Billionaire Adrian Cheng launches C Ventures to target Chinese millennials
Adrian Cheng, scion of one of Hong Kong’s wealthiest families likes to call himself a “cultural entrepreneur.” This week in Paris he announced the launch of a significant new investment fund to target what Cheng sees as the key consumer market of the 21st century – Millennials and Generation Z in China.
Cheng’s new investment vehicle is C Ventures, which has already bought control, or taken stakes in, a network of technologically driven brands. They vary from hipster media properties like Nowness; to Not Just a Label, a specialist site that generates projects and jobs for hot fledgling designers, to Armarium, the luxury ready-to-wear rental company. The goal – to build an interlocking network of largely Western resources to target what Cheng calls the BAT Generation, standing for Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, Chinese’s three giant Internet companies.
“The BAT generation numbers 427 million people, that’s larger than the workforce of the United States and the European Union, combined!” said Cheng in an address in the Crillon Hotel. His Hong Kong-based family’s massive empire also includes Rosewood, which manages the Crillon and the Carlyle in New York, part of a chain of some 35 hotels.
The BATers account for 65% of Chinese online shoppers, and by the year 2020 they will represent 53% of all Chinese consumers. Moreover, the Communist Party’s rigid one child policy also created a group of people with radically different tastes and attitudes than their parents or Westerners of a similar age.
“We use the formula 4:2:1, meaning that not only are these single kids taken care of by their parents, but also supported by four grandparents. That means six people looking out financially for just one young person who always lives at home until 30, or when they marry,” opines Cheng.
After studying carefully their behaviour, C Ventures began buying companies that could cater to those habits. The discovery that BATers watch 765 minutes of video each week led him to buy into Dazed Media, and to acquire Nowness, the LVMH financed fashion video channel. Cheng is tight-lipped about figures, but loss-making Nowness apparently set him back less than $10 million. He declined to say how much C Ventures will spend; but it appears to be an investment of several hundred million euros, supported in partnership with media financier Clive Ng.
Likewise, Cheng noticed that young Chinese are less keen on owning things than enjoying multiple experiences. “When you consider how many fashion seasons even a single brand has, spring-summer, fall-winter, cruise, capsules, it’s very hard for any consumer to keep up. One reason many young Chinese now want to rent high fashion,” the Hong Kong scion argues. The result: C Ventures took a significant stake in Armarium, the luxury on loan site which sends top-notch stylists to clients’ homes and rents clothes from brands like Pucci, Etro, Jimmy Choo, Haider Ackermann and Roberto Cavalli.
The last named is another Cheng investment, via luxury management consultancy Luxuba, which advises DSquared2 and Moschino in China. He has also snapped up luxury jewellery rental service Flont; art auction site Paddle 8; teen-centered platform Galore; fitness and music etailer Bandier and gaming business SkyBound.
“It’s about connecting and colliding different global cultures,” said Cheng, who knows a thing or two about it himself. Hong Kong-born; fluent in English; an honours graduate of Harvard; Cheng spent a year in Japan studying the local culture before setting up K11, the path-breaking museum-retail concept due to open in nine Chinese cities.
In 2015, he was effectively named heir apparent of his family’s business empire. Founded in 1929 by his grandfather Cheng Yu-tung, the group includes Chow Tai Fook, the world’s largest jewellery boutique chain and New World Development, with a market capitalization of over HK$80 billion.
Moreover, Cheng is a major art collector, and trustee of the Royal Academy and member of the Tate International Council, and sees another “tectonic shift” in China, the rebirth of pride in the country’s own rich cultural tradition.
“This new generation is all about reigniting Chinese culture. The fact is the destruction of the Cultural Revolution did not leave that much,” he concedes.
Next up: this fall, he promises to announced five more significant investments. Ironically, Cheng, who dressed head to toe in Hermès, from a ruby velvet blazer to fire engine red sneakers, has never bought any fashion on the web. And in 2019, the launch of Victoria Dockside, a giant, with 3.2 million square foot, waterfront development in Hong Kong. Its cost: $3 billion; its target: the BATers.
Strictly speaking, Cheng is not a Millennial or BATer since he was born in 1979, though “calculating by the Chinese lunar calendar I am!” says this cerebral but enthusiastic power investor.
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