Meet Fortune List’s top pick, Chengwei, Didi’s navigator and maker of the unicorns

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(Photo from Baidu Image)

Cheng Wei, founder and CEO of ride-hailing and all-encompassing transportation app, Didi Chuxing, and its chairman Liu Qing are topping this year’s Fortune China’s 40 Under 40 Business Leaders chart for the first time.  

In just three years, Cheng has led Didi Chuxing to become a leader in the ride-hailing industry. The 32-year-old founded his own company, Xiaoju Keji, in June 2012. Xiaoju Keji’s first project was a smartphone app that connects drivers with passengers. That’s how Didi Dache (Didi Chuxing’s former name) was born in Beijing in September 2012, after three months of promoting the app and recruiting drivers.

Prior to founding his own startup, Cheng spent six years working in sales for Alibaba. In 2011, Cheng served as the vice president of Alipay’s B2C division. Cheng then switched from sales to product management.

Cheng recently accompanied Chinese President Xi Jinping on a state visit in the U.S. along with other Chinese entrepreneurs such as Jack Ma of Alibaba, Pony Ma of Tencent and Zhang Yaqin of Baidu. Cheng was one of the youngest entrepreneurs among the heavyweights.

Cheng told China.cnr.cn that he felt very fortunate that Didi Chuxing was able to represent one of China’s sharing economies in the U.S.

“We invested in America’s second largest ride-hailing app, Lyft, and LinkedIn,” said Cheng, “…we still have so much work to do. In the past decades of internet development, many American enterprises invested in China. Chinese internet enterprises still have to learn from the U.S. Now that there are new frontiers in China such as O2O (online-to-offline) and Didi Chuxing, Chinese enterprises have opportunities to extend their business around the world.”

Didi Chuxing is now estimated to be worth USD 16.5 billion, according to China.cnr.cn. It’s one of many China’s new “unicorns” — startups with a valuation of over USD one billion. The company claims to serve 200 million people in 300 Chinese cities. Its services include taxi-hailing, premium-car, express car carpooling, chauffeur service and bus-sharing services.

Big quotes from Cheng Wei:

“The industry itself is still a planning system, and the government is still the one making the calls. The relationship between taxis and taxi drivers is like the relationship between landlords and peasants.

                                                                    — At the 2015 China Entrepreneurs Forum Summer Summit  

“The traditional taxi industry is like the state-run guesthouses which need modernizing; our taxi hailing service is like three-star hotels; our express cars are budget hotels; our carpooling service is like home stays, and our private car service is like five-star hotels.”

                                                 — Internal email in July prior to Didi’s two billion USD fundraising round

 

““In the past two and a half years, we’ve faced the cruelest and the most intense competition across the Chinese internet market… we’ve been caught in the eye of the storm and all sorts of controversy. “

                                                                                     –Internal meeting in February

“When the company was founded, we didn’t expect to face the cruelest competition, the strictest regulation, the most complicated games among giants and capitals, and the highest frequency of media exposure in history as an internet company.”

                                                  — Public letter after Didi & Kuaidi merger in February

(with contributions from Toni Tang and Stella Yu)

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