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After cutting billionaires Jack Ma & Pony Ma to size China clips Didi founder Cheng’s wings

Will Cheng, the founder of taxi-hailing giant Didi whose wings are being clipped by China (Pic. Courtesy Twitter/@alltechasianews)

After cutting Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Internet behemoth Tencent founder Pony Ma to size, Communist China is now clipping the wings of high-flying Will Cheng, the founder of taxi-hailing giant Didi.

Cheng, 38, is the youngest entrepreneur heading one of China's biggest tech companies.

In the nine years since Didi was founded he has created a tech giant that amassed nearly 160 million monthly active users by the first quarter of this year in China alone and taken over the operations of arch rival Uber in the country.

This is nearly double the amount of users that Uber has worldwide.

Before he founded Didi in 2012, Cheng joined Alibaba as an entry-level salesperson making the equivalent of about $200 a month and rose rapidly in seven years to become the company's youngest regional manager.

Cheng said he created Didi because he was fed up with being unable to get a taxi during a business trip, according to a profile in China’s Business Times. The "pain" led him to think about how to fix the problem.

"I was thinking, how about creating a ride-hailing app, so there can be fewer poor losers that get soaked in the rain?" Cheng said, recalling a depressing experience in Beijing when he couldn't hail a cab for hours during a storm, he told the financial paper. 

Cheng founded Didi with just $15,000 of his own money, and another $110,000 from Wang Gang, an angel investor who was his immediate boss at Alibaba. Wang's initial investment was worth a billion dollars when Didi went public.

Like its tech peers Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, Didi's rise has been swift and just like them it has now fallen out of favour as Communist China’s strongman President Xi Jinping sees their operations leading to huge income inequalities in the country.

Didi has been facing rigorous regulatory investigation after it listed on the New York stock exchange earlier this year. This forms part of China’s crackdown on private companies, especially the tech giants, who dominate the market and control big data.

Chinese authorities have accused Didi of improper collection and use of personal data of users of its service, unfair pricing mechanisms and hurting competition.

Didi is reported to have rubbed the powerful Cyberspace Administration of China the wrong way when the company went ahead with its $4.4 billion stock market debut on June 30, despite the regulator telling the company to put it on hold. A cybersecurity review of its data practices was being carried out at the time, according to a Reuters report.

Also read: Alibaba plunges into first ever loss as Jack Ma pays price for speaking up