This article was originally published in Chinese by Gaorong Capital, translated into English by the Momentum Works team.
Advance Intelligence Group, an AI-driven technology company in the Asia-Pacific region, announced the completion of a Series D financing of over US$400 million. This round of financing was led by SoftBank Vision Fund II and Warburg Pincus, with the participation of Gaorong Capital, Polaris Capital, Vision Plus Capital and EDBI of Singapore.
Gaorong Capital led the company’s Series C in 2019. After the completion of Series D, the valuation of Advance Intelligence has exceeded 2 billion US dollars.
Founded in 2016, Advance Intelligence Group is committed to building an artificial intelligence and credit-based market ecosystem, a smart technology ecosystem that serves enterprises, consumers and merchants. The group’s subsidiaries include Asia’s leading Buy Now Pay Later platform Atome, SaaS big data analysis and enterprise solution service provider ADVANCE.AI, and omni-channel e-commerce platform Ginee.
At present, Advance Intelligence Group has covered 12 markets in South Asia, Southeast Asia, Greater China and Latin America with more than 1,500 employees. The company has served more than 800 corporate customers, 100,000 merchants and 20 million consumers.
After completing the D round of financing, Advance Intelligence Group will further accelerate the growth of its business in Asia such as Buy Now Pay Later, continue to increase investment in research and development, strengthen artificial intelligence and big data analysis capabilities to serve more corporate customers , and at the same time consolidate and expand the globalized talent pool.
Jefferson Chen, Co-founder, Chairman and CEO of Advance Intelligence Group, said: “The D round of financing is an important milestone for us. All of this cannot be achieved without the support of our customers, users, partners, investors and colleagues. Thank them for believing that AI technology will bring more new changes to the digital economy. Since the establishment of the company, our vision is to build an AI and credit-based market ecosystem to promote the digitalization of e-commerce, retail, finance and other industries in Asia. With the support of the D round of financing, we will continue to help more large, medium and small enterprises and merchants to accelerate their digital transformation, and provide fairer credit and financial services for those who are not served well by traditional banks.”
Zhen Zhang, founding partner of Gao Rong Capital, said, “Since the beginning of the journey with Advance Intelligence Group, we have seen the company use leading AI technology as its core engine to accelerate its coverage of emerging markets in two major business scenarios, finance and retail. The company has innovatively launched BNPL first, providing a convenient consumer experience for users of the new generation in Asia, and enhancing consumer value for high-quality merchants; This business is quickly becoming an important infrastructure for local consumers, and synergizing well with other business sectors within the company. We are very optimistic about the core team of the Advance Intelligence Group. While continuously consolidating its technical strength, the company accurately seizes strategic opportunities to create an efficient management system. We look forward to the Advance Intelligence Group continuing to move towards the vision of leading a better and smart life.”
Recently, we interviewed Jefferson to listen to his thoughts on business ecological synergy, multinational team management, and China’s overseas 3.0.
Q: Advance Intelligence Group’s three business lines-corporate services, consumer services and merchant services, include both B2B and B2C businesses. Why is such a layout and is there any synergy between them?
Jefferson: We believe that AI and data are the most basic and important engines that drive the upgrading and iteration of different industries. Since the beginning of our establishment, our core has been closely centered on AI technology.
Initially, our business was to provide risk control, anti-fraud, e-KYC, face recognition and other services for corporate customers such as financial institutions, telecom operators, and Internet companies in Southeast Asia. We have combined the world’s leading computer vision and anti-fraud technology with risk control talents, together with localized data collection, labeling, modeling, deployment and other comprehensive capabilities to build an AI engine that is very suitable for emerging international markets. Continuously iterating and deepening the technology in the process allows us to accumulate experience in the local market.
Today we focus on two industries-finance and retail, because these two industries are very closely linked. In the future, the financial industry must be built on the basis of the real economy to achieve full integration with the scene.
Therefore, in the past two years, we have vigorously developed use-case-based financial services. In 2019, as we believed that wallets and payments in the international market will be further online in the future, we have launched the BNPL service in overseas markets; before the outbreak of the pandemic in 2020, e-commerce in Southeast Asia has sprung up, and we have launched multiple channels ERP system Ginee to serve merchants. Ginese has also developed very well under the epidemic situation.
When B2B and B2C terminals are combined, we can further open up data, improve industry development efficiency and enhance user experience. It can be said that we have formed an ecosystem with AI technology which allows B2B and B2C to collaboratively develop.
Q: How do you view the future of Chinese technology companies going overseas? What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who plan to go overseas?
Jefferson: I think that China has entered the 3.0 era in terms of venturing overseas. The 1.0 era is when utility tools go overseas, such as Cheetah Mobile; the 2.0 era is about 2016 when financial, e-commerce, and industrialized technology companies go overseas. The 2.0 era has relatively high requirements for localization capabilities.
