On the afternoon of March 16, 89-year-old Ka-shing Li (born on July 29, 1928), the Chairman of CK Hutchison Holdings Limited, officially announced his retirement.
Revered as one of the most influential businessmen in Hong Kong, Li’s every move attracted attention. Li was not only regarded as a real estate tycoon but also an “investment master”, having made a number of successful investments in science and technology.
Li has been attentive to the technology industry since 2000. His technology investments were mainly run by Horizons Ventures, which belongs to his long-time partner Solina Chau.
Facebook, the world’s largest social network with more than two billion active users, received two investments in 2007, one from Microsoft and the other from Horizons Ventures.
In addition to Facebook, Li had invested in many other technologies, including a number of technology companies, design technologies, websites and mobile apps that were not yet established at the time, including Siri and Spotify.
When Horizons Ventures was just founded, it favored Israeli startups. Among the 40 or more investments during its initial stage, half were Israeli projects. People close to Horizons Ventures have stated that “the company didn’t consider Chinese mainland projects, and hardly invested in Silicon Valley projects. They put most of their energy in Israel.”
In 2015, Horizons Ventures was the largest foreign investor in Israel, according to a market-tracking report released by IVC Research Center.
Horizons Ventures began to focus on Silicon Valley in 2014, when most of its 15 startup investments that year were in Silicon Valley technology companies.
Social media was one of the main investment directions for Horizons Ventures in 2015, when it invested $870,000 in seed funding to Meekan, a scheduling assistant app. Horizons Ventures also invested $4.6 million in the fourth round financing of media site Seen, and $2 million in multi-screen advertising company Crosswise.
These investments mapped Li’s unique direction and vision.
In 2005, Horizons Ventures invested in Skype, which was acquired by eBay for $2.5 billion in the following year.
Joost is a network services telephone company founded by Skype’s two founders, Janus Friis and Niklas Zennstrom. In 2007, it received $45 million in funding from five institutions, including the Horizons Ventures Li Ka Shing Foundation. Li personally invested in Joost and later transferred the shares to the foundation.
In December 2007, Li bought 0.8 percent of Facebook shares for $120 million. According to its financing plan at the time, the three-year-old company was valued at $15 billion. At that time, Facebook lacked indicators for profit, yet Li spent only five minutes in deciding to invest.
Since then, Li has made additional investments in Facebook totaling $450 million. Facebook’s current market capitalization is over $500 billion, making it one of Li’s highest-yielding investments in the technology industry.
In 2009, Horizons Ventures invested $15.5 million in Siri, which specializes in speech recognition systems. The company was acquired by Apple in 2010 and became a voice assistance.
In 2014, two of Siri’s original developers created a new voice assistant called Viv that overcame some of Siri’s shortcomings in functionality with more powerful self-learning capabilities and more complex questioning and voice commands.
Li, who was optimistic about Siri, once again invested $10 million in Viv, becoming the sole investor of the company at the time.
In 2009, Horizons Ventures invested $50 million in cloud music playing software Spotify, which was valued at $250 million. Its valuation rapid soared to nearly $4 billion, generating a 15 times return.
Just yesterday, Spotify held an investor conference where CEO Daniel Ek announced that the company would be listed on the New York Stock Exchange on April 3.
In October 2011, the map and navigation application Waze secured $30 million in its third round of financing from KPCB and Horizons Ventures. Waze generates real-time traffic maps by tracking each driver’s mobile phone GPS, informing users of the dynamic road and traffic conditions ahead.
On June 11, 2013, Google acquired Waze for $1.3 billion.
In 2013, Li donated $130 million to Technion, Israel’s top engineering university. Most of the donation funds came from the sale of Waze.
When 17-year-old British high school student developed news app Summly, Yahoo bought it less than a year after its launch in the Apple App Store. The app pushes nine concise news items to users daily, with no more than 400 words each. The news digests are generated using natural language processing algorithms without any human involvement.
Prior to Yahoo’s takeover for $30 million, Horizons Ventures had invested $300,000 in Summly.
Internet finance, health and internet technology were among Li’s highest investment interests in recent years. He invested $2.9 million in the mobile internet analytics company Quettra, $20 million in embedded advertisement company Cortica, and $100 million in artificial intelligence company Sentient Technologies.
In 2013, Bitstrips, a personalized avatar and comic creation app, once occupied the top positions in both Apple App Store and Google Play in the U.S. Bitstrips let users create their own comic characters by adjusting their hairstyles, facial features, clothes and other features.
