Baidu Founder Robin Li Discusses Firm’s Management and Business Problems

At the end of December, Baidu founder Robin Li held an internal livestreaming session for all employees. Compared with the sharp criticism recently delivered by Tencent founder Pony Ma, Li’s comments were much softer, but he still pointed out many internal management and business problems, 36Kr reported on January 6.

During the livestream, an employee asked whether Li had paid attention to Ma’s speech to Tencent, in which he spoke about the superficial reform of business departments, the pursuit of high revenue, and shocking internal corruption. “Baidu also has the problems experienced by Tencent,” Li replied.

Regarding the two firms, Li issued a fair comparison, “We don’t have a popular product like WeChat’s video channel, which has actually been the gap between us and Tencent in the past year… Our R&D intensity and R&D proportion of the total revenue are much higher than Tencent. We believe in this. Although we feel we are losing money badly now, we believe that there will be corresponding returns in the future.”

In 2022, reducing costs and increasing efficiency is the theme that Chinese internet companies have collectively emphasized. “Many new businesses are losing money. After a long time, everyone feels that losing money is justified. They will not consider whether this business will make profit in three years, five years, or 100 years,” Li said.

Li repeatedly emphasized financial indicators, saying, “Only 20% of the income of a high-growth business comes from our self-developed products.” Later, Li said, “We have more than 10,000 engineers, and R&D investment accounts for more than 20% of the income. But there is such a big gap between the investment and the actual performance. How many people realize this problem?” In Li’s view, gross profits, operating profits and cash flow should be given due attention.

Li also mentioned that ideas can sometimes be sullied at very large companies due to inefficient hierarchy structures and long reporting channels. He pointed out that when targets and actions are transmitted layer by layer in the form of OKR, problems arise.

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Li encouraged Baidu employees to think from a higher perspective. “In addition to meeting OKR, we should see if the goals have any effect on the long-term growth of the business.”

In addition, Li talked about the firm’s technological progress in the AI field, especially with AI-generated content (AIGC) and ChatGPT. He said he believed that these are new opportunities now that AI has developed to a certain extent. Previously, Baidu released a number of AIGC-related applications, including AI that can generate text and pictures, as well as convert pictures into videos.