Pattern Recognition, by Ian Sigalow


The Shenzhen Experience

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The Shenzhen Experience


I just arrived in Shenzhen for my first trip to China in a decade.  It is Saturday night and the streets outside my hotel are crowded with revelers wearing party hats and waving balloons.  I am not exactly sure what everyone is celebrating, but it has snarled traffic for miles.

Shenzhen is an unbelievable place.  In the past 35 years the city has gone from a small fishing village on the pearl river delta to a 15mm person metropolis, larger than NYC.  The growth is mind boggling.  Shenzhen has added nearly 7mm people since I was last in china in 2004 and it is still growing.  In fact it is adding a city the size of Boston or San Francisco to its population every year.

When I got off the transfer boat from Hong Kong an hour ago I was immediately struck by how the air smells like a campfire here.  They have warnings online about breathing the air, but people are still outside playing basketball and riding bikes.  To pass the time on the cab ride I counted the number of cement mixers and bulldozers going who-knows-where at 10PM on a Saturday night.  I lost count somewhere in the mid-teens.

On the main highway we were driving bumper-to-bumper with Mercedes, BMWs, and Audis.  The streets are lined with palm trees.  We could have easily been in Miami.

Meanwhile, the cabs charge 2.40 RMB per kilometer, which in USD comes to about 60 cents per mile.  I was doing the math on this – I figure that gasoline costs about 10-15 cents per mile and a car depreciates 20-25 cents per mile.  At the speed we were driving a taxi cab driver in Shenzhen is lucky to clear $4/hour.  I don’t get the sense that Uber is going to go well over here, unless they somehow make it up on volume.

My last thought for the night is that most of the US-based websites, including my blog, load very slowly in China. However I did an Internet speed test and I am supposedly getting 10 mbps.  I am guessing that none of these companies have local hosting so the data packets are making a round the world trip to get to my screen.  This is probably what the Internet would be like in the US if not for the scientists at Akamai who invented the CDN.

(Cover photo from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)


Ian Sigalow

Ian is a co-founder and partner at Greycroft Partners in New York City. He has been a venture capitalist since 2001.

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