Tech

Tim Culpan is a technology columnist for Bloomberg Gadfly. He previously covered technology for Bloomberg News.

It's not always easy being a visionary.

Masayoshi Son this week bathes in the glory of $93 billion in fresh cash, and Elon Musk continues to attract kudos for being, well, Elon Musk. Jia Yueting, on the other hand, is suffering the ignominy of seeing his empire crumble before it was built.

On Sunday, the billionaire's Shenzhen-listed Leshi Internet Information & Technology Corp. announced Jia would step down as general manager, while staying on as chairman to oversee strategy. The company's U.S. unit plans to shed almost all its staff, leaving behind a skeleton crew to serve customers who've already bought its devices, after missing sales targets by a massive margin.

Do Not Adjust Your Set
Not unchanged -- untraded. LeShi's shares were halted on the Shenzhen exchange in April
Source: Bloomberg

Failing in the U.S. is a particular blow to LeEco, as the group is also known, because Jia seemed to have his heart set on making a splash there. His company planned to buy California-based TV maker Vizio Inc. for $2 billion, but called that deal off last month, citing "regulatory headwinds." With its finances unraveling fast, I doubt they'd have been able to afford to close the deal.

Jia himself has Musk-like dreams for electric cars, backing Los Angeles-based Faraday Future, which is building a factory in Nevada (sound familiar?)

But Jia and LeEco may have erred in not being forward-looking enough. For a visionary, his empire remains centered on rather old-school hardware businesses like phones and TVs. The fact that he wanted to buy Vizio, a branded TV maker in an anemic market, tells you something about Jia's plans.

Lost Glory
The global TV market has slowed dramatically
Source: Bloomberg Intelligence

At the same time, the streaming content unit faces tough competition from China's biggest internet companies, which have a lot more money and far greater reach. For example, the LeSports division cut 70 percent of its jobs, according to a QQ.com report last week. And did I mention that LeEco owns a controlling stake in the ride-hailing company Yidao Yongche? Jia should recall what happened to Uber Inc. in China.

If there's one thing we can take away from the tale of Jia and LeEco, it's that being a visionary only works when you've got a truly unique vision.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Tim Culpan in Taipei at tculpan1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Paul Sillitoe at psillitoe@bloomberg.net