Young over­seas Chi­nese share ex­pe­ri­ences start­ing up busi­nesses in Shang­hai

Global Times – Metro Shanghai - - FRONT PAGE - By Chen Shasha

As China be­comes more open and de­vel­ops in a rapid way thanks to its re­form and open­ing-up pol­icy im­ple­mented in 1978, more and more over­seas Chi­nese are rid­ing in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion than their par­ents by com­ing back to China, a coun­try where they al­ready have blood ties, to seek bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties and re­al­ize their dreams.

De­spite the cul­tural dif­fer­ences, th­ese promis­ing tal­ents have been making great ef­forts to be­come en­twined in lo­cal life, start­ing up their own busi­nesses here and stand­ing strong in China’s in­creas­ingly com­pet­i­tive mar­ket. Af­ter sev­eral years of hard work, how do they feel about start­ing busi­ness in China and what have they learned from their ex­pe­ri­ences?

At a re­cent shar­ing sem­i­nar ti­tled “Find­ing Roots Chas­ing Dreams” hosted by the Global Times Shang­hai News­room, three young over­seas Chi­nese en­trepreneurs – Billy Chan, Michelle Li and Steven Oo – dis­cussed their en­tre­pre­neur­ial ex­pe­ri­ences in China. Each of the three young en­trepreneurs also shared their feel­ings and opin­ions about do­ing busi­ness with Chi­nese main­lan­ders.

Billy Chan, a third-gen­er­a­tion Chi­nese-Cana­dian, moved to Shang­hai four years ago and built up his own busi­ness, DropChain, a plat­form fo­cus­ing on sup­ply-chain ecosys­tems. He used ex­hil­a­ra­tion, frus­tra­tion and sat­is­fac­tion as ad­jec­tives to ex­press his feel­ings about the process.

Amazed by China’s rapid de­vel­op­ment, Chan said that do­ing busi­ness here has been an ex­cit­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Sat­is­fac­tion ar­rives when he fi­nally achieves some­thing. “When you ac­tu­ally get there, you feel that you’re at the top of the hill,” he said.

Chi­nese-Amer­i­can Michelle Li im­mi­grated to the US in 1992 when she was only seven, then came back to China in 2007. About three years ago she founded Soror­ity China, a sis­ter­hood com­mu­nity aim­ing to pro­vide safe and af­ford­able co-liv­ing hous­ing and co-work­ing spa­ces for the grow­ing num­ber of young pro­fes­sional women here.

Li used the words “prod­uct,” “mar­ket” and “fit” to de­scribe the start-up process. In her mind, hav­ing your own prod­uct, know­ing what it is and un­der­stand­ing the mar­ket it is tar­geted at are im­por­tant for start-ups like hers. She ex­plained that fit refers to ques­tions like “why am I the right per­son to do what I do?,”and she be­lieves that through those three words oth­ers will have a good busi­ness model.

Born and raised in Myan­mar, Steven Oo im­mi­grated to the US with his fam­ily and when he was 15 years old and re­ceived an ed­u­ca­tion there. He used to work for some Amer­i­can com­pa­nies be­fore fi­nally com­ing to China to start-up his own fash­ion brand.

Oo is im­pressed by peo­ple’s ef­fi­ciency in China, which is what makes him en­joy work­ing here. He ex­plained that, when do­ing busi­ness, once in touch with the right per­son who can make de­ci­sion, things move su­per-fast and with amaz­ing qual­ity. “It’s the ef­fi­ciency that’s making my busi­ness re­ally com­pet­i­tive with other com­pa­nies around the world,” he said.

Per­sonal chal­lenges

Start­ing up a new busi­ness is never an easy task. For the three who were born Chi­nese but raised and ed­u­cated out­side of the Chi­nese main­land, it is even more chal­leng­ing to lure busi­ness in China.

Oo said he is not used to work­ing with big bosses from big com­pa­nies, as Chi­nese busi­ness culture re­quires peo­ple to talk in a tact­ful way. “You have to be su­per re­spect­ful and my Chi­nese is not that amaz­ing, so when I talk to them, some­times I come up re­ally rude and su­per di­rect,” he ex­plained at the sem­i­nar.

He added that be­ing di­rect some­times ends up of­fend­ing peo­ple, so he has to let some­body else in his team deal with the bosses of big­ger com­pa­nies. Chan like­wise found that in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships are quite cen­tral to busi­ness in China.

Ac­cord­ing to Chan, work­ing in a multi­na­tional com­pany re­quires peo­ple to tell each other what they can of­fer, why they need it and how much it costs, then ex­e­cute the deal ef­fi­ciently. But here in China he re­al­ized that, be­fore all that hap­pens, there are lay­ers upon lay­ers of so­cial buildup (guanxi in Chi­nese) which is one of the big­gest chal­lenges he per­son­ally faces in China.

“Years later I’ve built up re­la­tion­ships in­volv­ing part­ners and cus­tomers and dis­trib­u­tors, and things get done very quickly now. But be­fore we get that fast, it starts very slow,” he said.

Be­cause of the type of busi­ness she is in­volved in, Li’s big­gest chal­lenge is women. She said that her busi­ness is try­ing to make women mu­tu­ally re­spect each other and come to­gether in a com­mu­nity to sup­port each other’s growth, which takes time and re­quires many changes to the old mind­set.

