From 1996 to 1999, as the internet rose, the Nasdaq index soared from 1000 points to 4000 points.

The legendary stories of Netscape, Yahoo, Cisco and others have greatly excited the first generation of Chinese student netizens.

In 1999, Tsinghua University made a very avant-garde decision by allowing students to take a break from their studies to start their own entrepreneurial ventures.

The origin of this decision can be traced back to the spontaneously organized Tsinghua Student Entrepreneurship Association and the heated entrepreneurship competition it launched.

The first few founders of the Entrepreneur Association have all become successful in their respective fields.

Mu Yan and Tian Fanjiang established “Baihe (Lily) net”.

Ni Zhengdong founded Tsinghua Holdings.

Yang Jinfang has become the core leader of Meituan.

At that time, Wang Xing was a errand boy in the association.

Mu Yan and Yang Jinfang were the first two presidents, and they interestingly participated in Tsinghua’s most well-known entrepreneurship project at that time: Shimeile. Shimeile later had a brief but memorable connection with me, so let’s take a closer look.

1. Origin Link to heading

Back in the day, Qiu Hongyun was recognized as the “Edison of Tsinghua”. In 1997, she was admitted to the Material Science and Engineering Department of Tsinghua University and repeatedly dominated Tsinghua’s most prestigious technological competition, the “Challenge Cup”, for numerous years.

His project in 1999, which was a “Color liquid crystal video projection device utilizing edge diffused technology,” won the first prize.

What is this thing? Simply put, it’s a projector.

What are the good awards for projectors? Because LCD TVs were far from entering households at the time, and the standard wedding gift was not a house but the so-called “21-inch remote control TV.”

“21-inch remote-controlled CRT television. Interesting, isn’t it? In the past, remote controllers were not included as a standard accessory.”

At that time, owning a 32-inch Sony flat rectangular color TV was equivalent to owning a high-end Mercedes-Benz car today in terms of financial status. This behemoth weighing over a hundred pounds cost tens of thousands of dollars and required additional fees for moving.

Qiu Hongyun’s design allowed classmates to see that a 100-inch movie effect can be achieved with low cost, which was very shocking at that time.

Wang Ke from the Automation Department, hailing from the commercial hub of Ningbo in Zhejiang, was captivated by this thing. He convinced Qiu Hongyun, Mu Yan, and Yang Jinfang to join him in establishing the Shimeile Company.

At that time, several network companies were established by Tsinghua students, including Yi De Fang Zhou and HuoShen Net. Although entrepreneurs such as Tong Zhilei, Zhou Yahui, and Ye Bin all experienced the pain of exploring internet profit models in the early stages, they later laughed proudly as the tide arrived.

Unlike some classmates who entered the internet industry, Shimeile, who has been involved in the manufacturing industry from the beginning, has had a tumultuous journey, unable to escape the fate of the times.

Among the early founders of Shimeile, Mu Yan and Yang Jinfang were just passive participants and left for their studies in the United States immediately after obtaining their visas.

At that time, studying abroad in the United States was definitely the top choice for Tsinghua students: because the income from working in the United States after graduation is several times higher than in China, and there are no tempting stories of technology making wealth domestically yet.

Wang Ke is the absolute soul figure in the initiation of Vision Meike: the idea of establishing the company was his, the money for registering the company also came from his family, and he even brought in the core team of the company himself.

Wang Keren is extremely intelligent, with strong resource integration abilities and excellent English proficiency. How excellent is it? He started working part-time in a foreign enterprise since his junior year and also served as a GRE teacher at New Oriental. In theory, this intersects with Mr. Luo’s teaching field.

Rarely, Wang Ke knows his strengths and weaknesses, and he understands that he lacks management experience. After Mu Yang and the others withdrew, he began to look for a manager for Shimeile.

At this time, Wang Ke met Xu Zhong, who had experience working in a state-owned enterprise and was currently studying for an MBA at Tsinghua University. Xu Zhong loved reading and was very passionate about management studies. He had excellent public speaking skills and could speak for hours without a script.

Wang Ke was moved and asked Xu Zhong to become the vice president of Shimeile and assist him in management.

Wang Ke’s English class has a student named Li Yibin. He is a warm and approachable person. Unlike other students, he has work experience in the business world, so Wang Ke asked him to manage the finances.