In addition, users can use the application’s built-in comic scenes to express and share different moods, and even include avatars of friends who also use Bitstrips in the comics.
This rapidly growing application had won the favor of Horizons Ventures.
Later popular comic avatar applications were largely based on Bitstrips.
Horizons Ventures was keen to invest in infrastructure tools such as image, video and word processing that have the potential to be acquired by big companies.
Li was also keen to invest in wearable devices.
Misfit Wearables, a U.S. wearable startup company, secured $15.2 million from Horizons Ventures during its Series B financing in December 2013.
Horizons Ventures had also additionally invested in children’s smartwatch company Filip Technologies.
On June 3, 2014, Li invested in artificial mayonnaise which sold in eight ounce units for HK$19.50 ($2.50) each in Hong Kong.
The product uses peas, sorghum, sunflower seeds and other mixed preparations to produce a taste similar to tofu. Artificial egg products are cheaper and do not contain cholesterol. Beyond Eggs founder Josh Tetrick told Takungpao in Guangzhou that his product has a quarter more nutritional value than real eggs at half the price.
According to Tetrick, raising chickens accounted for 70 percent of the cost of eggs. “Plant eggs” not only eliminate this cost but also reduce energy consumption and the spread of diseases such as avian flu.
Regarded by Bill Gates as one of the solutions for world hunger, Tetrick’s product received $180 million from Li, attracting more market attention.
In June 2014, Li invested $10 million into a 3D bioprinting startup based in New York named Modern Meadow. The company cultivates beef and cowhide in laboratory containers through bio-manufacturing engineering and 3D printing technology.
Modern Meadow believes that bioprinted meat can meet human needs for animal protein in an environmentally friendly way.
The cost of artificial meat is not cheap. One San Francisco-based artificial meat company produced 450 grams of beef for £1,800. In 2013, the world’s first artificial beef burger, which was produced with this technology, cost £240,000.
Horizons Ventures has also invested $3 million in Bluedot, a medical analysis company that uses big data to study the spread of infectious diseases. It also invested $3 million in MarkOne, which provides consumers with health products.
Li is confident that future technology will change human food production. “If artificial eggs and printed meat really enters the mass consumer market, people will restructure the food chain to some extent,” said an industry investment manager.
British mobile operators
In March 2015, Horizons Ventures acquired British mobile operator O2 from Spanish telecoms company Telefonica for £10.25 billion ($14.3 billion). Li previously bought British telecommunications provider Three U.K., so Horizons Ventures had two out of U.K.’s four major mobile operators, becoming U.K.’s largest mobile operator.
Li had backed a quarter of U.K.’s electricity distribution market, nearly 30 percent of its natural supply market and nearly 7 percent of its water supply market.
On Nov. 13, 2017, gaming hardware manufacturer Razer was listed in Hong Kong. According to Newzoo, a game market research firm, Razer had become one of the world’s top three major gaming equipment brands. Li participated in Razer’s Series D round financing and suggested Razer’s listing in Hong Kong.
Hydrogen fuel electric car
The rapid development of new energy vehicles ushered in new opportunities for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. As one of the major future directions in automotive technology, many Chinese car companies will strengthen the development of hydrogen fuel cells.
In September 2017, a conference for Foshan Nanhai District New Energy Vehicles (hydrogen) Industry Promotion was held in Nanhai. The Yangtze River Hydrogen Power (Foshan) Research and Development Center and the vehicle production project settled there.
These two projects were established and funded by Hangzhou Changjiang Automobile Holding Limited Company, a subsidiary of FDG Electric Vehicles Limited. Li is a major shareholder of FDG.
Artificial intelligence–Fano Labs
On Nov. 21, 2017, Fano Labs, a Hong Kong-based natural language processing startup, received pre-A round financing headed by Horizons Ventures. Fano Labs is an artificial intelligence company focused on the processing and analysis of dialects. Its customers are mainly company call centers.
Bitcoin terminal market
At the beginning of 2018, Li disclosed at a dinner party that he had also invested in the Bitcoin market. He said, “I am conservative, and [Bitcoin] is absolutely risky”. In 2014, he invested more than HK$100 million ($12.7 million) in the Bitcoin terminal market.
“Technology makes me younger,” Li said in a public interview, showing his impulse for high-tech investments.