China First Capital (中国首创） has a new website. Actually two, Chinese and English. Please have a look by clicking here or navigating to www.chinafirstcapital.com
Putting together the new text for the website, in two languages that share little in common in terms of grammar, word order and the logic with which ideas are expressed, was an enjoyable and intricate challenge, both for me and my CFC co-workers. It also functioned as a kind of stay-at-home corporate retreat across two weekends, time outside of the office thinking rather deeply about what actually takes place there every day. Don’t get me wrong. I’m very hands-on, and keep myself and my co-workers fixed to a precise strategic direction. We don’t gravitate away from our nucleus: as the website puts it, “we actively assist the fundraising activities of China’s private companies, state-owned enterprises and financial sponsors. We are equally active in M&A, domestic as well as cross border transactions both inbound and outbound.”
Doing these things is actually a lot more intuitive and straightforward than explaining them in text on a website. The writing took a lot of wrong turns, and required a lot of revision. I wanted to stay away from the kind of self-promoting puffy and imprecise language that appears on so many company websites. I’m not sure I succeeded fully, or even in part. A lesson I’ve learned over the last 25 years, having tried both, is: it’s easier as a journalist to write about someone else’s company than it is as a boss to write about one’s own.
The two websites look similar, but aren’t mirror images. The Chinese website is not a translation. It actually has more content, more pages, more pictures, more description. The reason is, the Chinese website is mainly aimed at our core client base, domestic Chinese entrepreneurs and the senior management of SOEs. Investment banking, private equity, capital markets all have rather shallow roots in China. Twenty-five years ago, none of these things existed in any practical sense in China. So, part of the Chinese website’s purpose is to place CFC’s activities in a broader context of explaining how companies get funded, both by institutional investors like PE firms and by stock markets, and how and why they can accelerate growth through acquisitions.
Company websites in China are also a rather new phenomenon. Five years ago, when I started the company, few domestic private Chinese companies or PE firms had a corporate website. Today, more do. Most are pretty awful. They function mainly as a kind of online business card. The usual style is to include a rather bland letter from the chairman, drab photos of the different wall plaques awarded by government agencies, and a button that says “English”, that if clicked on, often leads to a blank page or, in some cases, to a site whose content bears no relationship to the Chinese company’s.
It’s rare for me to meet a Chinese company boss who spends much time online, let alone uses web search to locate potential business partners or opportunities. But, this too is starting to change. Recently, the CFO of one of China’s largest domestic cookie and cracker companies sent an email to our catch-all email address saying he’d learned about our business, read through our website, and wanted to discuss retaining us to raise capital. Within the space of a few weeks, we were able to lock in the mandate. One nice perk: lots of free snacks, salty and sweet, to nibble on in the office.
The English-language website serves a different purpose and a different audience. It’s mainly visited by the private equity firms we work with, as well as people looking to get hired. It also is a convenient way for me to try to answer the question I get most often from friends and family in the US, “Just what exactly are you doing over there in China?”
Anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of Chinese will quickly see that the English website homepage says CFC has four main business areas, while the Chinese site lists only three. A sign of strategic or linguistic confusion? No. I’ve been spending quite a lot of time recently building up CFC’s research and database on current PE investments that may be suitable for exit through a secondary transaction, the kind of deal where one PE sells its investment to another. We’ve done deal work in this area of “secondaries”, and expect to focus far more on such transactions in the future. The English-language site seems a more suitable place to mention this activity. To my knowledge, there isn’t a recognized Chinese word for “secondaries”, nor will such deals be of much practical interest to domestic entrepreneurs.
As the website says, “Working with people we genuinely like, trust and respect is what makes our business lives worthwhile.” This goes also for the talented Guangzhou-based American website designer who worked on our new site. He prefers to remain anonymous, as he did this during his limited weekend spare time. His superiors don’t like him moonlighting. I’m quite pleased he did.