In addition, Wang Ke recruited Tian Yifei from Tsinghua University Enterprise Group as the chief steward responsible for managing personnel and coordinating Tsinghua resources.

2. Financing Link to heading

The core team of Shimeile has been established, and next is fundraising.

In those years in China, there were barely any decent local venture capital opportunities.

Listed on the A-share market, Shimeile was the starting point of the later repeated hype of the venture capital concept.

With the help of Pan Fuxiang from Tsinghua, Shanghai One Hundred’s board of directors only took half an hour to approve the proposal to invest in Shimeile.

This investment is known as the first domestic venture capital to localize in China.

At the end of July 1999, both sides agreed on a total investment amount of 52.5 million yuan, but it was intentionally divided into two phases.

The first phase involves a budget of 2.5 million yuan for the development and trial of product prototypes. This is a staggering figure to contemplate.

The second phase is 50 million yuan, targeting the mass production and sale of projectors.

The final outcome was that Shanghai Yibai did not invest the additional 50 million, and instead only used 2.5 million to acquire a 20% stake, thus completing the first round of venture capital funding for an A-share company.

This incident caused a sensation in the capital market and received coverage from almost all mainstream media.

Interestingly, on that day the trading volume of a hundred stocks reached a record high for the year, and in retrospect it seems that the main force borrowed the good news to unload during the 5.19 market.

The investment of 100 yielded a result, which led Wang Ke to voluntarily give up his position as CEO and pass it to Xu Zhong, while he himself took the position of President.

This is quite similar to the model of many large overseas companies, where the CEO is responsible for managing the company, and the role of president is more focused on external communication and image building.

It should be said that at the time this was a positive decision: Xu Zhong was more mature and suitable for overseeing the overall situation, while Wang Ke preferred a more free-form work style.

Soon, Li Yibin left Shimeile and later became a big name in the outdoor off-road industry.

Three, Research and Development. Link to heading

The development of the first generation of Shimeile projectors did not rely on the shoulders of predecessors, from the aesthetic design to the complete module architecture, everything was designed from scratch.

Why is this strange idea?

In 1999, China’s GDP was less than a quarter of Japan’s. At that time, almost all household appliances relied on imported technology, as the ability to develop and support technology domestically was extremely weak.

Compared to products such as refrigerators, televisions, and washing machines, the technological difficulty of projectors is undoubtedly several orders of magnitude higher.

The company Shimeile has invited professors and senior engineers from Tsinghua University, as well as their graduate students, to participate in various aspects such as electronics, optics, and mechanical structures.

All designs are from Tsinghua University, which undoubtedly was an interesting inspection of China’s top engineering abilities at the time.

Why is it said that the difficulty of starting from scratch to develop ShimeiLe projection equipment is extremely high?

First, let’s talk about the electronics component. We designed our own motherboard with a general-purpose processor, and even embedded a television tuner. Back in the day, it was purely analog television.

That means connecting a soda can antenna can enable TV watching, but there are hardly any projectors made like that anymore.

At the same time, through program control, the device achieves full software control including screen display menus and digital calibration of optical parts, such as skin tone correction and trapezoid correction.

This is equivalent to all the software and hardware functions of developing a high-end television independently. However, at that time, few domestic TV manufacturers had completely self-developed circuit board technology.

Next, regarding the optical section, it is necessary to implement functions such as reflection, refraction, shading, uniformization, and lens focusing of an ultra-bright light source.

All optical devices are independently designed by Shimeile: including reflection bowls, Fresnel lenses, aspherical lenses, and even lenses that are cast and ground by skilled craftsmen.

Finally, speaking about the structural aspect, it is not only necessary to coordinate with the optical design, but also considering the huge amount of heat generated by using halogen lamps due to their low cost, it becomes a difficult challenge to design the structure.

The first projector by Shimeile features a self-designed vertical arc structure, which appears as a quarter-circle fan when viewed from the side. It is equipped with a large cylindrical fan that provides powerful ventilation for effective heat dissipation.

Airflow design also needs to address the problem of dust prevention for the exposed LCD, as there is a large Sharp LCD panel inside.

Without a doubt, this structural design did not reference any other products and a similar design has not been seen since then.

