Kai-Fu Lee’s AI Startup Eyes IPO
Photo: Bret Hartman / TED
Kai-Fu Lee is a name that should ring some bells. If you’re not familiar, he’s a prominent Chinese computer scientist, venture capitalist and entrepreneur who has held executive positions at Apple, Microsoft and Google. He began as a faculty member at the well-known Carnegie Mellon University, before taking up research positions at Apple and Microsoft. Post-Microsoft, he headed Google China, before leaving to launch a venture fund, Sinovation Ventures.
While still at Sinovation Ventures [he serves as its CEO], Kai-Fu Lee launched AInnovation, a company that develops AI products for firms in industries like retail, manufacturing and finance. Some of its customers include Mars, Nestle, Foxonn, Carlsberg, the Postal Savings Bank of China and China Everbright Bank. AInnovation, which was launched in March 2018, operates as a subsidiary under Sinovation Ventures.
In a recent interview with Bloomberg, Lee said AInnovation is on track to hit $100 million in revenue within two years of its founding , and is looking to an IPO [in less than two years] that’ll value it at between $1 billion to $2 billion. A $100 million revenue hit within two years of inception seems very impressive, although that’s still a projection which hasn’t come to fruition. Still, AInnovation has raised about $70 million in just over a year of its founding, which is impressive and likely a sign of good business metrics. AInnovation has raised funding from Chengwei Capital, CICC ALPHA and its parent firm, Sinovation Ventures.
Although there’s no certainty that Lee’s expectations would prove true, his track record in the tech industry holds good ground for that. Lee may just be up to another big thing in the tech industry. CB Insights data shows there are eight Chinese AI unicorns currently, some of which have existed for a relatively short time. This indicates Lee’s projections may not be far-fetched.
Still, an IPO is less than two years time that’ll come with a valuation between $1 billion-$2 billion would surely be a rare case and a standout amongst many.