Author: Russell Flannery
Wind filled the sails of JP Gan（甘剑平） as he joined with two former venture capital colleagues to start a new fund management company last July. Only two months earlier, Gan had earned the No. 5 spot on the 2019 Forbes Midas List of the world’s top VC investors. Gan left Qiming Ventures, where he had been a managing partner and led successful investments in China consumer internet businesses such as Bilibili and Meituan-Dianping over 13 years.
In the following three months, Gan’s newly formed INCE Capital grew to 12 staff. At a low ebb in U.S.-China relations, INCE impressively managed to raise $352 million from big-name institutions such as Duke University, Carnegie Mellon University and Mayo Clinic. (See earlier post here.)
But then, out of nowhere, the coronavirus pandemic hit. China locked down. The world-ranking investor who made a name for himself by helping young businesses grow was having his own start-up mettle tested. Though INCE staff made the most out of working at home, “very few things were happening,” Gan recalled in a telephone interview in Shanghai.
Gan, who ranked No. 13 on the 2020 Forbes Midas List unveiled in May, now sees China as on the mend from the worst of the pandemic. Colleagues can travel around to cities except for Beijing. About 10% of the $352 million raised has been invested to date, Gan said.
Above all, Gan hasn’t seen anything that alters his original thesis about the direction of China’s economy -- that consumer businesses built around the Internet will enjoy some of the world’s best investment returns. “There is a shift of everything online” that’s more pronounced than ever since the start of the pandemic, he said.
Gan knows China’s venture landscape well from two decades in the financial industry and exposure at top global firms. A Shanghai native who is now an American citizen, he holds a master’s degree from the University of Chicago. After graduation, he worked as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch and a director at the Carlyle Group in Hong Kong before joining Shanghai-born Qiming in 2006. Even without Gan, Qiming has two partners on this year’s Midas List – Nisa Leung (No. 33) and Duane Kuang (No.69). Another former Qiming partner, Hans Tung from GGV, also made the 2020 edition at No. 10.
Last year, Gan’s partners at Qiming became wary of valuations of consumer internet investments, and Gan moved on, confident in his picks. Joining Gan at INCE Capital are former Qiming partners Steven Hu and Paul Keung. The “IN” in INCE stands for Internet, intelligence, innovation, and integrity; “CE” comes from the romanization of the Chinese word for strategy or decision. Beyond the venture capital world, Gan has a front row seat to China’s travel industry through a board membership at Trip.com, formally known as Ctrip, China’s largest online travel business.
INCE will focus on early to expansion stage investments in Internet, consumer and intelligent technology sectors in China, Gan said. “Anything to do with online has been booming,” as consumers stayed home and developed more online shopping habits than ever during the peak of the virus spread, he said. New uses of AR and VR are likely in commerce, entertainment and travel, he believes. The spread of online education during the pandemic will also pave the way for new growth in that field in the future, he believes. (Click here for an interview with Gan in 2019.)
To date, INCE has invested in at least three companies -- Shihui, a community-based e-commerce platform; Petkit, which offers pet products, a chain of pet care centers and a hospital; and Black Unique, a membership service that provides discounts for everyday consumer goods such as gasoline, Starbucks coffee, fast food, and online subscriptions, Gan said.
Some good news for Gan this year has been the availability of business tools like Zoom to help with video conferencing from Shanghai with clients and others “all the time.”
“People still wear masks” as of this week, he said. Social distancing, meanwhile, is “more or less over.” As limitations on business ease, hopefully the room for global economic recovery will expand.