The next chapter
Hi everyone, I’ve got some news.
The short version is that starting mid-July, I will join Baillie Gifford’s private company team, looking to back the best founders in China and beyond. I will keep writing the bi-weekly free newsletter, but the paid version is going away.
Going forward, I will still focus my work on the type of business model analysis and sector review we’ve come to expect from Chinese Characteristics. The key difference will be that there will be no specific predictions about sectors and companies. But overall, same old Chinese Characteristics.
Premium subscribers, thanks for supporting me. Without your membership, I wouldn’t have been able to sustain myself in this new land. Thank you, thank you, thank you. The important things we repeat three times. You’ll be getting a pro-rata refund soon from Chinese Characteristics - let me know via email if that hasn’t come through.
The long version is that I knew I was in a local maxima when working in VC in Europe. By leaving, I didn’t know whether I could ever reach the imagined global maximium, but after so many years of backing founders, I wanted to wholeheartedly back myself. I knew that a version of that future would be in China, though I didn’t know what it would be. As Covid-induced isolation reminded me how little time we really have, I decided to meet that future. Immigrants know in their bones that the cost of your new life is your old one.
So I packed my life into two bags and said goodbye to all that.
Once in China, I wrote to sense make. With your support, astonishing luck and some grind, I made it work and started living the life of a ‘creator’. The creator life was often great - I had complete ownership of my work. I explored what I wanted when I wanted. I wrote on trains, in cafes but mostly from my attic in Shanghai. I leaned on my lifelong skill of information arbitrage and forged connections with anyone who’d talk to me in the tech sector. I made some fantastic friends and honed my thinking through writing. I posted absurd tweets and built a Twitter following. I made something that people wanted.
The creator life was also often terrible. It’s the life of a founder without the ability to leverage teams. Like other Substack writers have opined, writing and researching are not things you can delegate well to others. As such, it’s lonely and nerve-wracking. The strain of the balancing act between writing, admin and keeping the vision added up. When things were going well, I worried that it would stop. When things were going badly, I worried even more. In short, it was one of the most stressful periods of my life thus far.
In the midst of appreciating that anxiety is the dizziness of freedom, I realised I missed investing. I missed the dialogues with passionate founding teams. I missed the ability to back different versions of the future wholeheartedly (which is what I think happens in investing at its finest). I even missed calculating the customer cohorts’ revenue retention levels. At the last point, I realised it must be love and that I should get back into investing.
Here again, I was incredibly lucky. I initially toyed with the idea of a LL fund, and with the bundles of Chinese regulations, that seemed like an arduous task. As I dithered away at planning a long-term focused, curious and insightful fund that invested in both the public and private market. One came knocking — synchronicity in action.
There is much to like about working for oneself in a fund capacity - just like being a creator. But there is much to be said about joining a stellar platform and working to make it even better. I always thought the most sustainable investors are infinite game team players rather than singular superstars. I am very excited to join a team where our visions and values are so matched.
While this is a new chapter, there’s still continuation. I’ll still be writing Chinese Characteristics, and if anything, I think it’ll be a richer publication due to my having more skin in the game. For clarity, the newsletter will not:
Represent the views of Baillie Gifford in any official capacity - the views will be all mine, and not represent that of my future employer
Share any confidential information - If I do share any info, that will be followed by publicly available links
Make any predictions on specific companies or industries - compliance laws, you know the drill
The editions will still come out on a bi-weekly schedule. But before then, I will take a sabbatical for two months, during which I would like to not worry about writing for the first time in nearly two years.
Lastly, thank you all again for reading so far. I feel like we’ve just started to explore what Chinese tech has to offer the world. Do continue to stick around.
See you all in September!
(Or even sooner if you happen to work for Baillie Gifford. I’ll be dropping by the headquarters soon, so do say hi!)
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Congratulations Lilian. Really enjoyed your newsletter, glad you will continue writing!
Congratulations Lillian! Ballie Gifford is an amazing manager!