Gossip: The Chinese football team agreed to use Shimeile products for tactical analysis in the past, and surprisingly, they made it to the World Cup finals for the first and only time. However, the next time they may advance out of Asia might not be in this lifetime.

Children may not know that at the time, the national football team was considered a superstar group in today’s eyes.

The collaboration of the Chinese national football team almost didn’t cost any money, which is also amazing in today’s world.

4. Second Financing and Mass Production Link to heading

The prototype includes various types of mold boards that were developed successfully in just one year, which shows how hardworking this team is.

However, Shanghai Yibai expresses that they are not good at mass-producing products and will no longer continue to invest.

Fortunately, upon learning this news, the chairman of Aucma, the king of refrigerators, Mr. Lu Qunsheng made the decision to invest 30 million yuan in order to achieve mass production and sales of projectors. This decision was made in an effort to avoid direct competition from hometown rivals Haier and Hisense.

“Aucma Simele” is born, and this company is abbreviated as ASEE.

Lu Qunsheng is absolutely a practical person. For more than ten years since he revived Aucma from the brink of collapse, he has been the leader in China’s ice chest (not refrigerator) industry.

However, the saturation of the refrigerator market has made President Lu urgently need to develop new fields. His investment in Asee is not just a pretense. He sent capable personnel to build a projection assembly production line with a capacity of 100,000 units in Qingdao and fully delegated the management to several young partners of Shimeile.

5. Market. Link to heading

In early 2001, the first product of Asee, the ASP-2100, quickly proved its immaturity after its release: low brightness, short bulb life, loud noise, instability, and other issues were exposed one after another.

This is the difference between research and development and mass production.

Although the R&D personnel addressed the major issues in the second generation ASP-2150 after six months, it still belongs to the low-end large-scale single-piece LCD products. This Sharp LCD has a low transparency rate, resulting in the machine’s brightness being only 800 lumens.

To further enhance brightness and color saturation, the use of three miniature LCD technologies is required.

This requires three beams of red, blue, and green light to pass through three LCD panels and finally merge together without any discrepancies. Not only does this significantly increase the cost, but it also raises the difficulty of research and development by yet another magnitude.

Perhaps Texas Instruments’ (TI) DLP was a more suitable solution for Austar’s technological level at that time. However, unfortunately, at the time, DLP commercial use was only three years old, and various factors prevented Asee from entering into it.

The management team of Asee has also realized that the gap between their products and advanced foreign technologies cannot be closed overnight, and therefore decided to introduce ODM products as a supplement.

It can be said that this is a correct decision, as Asee has strong brand recognition due to frequent media exposure, and also has strong appeal in the education market.

Introducing OEM products while enhancing our own research and development capabilities to target the low-end market is a reasonable choice.

Unfortunately, the two Taiwanese contract manufacturers we found at the time were not mature enough in their technology, resulting in a product failure rate of over 30%, which put a strain on after-sale support and also affected the brand.

The leaking roof happened to encounter continuous rainy nights, and the inventory also led to cash flow issues.

The most expensive core component, miniature projection LCDs, is held by Sony. Sony’s long lead times and overly optimistic projections have resulted in Asee’s inventory backlog.

6. Conflict. Link to heading

Unlike internet-based companies, Asee is not a company that burns a lot of money because it has its own media traffic. The founders commute to work on bicycles and receive a modest salary.

The wages desired by the senior professors and engineers were also very low, and coupled with a group of passionate young people working tirelessly for their ideals, no one was being too concerned about money.

However, due to sales obstacles caused by quality issues, the difficulties in developing 3-LCD technology independently, and the lack of further funds for research and development, the originally harmonious team began to have conflicts.

In the autumn of 2001, the management team and department heads of the company held the “Xiaolushan Meeting” at the famous Shan Bar in Huairou, Beijing. Each department expressed great concerns about the current situation and hoped for bold reforms to be implemented.

There was no consensus reached during the meeting on whether to continue in the trade of skilled labor or to transition into the trade of industrial technology.

Next, Asee’s sales performance continued to be poor, only selling a few dozen units per month. Lu Qunsheng’s anxiety grew deeper.

At the end of the year, the board of directors announced that Wang Ke would take over the management of the entire company from Xu Zhong, and a CFO was sent from Aucma to take control of the finances and strictly control expenses.

