Competition is the core of capitalism. Competition between firms lowers costs — on common — and ensures that they’re pressured to innovate lest they lose their markets to others. Competition between employees ensures that folks try to do their greatest work lest their jobs go to extra certified or sooner or cheaper replacements.
Obviously, there’s a spectrum right here from torpid monopoly to cutthroat competitors that causes extra issues than it’s value (environmental injury within the hopes of reducing prices, fraud, deceit, and so on.). Drawing that line although is admittedly, actually laborious although, and there are sadly not many non-academic discussions of how a lot competitors is required to spur innovation.

So it was stunning to learn a whole chapter about this dilemma evaluating China and the U.S. in Kai-Fu Lee’s guide AI Superpowers (sure, sure, I’m dreadfully behind on this explicit guide evaluation).
While the guide is about AI, Lee is attempting to undo American conceptions of Chinese innovation early on within the textual content. Yes, the nation was as soon as a copycat haven, however that has modified because the learnings of copying have led to originality:
The first act of copying didn’t flip into an anti-innovation mentality that its creator might by no means shake. It was a mandatory steppingstone on the way in which to extra unique and regionally tailor-made expertise merchandise.
In his narrative, American (tech) firms didn’t fail in China as a result of they had been incompetent, however quite as a result of they by no means made the hassle to localize:
American public firms are likely to deal with worldwide markets as money cows, sources of bonus income to which they’re entitled by advantage of profitable at house. […] American firms deal with China like simply every other market to examine off their world checklist. They don’t make investments the assets, have the endurance, or give their Chinese groups the pliability wanted to compete with China’s world-class entrepreneurs.
China’s entrepreneurs didn’t simply learn to construct merchandise rapidly from their early copying, but in addition discovered that they needed to ferociously compete for markets:
The sheer density of competitors and willingness to drive costs all the way down to zero pressured firms to iterate: to tweak their merchandise and invent new monetization fashions, constructing sturdy companies with excessive partitions that their copycat opponents couldn’t scale.
Lee’s final level is that by specializing in markets as a substitute of mission, Chinese startups transfer far sooner and extra aggressively to grab alternatives. But that additionally implies that there are may be hundreds of startups all focusing on the identical market on the identical time, which forces outside-the-box (learn: fairly probably unethical or unlawful) habits in an effort to compete. “For these gladiators, no dirty trick or underhanded maneuver was out of bounds. They deployed tactics that would make Uber founder Travis Kalanick blush.”
I’ve talked various instances concerning the “Chinese think Palo Alto is dumpy” downside. But it bears repeating: competitors is the important thing to a startup ecosystem. Competition forces founders to maneuver sooner, to rent faster, to make product choice with alacrity and in any other case to win their markets immediately and never a yr from now. The greatest founders in Silicon Valley founders perceive this, though this secret appears to be more and more misplaced immediately.
History, after all repeats. Just yesterday, it was revealed that Chinese caffeine chain Luckin Coffee obtained a $200 million mortgage from funding banks in prep for an IPO. From Julie Zhu and Kane Wu at Reuters:
The agency formally launched its enterprise solely in January final yr and in July raised $200 million in its maiden funding spherical that valued it at $1 billion, making it one of many fastest-ever corporations to make the ‘unicorn’ milestone.
[…]
The loss-making agency has been increasing at breakneck pace with over 2,000 cafes opened and plans to open 2,500 this yr – displacing Starbucks as China’s largest espresso chain within the course of.
15 months and bigger than Starbucks. That’s pace, and that’s the way you compete.
Digging into the S1: Jumia IPO has factors for reward and pause
PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP/Getty Images
Written by Arman Tabatabai
Jumia grabbed headlines yesterday after the African e-commerce participant filed for an IPO on the NYSE. Our author Jake Bright coated the information and supplied insightful context round Jumia’s enterprise mannequin, its footprint, and the state of e-commerce in Africa.
With Jumia en path to changing into Africa’s first public tech firm listed overseas, we dug into the corporate’s S-1 to get a greater understanding of all its shifting components. Generally, the story is fairly compelling: Jumia is among the largest pan-Africa e-commerce companies with a big and quickly rising energetic person base that’s positively levered at Africa’s financial growth and cellular adoption.
While the corporate is burning money and shedding a whole bunch of thousands and thousands of dollars every year, that’s hardly unusual anymore. But one space that gave me pause was the corporate’s margin breakdown.
To measure the economics and working efficiency of the corporate’s core operations, Jumia makes use of “platform contribution,” a metric it defines as gross revenue — excluding income from companies outdoors the core platform — subtracted by success prices from third-party logistics suppliers, primarily associated to freight and transport. Using this metric, Jumia’s platform contribution was about 9-11% of gross sales in 2017-18.
However, Jumia’s metric excludes success and supply prices related to Jumia’s community of warehouses, their success workers, and different associated bills, with the logic being that these prices are pretty flat year-to-year and fewer indicative of the variable prices of the enterprise. However, as an e-commerce logistics and supply supplier, the unaccounted for success prices appear at the least related, if not core.
If we had been to incorporate all Jumia’s success bills within the calculation, Jumia’s platform contribution would really be damaging 5-11% in 2017-18. While skinny to negligible margins aren’t uncommon for scaling e-commerce platforms, Jumia’s margins fall wanting ranges seen in previous prospectuses from among the e-commerce giants Jumia seems to be as much as. Amazon, Alibaba, and even JD.com all had at the least a yr of optimistic margins together with complete success prices on the time of their S-1s. (Though to be truthful right here, not one of the three firms are apples-to-apples comps — Amazon’s S-1 was many years in the past, Alibaba operated on a very completely different scale on the time of its IPO, and JD.com used a special mannequin centered on direct gross sales).
Still, the numbers listed below are just a bit unnerving throughout the context of Africa’s earlier e-commerce failures, as mentioned by Jake Bright:
“Jumia’s transfer to go public comes as a number of notable shopper digital gross sales startups have faltered in Nigeria…
…In late 2018, Nigerian on-line gross sales platform DealDey shut down. And TechSwitch reported this week that consumer-focused enterprise Gloo.ng has dropped B2C e-commerce altogether to pivot to e-procurement. The CEO cited higher unit economics from B2B gross sales.
Jumia additionally competes with companies backed by Amazon and Naspers in a number of of its markets, which may be daunting when competing on economics.
The different disclosure that had me harping on Jumia’s success expense was within the “Risk Factors” part, the place the corporate highlighted that it operates in markets with under-developed bodily, financial, authorized, and institutional infrastructure. And whereas there’s heavy funding going into African infrastructure — which might act as a development tailwind for Jumia within the long-run — bettering, not to mention creating, infrastructure takes for much longer than doing the identical in regular enterprise operations, as we’ve mentioned advert nauseam.
Because of the shortage of infrastructure, Jumia brazenly discusses the difficulties of supply and steady success in its markets and has needed to construct out lots of operational infrastructure itself. To me, it at the least raises questions round how rapidly Jumia will have the ability to get its value construction down and whether or not it’d take a bit longer in comparison with a few of its world e-commerce friends.
Thanks
To each member of Extra Crunch: thanks. You permit us to get off the ad-laden media churn conveyor belt and spend high quality time on superb concepts, folks, and corporations. If I can ever be of help, hit reply, or ship an e mail to [email protected]
This e-newsletter is written with the help of Arman Tabatabai from New York

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