The Top 25: Bill (Zhaoyu) Qian, JD Digits

Bill Qian, formerly head of cross-border M&A at China-based e-commerce firm JD.com’s financial technology spinoff, JD Digits – formerly known as JD Finance – was promoted to general manager of corporate ventures in July last year.

Qian oversees investments in enterprise services, industrial internet-of-things and consumer internet technologies.

Last year, he oversaw an RMB168m ($26.2m) series A round for digital contact platform Jiatui Technology which JD.com and JD Digits invested in May, and a $15.3m series B round for cloud services provider operator BoCloud which JD.com invested through JD Digits and its cloud services arm JCloud, in July.

When news aggregation platform Qutoutiao, which was backed by China-based internet company Tencent and China-based online brokerage backed by consumer electronics company Xiaomi, went public in an $84m initial public offering on the Nasdaq Global Market in September last year, JD.com invested about $14m.

Other deals JD Digits co-led include a $10m series B round for file management and collaboration software developer FangCloud Technology in October 2018 and a $3m seed round for children’s sports and entertainment equipment developer 700Kids in January this year. It also participated in a $210m series B round for online car trading platform Huashenghaoche in October 2018.

Earlier deals Qian was involved in included a series A round of undisclosed amount for Meiguanjia, an internet operating system provider for the beauty industry, in May.

Having joined JD in July 2015 as head of crowdfunding business strategy, Qian initially concentrated his efforts on equity crowdfunding as part of a year-long stint in which it raised more than RMB1.1bn ($162m) for 89 startups.

Concurrently, Qian helped JD Finance launch JD Innovation Ventures, the early-stage fund now renamed Qianshu Capital. Qianshu typically pursues series A deals and earlier for consumer-focused startups, in areas such as lifestyle, fashion, cosmetics, health and entertainment.

Some of Qian’s portfolio companies from this time included retro radio manufacturer Mao King, honey and bee product supplier Dengfenglai and suitcase producer 90Fun, all of which have online stores on the JD platform.

JD.com for its annual results for last year noted an “increase in investment in equity investees and investment securities of RMB22bn [$3.3bn]”.

A senior director at one of the large China-based corporate venturers said: “The markets were choppy in Q4 [fourth quarter] 2018 but private markets have remained fairly stable and companies are increasingly relying on private capital even well beyond the $1bn valuation benchmark.

“The density of unicorns within a given segment or vertical, and the sheer growth in the number of private unicorns in China (and globally) is also staggering, which begs the question whether the $1bn unicorn threshold is that meaningful of a benchmark in differentiating companies in the current environment.”

Qian moved across to head JD Finance’s cross-border M&A in February 2017, helping form joint ventures in Thailand with retail conglomerate Central Group and Singapore-based principal investment firm Provident Capital in September the same year.

Before joining JD, Qian had been a vice-president of corporate development at US-based internet-of-things acoustic processing technology developer One Llama Labs from 2014 to 2015, having joined from investment firm Trustbridge Partners in Hong Kong and Shanghai where he led eight deals and invested more than $100m where he had spent four years. Qian started his career in 2007 at Air China as an operation manager before switching to China Development Bank as an investment analyst, for a year each.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Shanghai Jiao Tong University – where he had been vice-president of student union of a 40,000 student body – a master’s degree in finance from Nanyang Technological University – where he ranked first in class achieved dean’s honour list – and an MBA from University of Toronto – where he came in first place in a venture capital and investment competition and second place in a private debt case analysis competition.