’s also a quote from his former boss and friend Wang Xing, chief executive of China’s largest on-demand online service provider Meituan-Dianping.

“During my three years with Meituan-Dianping, I had got lots of ideas on business and the internet industry from Wang Xing and Wang Huiwen (senior vice-president of products and marketing at Meituan-Dianping),” recalls Chen.

He quite appreciates this experience which, he says, had made an outstanding contribution during the period. As senior vice-president of advertisement at Meituan-Dianping, Chen had built up the sector from scratch, vastly lifting earnings from a few million yuan to 4.7 billion yuan annually in nearly three years. But, for an entrepreneur, business sense is not enough. It should be combined with technology to make the dream come true. Chen says he’s a scholar more than a businessman.

Chen returned to China through a global experts recruitment program launched by the Shanghai government, known as “the Thousand Talents Plan”. He had graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the United States with a PhD in computer science and information systems. He then worked at such internet behemoths as Yahoo, eBay and Microsoft on artificial intelligence and machine learning, having been in the Silicon Valley for seven years.

“As of today, the most successful utilization of AI and machine learning is search advertising, which is also what I did before,” says Chen.

Search advertising is a method of placing advertisement on web pages to show the results of search engine queries. It’s seen as the main income source for these platforms.

“After all, I’m an engineer and more desired to do something technological to change people’s lives, as it will be more meaningful to human beings,” Chen says of his original intention. That is also the reason he left the online service unicorn and started his own venture.

As soon as Chen had made up his mind, he tapped into his old friend in the US, John Canny, who used to be a technical adviser at Yahoo. The duo had cooperated with each other for seven or eight years on both research papers and working projects. After several conversations, Canny joined Tigerobo as co-founder and chief scientist.

For Chen, it’s an extraordinary experience, and also an “inhuman test” to be his own boss in business. “I know I must choose what I truly love to push me along this path. Now, every day, I wake up with excitement and joy. This is something I cannot gain if I had picked it just for success and fame.”

Even if it’s proved that it’s would be hard for intelligent search to find a market, Chen is confident that the underlying technology he has built could still be put to good use at other places.

It seems he’s well-prepared to create his own kingdom.

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