Baidu is considered to be the Google of China as Google is banned there. So the primary search engine for the Chinese people is Baidu. People in China can still use Google if they want to, but they have to use a VPN to get across the Great Fire Wall (the firewall that blocks access to selected foreign websites in China). Baidu is part of BAT (Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent), the three largest companies in China. You might want to get know more about Pony Ma: The Man Behind Tencent
Robin Li co-founded Baidu and has been its CEO since 2004. Li is one of the richest people in China with a net worth of $9.6 billion. He co-founded Baidu in 2000 along with Eric Xu Yong.
Robin Li and Baidu
Robin Li Yanhong was born in Shanxi Province, China. His parents used to be factory workers and had five children. Li was the fourth child and the only boy, growing up with sisters all around.
Li got admitted into Peking University where he received a Bachelor’s degree in 1991. After that, he went to the USA and got admitted into the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York to get a Ph.D. in computer science. But he only received his Master’s degree in 1994 and then left. After that, Li decided to join Dow Jones and Company located in New Jersey.
He remained there for nearly 4 years, helping with the development of an online rendition of The Wall Street Journal. During his time there, he also worked on improving the algorithm for search engines, which helped him create Rankdex in 1996. It received a US patent in 1999 as a site-scoring page ranker.
In addition, during that time, Li met Ma Dongmin, a Ph.D. student of Biological Sciences. They met in 1995 at a ceremony of Chinese exchange students. The couple started dating very soon and was married only a few months later in the same year.
In July 1997, Li started working at Infoseek as a staff engineer. Infoseek was a popular internet search company founded in 1994. He received $45,000 yearly at Infoseek. During this time, he met Jerry Yang who co-founded Yahoo at Silicon Valley. Li’s biochemist friend Eric Xu introduced Li to Jerry Yang.
Together, they came up with the idea to capitalize on China’s growing internet industry by starting Baidu, without knowing it would become the biggest search engine of China. In December 1999, Li left his job at Infoseek to start working on Baidu with Eric Xu. Li’s experience with Rankdex and Infoseek combined helped him develop Baidu in 2000.
Robin Li and Baidu
After being launched, Baidu soon started overtaking the market shares by over 80% by the search query. Baidu is the fourth most popular website in the world, beating Facebook and Wikipedia. The headquarters of Baidu is situated in Beijing, China. The company is worth $59.7 billion with employees over 40,000.
Baidu makes more money on ads than Google. Google may prioritize organic results, but Baidu’s first search pages are packed with ads as the Chinese users believe a company to be more reliable if it can pay for ads. Google wants to make a return in the Chinese internet market by modifying its algorithm to fit in with the country’s strict censorship. Li warned there to be an all-out competition between the two dominators if that ever happens.
Rewards and Honors
Over the years, Li acquired many awards and recognitions for his contribution to the world of the internet. They are listed below:
- In 2001, a list of the Top 10 Chinese Innovative Pioneers was created, and Li’s name stood its place in that list
- In the next 2 years (2002 & 2003) consecutively, Li was named as one of the Ten Famous Persons of IT to honor and acknowledge what he has achieved
- April of 2004, Li’s name was placed in the list of Chinese Software Ten Outstanding Young Persons. He received the ASEAN Youth Award on 23 August 2005.
- In December of the same year, in the list of Chinese Economic Figures of the Year 2005 by CCTV, Li’s name was included
- In 2006, American Business Weekly named him World’s Best Business Leader
- Li was listed as one of the 15 Asian Scientists To Watch by Asian Scientist Magazine on 15 May 2011
- He was appointed by Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary-General to become co-chair of the Independent Expert Advisory Group on Data Revolution for Sustainable Development, on the 29th of August, 2014
- Li was listed as 35th in Forbes Richest Person of China 2019
- His company Baidu was listed 50th in Forbes Top 100 Digital Companies
- Forbes also listed Li as 17th in their Richest in Tech list
To conclude, Robin Li was not born into a wealthy family. As mentioned before, his parents were mere factory workers with five children to feed. Li might not have had the luxury or resources to start a company, but he did possess the resolve entailed. With his dedication, Baidu is what it is today, a necessity for most internet users of China.