Alumni Stories
Li Haibo

The Audiophile who Created China’s Leading Audio Platform, Ximalaya FM

Li Haibo graduated from CKGSB’s Executive Education – Culture and Creativity Program – a CKGSB program which combines business management with the creative industries. He is the vice-president of Ximalaya FM, China’s leading audio platform.

In this new alumni series, we track down CKGSB’s most influential graduates, many of whom have gone on to lead unicorn companies – privately held companies valued at $1 billion USD or more. According to CB Insights – a global platform which provides authoritative and up-to-date information on the world’s billion-dollar private companies – China has created a total of 217 unicorn companies between 2017 to 2021. Thirty-nine (or 18%) of these companies are run by CKGSB alumni, including 35 companies where CKGSB alumni are founders or co-founders, and 4 companies where they serve as the chairman, CEO or president.

As China’s leading business school, it’s not surprising that CKGSB has been able to produce so many business leaders playing a pivotal role in China’s economic development. More than 18,000 successful entrepreneurs, industry leaders and executives of multinational corporations have chosen to study at CKGSB for the original China insights, world-class faculty and peer-to-peer learning with China’s movers-and-shakers. More than half of CKGSB’s alumni are at the CEO or Chairman level and, collectively, lead one-fourth of China’s most valuable brands.

How did Ximalaya become a unicorn?

Ximalaya is a Shanghai-based online audio sharing platform that is a product of Beijing Nali Huiju Network Science and Technology Co, Ltd. It is China’s largest audio platform, possessing 73% of the audio market in China, and consists of podcasts, audiobooks, livestreaming, online radio and personal radio stations. Ximalaya’s platform has connected content creators with over 600 million listeners. Ximalaya has also reached agreements with more than 80 publishing houses for the sound adaptation of audiobooks.

The company was launched in August 2012 with the target of reaching 10 million subscribers; by the end of 2014 it had become China’s largest audio sharing platform, with over 100 million users. It completed its Series A round in March 2014, receiving $11.5 million, creating a foundation for the development of the company. Ximalaya has gone through six rounds of financing with its major investors being Tencent, Baidu, Xiaomi and Sony Music Entertainment

During the pandemic, its active users increased significantly, spending an average of 128 minutes a day on the platform. Ximalaya is now looking to branch out beyond mobile audio content, developing artificial intelligence for voice technology in other areas. Its “Xiaoya” OS operating system is already being installed on information systems such as smart home appliances.

Li Haibo – The Visionary Behind China’s Largest Podcast Platform

Li Haibo was a liberal arts student studying at Xi’an Jiaotong University.  During his college years he founded the first publicly issued college student magazine in China. After university he became a reporter, focusing on in-depth reports and investigative journalism. Later, he joined the French Huxie Publishing Group, dedicated to popular scientific reporting, where he oversaw the content of the “New Exploration” magazine. After working as a journalist for ten years, in 2009 he co-founded Maiji.com – a B2B platform which introduced new global technological design into China.

In 2014 he founded Haiqu.com which implemented product design for the Hi-fi company Linkwitz. The first product he developed for Linkwitz was a project he had worked on for seven years from 2007-2014 – the Pluto audio speakers. Within a year of their release, Pluto received a Pre-A round of investment from JD.com, increasing its value two-hundred-fold. The first-generation speakers were expensive, but the second-generation were more affordable, and brought greater audio quality to a wider audience. In an interview with CKGSB he stated, “The reason Pluto became so successful was because I returned to the essence of the product. Customers today are generally smart and will instantly recognize your product value.”

After meeting with the Ximalaya founder Yu Jianjun in December 2015, Li thought he could combine their knowledge in the respective fields of technology and audio. He believed the future of audio was not just in hardware. Hence, he decided to merge Haiqu.com with Ximalaya, serving as Ximalaya’s vice-president.

Li Haibo does not regard Ximalaya as an Internet radio platform, rather he regards his competitors to be companies such as Google and Baidu. Haibo capitalized on an audio market which is not in direct competition with visual media. He noted that “people are consumed all day with their eyes, and have only got their ears left to consume with.” In the interview with CKGSB he also discussed how Ximalaya has been able to stand out in the market: “Ximalaya today is a world apart from other Chinese audio companies. Many of these companies simply do FM broadcasting – transmitting and publishing audio content. But Ximalaya is embracing the Internet of Sound, connecting listeners with audio content creators through more enjoyable and accessible audio products using big data and algorithm.” 

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