Lucky 8 Pieces of Innovation Inspiration from China

Sonal Chokshi

We’ve written and talked a lot about China as a laboratory for software-based innovation … especially given it leapfrogged the PC era directly to mobile. Below, we share 8 of our most interesting, under-the-radar pieces on China, featuring both a16z experts and special guests — from ethnographers to economists — all discussing the impact of China on everything from product ideas and business models, to tech, trade, and politics. Happy Lunar New Year! (Oh and by the way, also check out this post on how WeChat used Chinese New Year to overcome the chicken/egg problem of getting user payment credentials).

Mindsets for thinking about innovation in — and competition from — China with Connie Chan

Until now, most entrepreneurs and commenters have been so focused on the obvious market size opportunity that they often forget the less obvious reason to study China: That there is much to learn from, not just about, Chinese companies. This includes everything from redefining how we think of innovation and how internet companies can monetize beyond advertising revenue to lessons on how startups can scale in a hyper-urban environment.

Stickers! filters! memes! livestreams!… oh my! with Connie Chan, Christina Xu, and Sonal Chokshi

From glittery reaction gifs modded by grandparents to rage faces on Reddit, stickers (gifs and other layered images) and emotive “biaoqing” have taken over messaging culture in China and beyond. Why are these forms of social communication so popular? Why has mobile livestreaming taken off so much more in China, from food-eating streams to entertainment and more?

On trade and innovation with and beyond China with Russ Roberts and Noah Smith

How does the concept of “trade” fit with “innovation”, exactly? They’re both about getting more from less — as well as creating new opportunities — shares EconTalk podcast host Russ Roberts (and fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution). But there’s another very provocative theory at play here — fast-forwarding us from the time of the Industrial Revolution to the 2000s — that could make us rethink the relationship between trade, capital, labor, productivity/economic growth, shares Noah Smith, columnist at Bloomberg View (and former professor of finance). Where does China come in — and out — of this big picture?

Politics over pragmatism in navigating the ‘new’ China with Evan Osnos, Michael Copeland, and Sonal Chokshi

New Yorker writer Evan Osnos, who wrote the award-winning book on ambition, fortune, truth, and faith in “the new China” shares his experiences and views on the tension between one of the oldest civilizations in the world and the newer story of nation-building and changing demographics. But is this story of a new China, like the physical buildings being built in China, structurally sound?

Views on innovation from China with Connie Chan, Clay Shirky, and Sonal Chokshi

Companies and countries that were once positioned as copycats or followers — like China — are becoming leaders, and in unexpected, non-obvious ways. For example, through scale, distribution, logistics, infrastructure, O2O, a different kind of ecommerce, mobile marketing, even design. But it’s an innovation of a very different kind than shown by iconic U.S. examples like SpaceX or Apple… which arguably could damage the U.S. if single-mindedly regarded as “our official most innovative company”!

When commerce goes online to offline and offline back to online with Connie Chan

The completion of the O2O (online to offline) virtuous loop isn’t just the holy grail of advertising and marketing for retailers and others, but is a new phenomenon… fittingly dubbed in this video as “O2O 2.0”. In other words: digital doesn’t just affect physical; it now goes in the other direction, too. What’s possible when one’s phone isn’t just an access point, but an entry point… and when physical spaces, not just websites, could also be personalized to us?

16 ways QR codes are being used in China with Connie Chan

Beyond some of the more obvious use cases for QR codes, which are popular in Asia but not elsewhere, there are a number of less-obvious (or not as well covered) uses in China, shared in this post. They show the range of what’s possible everywhere when QR codes disintermediate existing use cases… and enable new ones. Will QR codes finally move from being a “joke” elsewhere to being more widely adopted around the world?

Mobile-first product ideas with Connie Chan

While the contexts and nuances of Chinese innovation differ significantly, there are lots of product ideas that companies anywhere can learn from China (not just the other way around) — especially given the rise of “super apps”.

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