Why is it said that today is the 3.0 era? Because we are facing a highly competitive and highly transparent international market. Companies that truly have the ability to go overseas have already gone overseas; many local companies in the target market have also developed. Therefore, the era of copying domestic models to Southeast Asia or Latin America is basically over. Today we must think about what kind of core advantages we have, such as unique resources in the supply chain, technology, or other aspects, to find a way to quickly implement what we really want to do in the target market.
In the process, my suggestion is not to do things haphazardly. It is important to analyze demographic structure, income level, and added value to a certain industry from various perspectives, and then choose the most suitable few, maybe just one or two countries. After the model is truly verified, then you can copy it to other regions and even the global market.
Q: Advance Intelligence Group has opened offices in 12 regions with more than 1,500 employees. In terms of managing multinational teams, what management experience and methodology can you share?
Jefferson: At first, we started our journey with Singapore and Beijing as our dual headquarters. Now we have developed to more than a dozen countries. There are many lessons and 3 key understandings.
First, we must respect the culture of the target market and local user habits. If we don’t have the right attitude, it will be difficult for our business to go local. Of course, the respect here is not only towards users/customers, but also towards our employees. We consider employees’ needs in each country in terms of work habits, language, and etc.
Second, it is necessary to integrate China’s most advanced concepts and technologies with local resources and customs. If you simply respect the habits of the target market without injecting new elements, it will be difficult to generate new chemical reactions in overseas markets. At the current stage, from the perspectives of talent, technology and operation, the best approach to expand the market is to bring out the ideas from China, and push the local team to implement the ideas in each region.
The third is organizational culture and mechanism. We need a set of scientific mechanisms to enable talents from different countries, different backgrounds, and different cultures to truly interact. Therefore, we try our best to create an open and transparent culture and atmosphere in the company in terms of working language, working environment and decision-making mechanisms. It is important to let employees in every country understand what the company is doing in other countries and other business lines, and what is the logic behind all of these. At the same time, we continue to empower local talents, allowing them to see room for growth; Domestic employees are encouraged to go to different countries to make new attempts, forming a good talent flow mechanism.
Organizational culture, combined with respect for the local market and technology interoperability, can bring about a qualitative change in cross-border management and business development.
Q: What impact has Covid-19 created on individuals, companies, and teams? How to maintain firm belief in uncertainty?
Jefferson: The experiences inspire me profoundly. I have experienced three major crises during the past 20 years- the SARS in 2003, the global financial crisis in 2008, and the COVID-19 pandemic from last year to the present. I was still a student for the last two times. This pandemic was the first time I experienced such a “tsunami” thoroughly. In a very short period of time, almost every target market we are in has been affected by Covid- the scale and magnitude of the impacts are profound.
In such a process, we were shocked at first; but soon we realized that we need to make rapid strategic adjustments; and today, we have already adapted to changes, and the speed of company development is even faster than before. In the past 18 months, we have learned a lot. Here are a few things I would like to share.
First, make decisions fast. As information is always limited, the speed of decision-making is key to the survival of the company. That is to say when you see a major trend coming, even when new information has not been fully collected, you must start to make some decisions. In times of crisis, it is important to keep the speed and accuracy of decision-making.
Second, there must be a caring and united team. In the process of strategic adjustment, it is unavoidable that the company has to shut down some business lines and to start some new business lines. There must be a variety of voices regarding which business lines to keep. Therefore, the core team needs to be cohesive and determined, and the company’s middle-level and front-line employees can fully understand why the company makes such a decision. The unity of the team is the key.
Third, emphasize communication. Every decision needs to be communicated to every employee of the company in an orderly manner from top to bottom.
The challenges and strategic adjustments brought by the pandemic have pushed us to adjust our system accordingly. It takes a lot of effort to adapt to those changes. It seems that we have been relatively successful in the past 18 months- All of the employees from top to bottom are working in one direction with a clear target. Basically, we can say that the impact of the epidemic on us has completely passed. It even brought positive changes for the company as our organizational structure and talent quality have all been improved.
Q: Recommend a book you read recently.
Jefferson: The pandemic has given many people more time to see new things, new markets, and new opportunities. I take some time to think more about how to make this company better and how to be a better CEO. Recently, I read Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future which tells the story of Elon Musk. This book has inspired me a lot.
It is no accident that Musk can achieve what he has achieved today. If he succeeds in establishing one company, it may be accidental; but in the past 20 years, he has established many very successful companies, and many of them are No.1 in multiple emerging fields.
To sum up, Musk’s success stems from two points- Crazy Vision and Crazy Execution. You have to have very crazy ideas to attract top talents, such as sending people from all over the world to Mars; and you have to have the craziest execution-When he started SpaceX, he didn’t simply provide a bunch of people who can make rockets with idea; he visited Russia three times and wanted to buy rockets. Later, he found that the cost was too high, so he drew a sketch of the first SpaceX rocket on the return trip from Russia and calculated the cost.
So in such a process, he is deeply involved in all the technical challenges the company faced. Musk is not a simple CEO, he is also the CTO and COO. His role is constantly changing.
I think a good CEO must have a great vision and a strong learning ability to embrace the core spirit and expand influence.