At that time, a certain finance and economics media used the title “The Changing King Banner on the City Wall” to describe the situation at the time.

In just a few months, more than 60 employees of Asee’s R&D department were reduced to around 10, with both key and mid-level staff departing one after another.

Qiu Hongyun and Xu Zhong have since faded out, while Tian Yifei, who was viewed as a core figure in uniting the Asee, has also left the company as the human resources manager.

Seventh, Epilogue. Link to heading

New Asee started its journey of branded sales for “trade and technology”, but soon after, Wang Ke left this company full of glory and sadness without any news.

Xu Zhong returned to the School of Economics and Management at Tsinghua University to pursue a doctorate and teach, and later focused on his expertise in the field of management training entrepreneurship, to mentor teams such as that of Wang Xing.

After continuing her studies at Tsinghua and Harvard, Qiu Hongyun worked hard and started a new business in the field of astronomical CCD cameras, which is now a well-known professional company called “LightSpeed Vision”.


(Photo) Nebula and Jupiter photos taken by foreign netizens using Qiu Hongyun’s products.

Former employees of ViewSonic have branched out into the projection industry, such as Chen Long who later established Wuxi Shimeile and became a key player in laser projection.

Since most of the employees from Tsinghua University left in 2002, Xin Asee should be considered part of the Aucma Group. With Lu Qunsheng being dismissed in 2006 for embezzling funds from the listed company, Xin Ao Shi also faded out of public view.

Eight: Impressions or Thoughts. Link to heading

Looking back on the journey with ShimeiLe, it should be said that we did not make any fatal mistakes. I think it is not like what the outside world commented at the beginning, that the management ability of student companies is not good.

On the contrary, the vitality, atmosphere, and execution displayed by Shimeile make it no less impressive compared to the outstanding State-Owned Enterprises and Foreign Enterprises that I have experienced.

Back in those days, there weren’t many companies that allowed spontaneous overtime, provided ping pong tables in the office, and offered coffee breaks at noon.

So, what is the fundamental reason for the failure of Shimeile?

20 years ago, China’s manufacturing and supporting capabilities were possibly generations behind than what they are today, and succeeding in just two or three years was almost impossible, even if Shimeile assembled top-tier experts from Tsinghua University at that time.

I remember running to Dandong on the border of North Korea to process an elusive shot; going to Cangzhou, Hebei for a certain circuit board; and discovering during the 3C certification that even the ceramic capacitors of the power source did not meet the standards (yes, to match the structural design, even the standard parts like the switch power supply were designed and made by myself).

Back then, plane tickets were very expensive, so transportation was mainly dominated by green trains, and the supply chain radius was correspondingly restricted. The express delivery industry hardly existed, and China Railway Express was considered lightning-fast even if it took one or two weeks to deliver goods.

The research and development of engineering technology is an iterative evolution. It is not possible for a liquid crystal TV to upgrade from 32 inches to 100 inches in just a year, nor for the first generation of iPhone to become an iPhone X in the following year. The entire supporting industry is also a gradual process.

During that era, we had to watch pirated DVDs for videos, and technical information wasn’t as easily accessible as it is today with just a few clicks of a mouse. The attempt by Cemax to introduce new technology did not have enough time, space, or funding to fully develop.

Of course, we must also recognize that even Tsinghua University has a significant gap compared to the international advanced level in terms of basic engineering capabilities.

The internet may be the fastest and easiest way for us to synchronize with the rest of the world. However, it is extremely difficult to leapfrog the technological iterations to directly reach the world’s top level in the fields of optics, materials science, precision instruments, and so on, which are related to Visionox. This is also the main reason why we are feeling constrained in the semiconductor industry today.

For cutting-edge chip devices, we do not lack talent and hard workers, only the determination to roll up our sleeves and the patience to not earn money for years.

After leaving Shimeile, I became a lackey in a foreign enterprise: earning money, getting married, buying a house, and taking care of daily chores, while the white hairs increased on my head and the glass marbles in my heart decreased.

Last year, I saw a question on Zhihu that asked, “What motivates truly outstanding people?” Without much thought, I replied, “Perhaps it’s the ability to play cards and dine with other outstanding people every day.”

Although the story of Shimeile may sound quite sad, I consider myself fortunate to have experienced that era firsthand: perhaps chasing dreams is the essence of youth.