Ex-Googler turns mom’s money into billion dollars

AFTER Steven Yang left his coveted job at Google, he asked his mother whether he should take venture-capital money to fund his business idea.

If his online consumer-electronics enterprise was a risky bet, she told him, go with the venture capitalists.

But if building the business into something great was his destiny, he instead should use her money from a pharmaceutical career in China.

So Yang combined his Google money with his mom’s, and with less than $1 million in seed capital he moved from California to Shenzhen, a hub in southern China for technology companies.

Seven years later, Anker Innovations Technology Co sells products ranging from smartphone chargers to portable power banks on Amazon.com.

An employee sits in the reception area at the Anker Innovations Technology Co office in Shenzhen, China

And it’s getting even bigger after recently reaching a deal to put products in almost 4,000 Walmart and 900 Best Buy stores in the US.

Recent trades on China’s over-the-counter New Third Board market valued Anker at about $1.1 billion. Yang, 36, and his wife have a combined stake of about 54 per cent, according to a Bloomberg analysis of the company’s first-quarter report for 2018.

Anker offers chargers that are alternatives to those from companies like Samsung Electronics or Apple and come with proprietary PowerIQ technology, which detects each phone’s maximum wattage to help minimise charging times.

Yang also has branched out into just about every other smartphone-related gadget, including cables, headphones and wireless charging pads.

And he’s making household products like robotic vacuums under the Eufy brand.

“We really put a lot of love, and hate, into our products,” Yang said, referencing the year-long tedium of shrinking the vacuum robot down to 2.85 inches in height so it could fit under couches.

As smartphone maker Xiaomi Corp. prepares for a Hong Kong initial public offering, Yang figures the timing may be right for him, too.

He’s studying the possibility of going public in China, Japan, Hong Kong or the US

If he decides to proceed, he could have his work cut out for him. As of early May, two-thirds of the 21 China tech IPOs in the past year were below their issue price. Xiaomi had been targeting an eye-popping $100 billion valuation for its debut, but now is eyeing $60 billion to $70 billion, people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg earlier this month.

Yang has taken on several funding rounds over the years, and investors are coming knocking again. Jumei International Holding, a US-listed Chinese beauty e-commerce firm, bought a 60 per cent stake in Anker’s powerbank-rental unit last year for 300 million yuan ($47 million).

Anker’s revenue surged 56 per cent in 2017 to 3.9 billion yuan, and profit grew 9.9 per cent to 356 million yuan, according to its annual report. It has offices in Seattle, Dubai, Tokyo, Shenzhen and Changsha, China, according to its website. Almost half of its revenue comes from the US, but China sales doubled last year.

Like many China tech companies, Anker is also following President Xi Jinping’s goal of making the nation a leader in developing artificial intelligence, and it has a lab for developing facial recognition for security purposes.

Its expansion has come as Yang seized opportunities created by gaps in the technology industry. In the smartphone business, he targeted the opening between Apple’s expensive chargers and low-quality, white-label replacements.

Anker occupies the space between five-star and three-star Amazon reviews (most Anker products have about four). That is Yang’s sweet spot, where he creates an accessory that isn’t the most expensive but still is of good-enough quality to win consumer trust – Photo and text by Bloomberg