“We are not a follower of Tesla. We seek places where we can do differently, better and with our own characteristics.”
Regardless of William Li’s willingness, the market and the media have put the two players on the same racing track. For their position as the top new energy vehicle player in China and the US respectively, for their successful IPO completion despite a sustained loss, and for their ultimate pursuit of future and dream, the two companies are now bearing the same label.
Li Xiang, the founder of Leading Ideal, said that William Li was Elon Musk’s first eligible opponent in China. When NIO was on roadshow in the United States, the most frequently asked question for William Li was: With Tesla around the corner of being manufactured in China, what will happen to NIO? William Li once analogized Tesla to “blossoms in the Californian greenhouse” at a press meeting. He believed that Tesla might not be able to adapt to China’s fierce market competition even with factories in China.
This time, when the conversation landed on the topic of Elon Musk and Tesla again when speaking with iAsk founder Gloria Ai, William Li still saw Tesla as the pioneer of the industry. “Tesla is undoubtedly a great company. Looking back in history, they started innovating in smart electric vehicles over a decade ago, guiding the entire world to revisit the changes in all aspects of EV, which tremendously inspired the industry.”
For a comparison, William Li said that NIO and Tesla are different companies.
No matter be it in NIO’s app, or in NIO House vs Tesla’s showroom, or in user services that NIO is the proudest of, one clear message shows: “We are different.”
NIO, where to?
Everyone pursues something different. Some may emphasize the success in return and efficiency. Some may pursue the success in self-perception. Maybe what I am pursuing is the observation of human nature. Choosing the wonderful things in humanity and choosing to have faith in it – that is the path I have chosen.
Gloria Ai: Does that mean you do not agree to some of the views or methods that Elon Musk adopted, or that the vehicle you are making is different from his?
William Li: If you have a look at our app and then Tesla’s app, you will know that there are a lot of differences in our thinking.
Gloria Ai: What is the biggest difference?
William Li: For example, our users can actually have a chat with me. In our app, users may share anything, NIO related or not. You can also buy many surprise merchandises that are uniquely NIO except for the car. A million pieces have been sold since last year. If you have a look at our NIO House and then Tesla’s showroom, you will know that we are different. If you compare our service offerings, you will also know that we are different.
“What really matters is who wins the future, and where the money is spent.”
Within four years, NIO raised $14.5 billion and lost $10.9 billion. Even after a successful listing on NYSE, the question of “cash-burning” never stopped being raised to William Li.
According to public data, in 2016, 2017 and the first six months of 2018, NIO’s net losses were 2,573.3 million yuan, 5,021.2 billion yuan and 3,325.5 million yuan respectively. William Li himself admitted that the loss in 2018 would far exceed 5 billion yuan. Nonetheless, in his view, he has been “quite savvy” in the 20 years of his entrepreneurship, and every penny he spent has been carefully calculated.
“When we look at a three-year-old, we don’t think about how he will earn back the milk money when he grows up. Oftentimes we are prone to seeing something in its static form. Under that kind of view, there will be no Amazon of today. Amazon once sustained loss for more than a decade. Similarly, there will be no Tesla of today, because Tesla was once in loss for more than a decade as well.”
“Burning cash” – have you ever doubted?
William Li: What really matters is who wins the future, and where the money is spent. If the money is used to buy a plane for William Li, i.e. I am buying myself goodies, then, without question, you should steer clear of this company as soon as you can. But if you look at where NIO’s money is spent, you will not be doubtful any more. We have spent money on product research and development, with two products launched already. We won the world champion and broke the world record. We still have several products in the development pipeline. Globally, more than 40% of NIO’s employees are in R&D-related fields, and we have applied for more than 3,000 patents. If you look at these achievements, you will know that we have sowed plenty of seeds for the future of NIO. I think this is very important.
In addition, we have established a very challenging and also highly imaginative user service system. It has been less than six months since NIO achieved product delivery, and we have delivered vehicles in more than 200 cities in China. Yesterday I even drove back to Beijing from Shanghai. The high-speed power exchange network has been established, and we have provided tens of thousands times of one-click charging service.
Our investment in this regard has not actually been seen. Quite similar to JD’s case with their warehouses built ten years ago. Without investment at that time in infrastructure and in user service system, there will not be JD.com today. That is why I believe today’s NIO should not be viewed in the same way as you would see a mature car company like BMW or Mercedes-Benz.
“NIO alone is enough to keep me busy – I can’t guarantee a win even if I put all my energy into it, but at the same time I don’t want to give up on opportunities to be a part in other people’s good ideas.”
In the past year, if an Entrepreneurial Investor role model is to be chosen, the honour will duly go to William Li.
The founder of NIO is one of William Li’s many identities. Since he established BitAutocom in 2000, William Li has been expanding his presence in the field of mobility over the past 19 years: Mobike, Didapinche, Uxin, AutoRadio, Shouqi Limousine & Chauffeur… he is involved in almost all of the star companies in the industry.
In William’s own words, some new roles will emerge as business develops.
“I know this industry quite well, and I have a strong network. I know the key to success in this industry with my own observations. At the same time, in addition to my personal focus, I would like to participate in many things and hope that someone will be able to realize some of my ideas, or that I can help realize someone else’s wonderful ideas.”
Since 2014, William Li has invested more than $4 billion in over 30 Internet car service companies or products, including car-related fields and industries like automotive media, automotive e-commerce, whole-vehicle manufacturing, automotive aftermarket, mobility services, and peripheral car-related services.
If what NIO started is the future of the automotive industry, then William Li is building a business era that belongs to the Entrepreneurial Investors.
What is your ultimate dream?
Gloria Ai: Before I came in today, a media mentor told me that William Li is now the “Godfather of Mobility”.
William Li: That really shouldn’t be the word.
Gloria Ai: Does it understate you given your influence in the mobility industry, or does the word “Godfather” exaggerate your role?
William Li: First of all, the word “Godfather” is an exaggeration of my age. And it is not consistent with my personality. I have always positioned myself as an entrepreneur. Many people know that I don’t buy my own place to live, instead, I rent. Oftentimes we are prone to giving ourselves psychological hints. Self-affirmation should not come easy, however small that hint might be.
When hearing others call me the Godfather of Mobility, what I need to do is to reflect and think if I said something wrong or did something. It is important to remain in a state of learning and progressing instead of being immersed in easy self-content.
Gloria Ai: What is your ultimate dream then?
William Li: I am not that ambitious, and I am not going to talk about the ambitious epic stories. NIO is not about building an empire. Instead, I would like to work on something that carries weight, something that touches on my own heart string. That is the meaning of the existence of my life. Choosing to have faith in a good thing takes ability, and also courage.