More­over, to un­der­stand how China works, who she is and what her val­ues are ne­ces­si­tate a per­sonal bal­ance. “Some­times it is never go­ing to be even, and you just have to make a tough call based on that sit­u­a­tion,” Li said.

Ben­e­fits and gains

Our three guests also spoke about the ben­e­fits and per­sonal gains they have made along the way. Chan thinks that be­ing in China can lit­er­ally change some­one’s DNA. He grew up in a small town in Canada where there are only 5,000 peo­ple and the main in­dus­tries are fish­ing, log­ging and min­ing.

“The pace of life [in my home­town] is maybe one­tenth of how peo­ple live here [in Shang­hai],” he said, adding that when­ever he goes back to Canada or Sin­ga­pore, he re­al­izes that peo­ple in Shang­hai move two steps faster than ev­ery­one else in the world. “I have adopted this lifestyle,” he said.

Oo shared sim­i­lar opin­ions to­ward the speedy Shang­hai lifestyle. “I spent 15 years in Myan­mar and 15 years in the US, but I have only been here for six years. Yet I feel that what I have done in the past six years in Shang­hai is more than I have done in the past 30 years [over­seas],” he said.

“When I go back home to Myan­mar, I feel like ev­ery­body is wast­ing time be­cause they’re not do­ing any­thing.”

Oo holds a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude to­ward the speedy Shang­hai at­mos­phere, be­liev­ing that do­ing things quickly will get him closer to re­tire­ment, which is when he will set up a char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion or do some­thing else for the greater good of so­ci­ety.

But the best thing about be­ing in China, he said, has been learn­ing how to stay ahead of ev­ery­one. “You must al­ways keep up, be­cause things are al­ways chang­ing here,” he said, adding that this is es­pe­cially true in his in­dus­try, which is fash­ion.

Li has ben­e­fited from her past fail­ures, in­clud­ing all the things she has done wrong and things that did not work out or go as planned. She thinks that fail­ure is the only way to learn and the only way to grow, both per­son­ally and as a busi­ness.

“I con­stantly have to read­just based on what I don’t know, and I think China is the best place in the world to do that,” she said.

Sink or swim

Run­ning a new busi­ness re­quires en­trepreneurs to sink or swim. Many set their minds to suc­ceed from the get-go, while oth­ers are more in­ter­ested in the process or jour­ney rather than the end re­sults.

Li said that her team has been ex­pand­ing since it was estab­lished three years ago, from four em­ploy­ees to 30. She thinks the re­sult is im­por­tant to her share­hold­ers, staff and cus­tomers, but what she per­son­ally val­ues more is the process of how they ob­tained that suc­cess.

Chan agrees that the process is cen­tral to suc­cess, as it serves as a sort of road map to help peo­ple get the re­sults they want. “I think they go hand in hand. I don’t think I would pre­fer one over the other,” he said.

“There’s a heavy amount of luck in­volved, but in or­der for you to get that lucky, you need to have a plan; you need to have a road map,” he said.

Oo said that when it came to build­ing his team, each mem­ber had to take spe­cific steps in or­der to make sure that the end prod­uct was of su­pe­rior qual­ity. China has been making im­prove­ments in this re­spect. Oo said that brands that never be­fore man­u­fac­tured in China are now will­ing to be­cause they know good qual­ity is in­te­gral to that process.

Younger gen­er­a­tions

As more over­seas Chi­nese are com­ing to China, Oo, Li and Chan of­fered some sug­ges­tions and ad­vice to the younger gen­er­a­tions of en­trepreneurs.

Oo be­lieves that it is im­por­tant to work in other com­pa­nies first to learn and gain ex­pe­ri­ence. “They [big com­pa­nies] are big for a rea­son. They’ve gone through the things that you will be go­ing through,” he said. “So if you go through a big com­pany, you can learn from your mis­takes.”

Li thinks it is im­por­tant that young peo­ple have opin­ions and ideas which are unique.

She en­cour­ages young­sters to es­tab­lish a pro­fes­sional ca­reer to fol­low the path that they are sup­posed to, to think more about who they are, what they stand for as in­di­vid­u­als and how that mes­sage is some­thing that mat­ters.

Chan be­lieves peo­ple should not for­get about help­ing oth­ers around them, even when they are busy making money or ded­i­cated to their own ca­reers. He thinks some peo­ple can be rid­ing high while many oth­ers are rid­ing low, so don’t for­get to give back. “Be­cause you will never know when you will need their help [later],” he said.

Speak­ing of sup­port, Oo found the lo­cal gov­ern­ment to be very sup­port­ive. He said that, re­cently, a do­mes­tic group is help­ing build a fash­ion cen­ter along Suzhou Creek by of­fer­ing fa­vor­able rent, which for small lo­cal start-ups is very help­ful.

Chan agrees that gov­ern­ment sup­port is very im­por­tant. “If you have gov­ern­ment sup­port, you have a much higher chance of sur­vival,” he said, adding that the Shang­hai mu­nic­i­pal gov­ern­ment is now fo­cus­ing on start-ups more than be­fore.

Photo: VCG

Clock­wise from top left: Chi­nese-Amer­i­can Michelle Li; The host Chen Shasha; Third-gen­er­a­tion Chi­ne­seCana­dian Billy Chan; The designer Steven Oo; Main: A pic­ture of all speak­ers in a panel dis­cus­sion

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