Mind Blown in China – Week 1 Recap

Last week, a friend pointed out that I hadn’t written a post since January. Turns out that it is easy to get out of the habit of writing.

It kicked me into action and at an interesting time. Travelabulous was recently selected into the Chinese Angel Mentorship Program (CAMP). CAMP is a joint initiative between the Chinese Canadian Angel Alliance (CCAA) and Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE). I know – that is a lot of acronyms.

Masha and I were thrilled and excited to be selected to the first ever cohort for the chance to work with other great entrepreneurs, access to and learnings from the world’s largest market, and mentorship and business partners from China’s best entrepreneurs and technology leaders. So, one week ago, we jumped on a plane for Beijing and the start of this unknown adventure.

So many amazing things have happened in the first six days. We had meetings at Baidu (the Chinese Google), Sohu, Xiaomi, Apus, and other companies. We have met with world-class mentors and advisors. The week ended with a signing and photo op with Ontario’s Premier, Kathleen Wynne.

The Chinese have an expression of achieving in 3 months what the rest of the world takes a year to achieve. Instead of relaying all the details of our 4 weeks of experience in Beijing, I thought I would share the Top 10 Learnings we presented as part of the mid-term update.

  1. Companies in China can grow incredibly fast, incredibly early. Two of the companies we visited, Xiaomi and Apus, reached unicorn status in less than 1 year. Xiaomi is in their fifth year of operation and have almost $20B CAD annual revenues already. Apus have 510 million users in just over a year of operations. In related news, Chinese Black Friday happened this week and Alibaba had $19B CAD in sales in 24 hours!
  2. Joint ventures between startups are truly strategic. Chinese entrepreneurs are seeing beyond their borders in a big way. They realize this is challenging for them, just like breaking into China is hard for North American companies. From very early stages, they see the value in strategic partnerships, even by equity share swaps. This is so different than the hyper-competitive environment we see between companies in North America.
  3. Chinese investors truly understand trial and error, and patience. This might seem like it isn’t possible given the incredible growth of startups, but the Chinese investors understand that building a company is all about patience and repeated trial-and-error. This leads to an environment where “frantic” must not be a thing at all. It also creates an environment where entrepreneurs can focus on the right things early and not do unnatural activities before product-market fit just to be able to answer questions like, “… but what is your MRR?”
  4. Chinese investors have a model for seed investment based on potential, not just traction. In North America, there seems to be a theme of, “it is impossible to predict winning entrepreneurs and companies in the early stages.” The Chinese investor doesn’t have a crystal ball, but they seem to have systematized what makes a great entrepreneur. Worded another way, they have applied science to “invest in team.”
  5. Chinese entrepreneurs are very giving of their time. We have met CEOs and senior leaders from all the companies we mentioned. More on this one next week.
  6. Beijing built an entire subway network in less time than Toronto can add a station. As a culture, we have to spend less time talking and more time doing.
  7. Travel Massive Beijing is growing fast, like everything else. We presented at a Travel Massive meetup here. Travel Massive has been awesome to us on their global site and we have gotten a lot of great contacts, friends and amazing content from Toronto and Ottawa bloggers. When we contacted the chapter leaders of TM in Beijing, they were quick to set up a meetup – only the fourth since they started. We presented to a room of 40 people and more than half came up to talk to us after.
  8. Don’t believe the travel time on any map in Beijing. This city is huge, both in area and population. Like any big city, traffic is horrendous. Again, it doesn’t seem to be a problem. Like navigating through a massive market opportunity, people always seem to give themselves enough time, take a flexible approach to route, and get to the destination on time. Lesson learned.
  9. WeChat is a way of life! I have found my people! I thought WeChat was Whatsapp or iMessage for China. Wow – that is scratching the surface of how it is used. It is more like the Facebook, Apple Pay, Twitter, and iMessage wrapped up into one. I have been bitching about the “million point apps” for years. Ah… WeChat…
  10. Tony Wang’s guanxi is even greater than we thought. I have difficulty expressing guanxi exactly. The closest way to describe it in English is possibly, “strength and depth of personal and business network.” It is not only the strength of the network but the willingness to expose new people to the network. In our case, Tony Wang – the lead CCAA mentor – has a network of extremely successful and giving business leaders which he has exposed to all the entrepreneurs in CAMP. I can’t speak for the other members of CAMP, but I’m certainly not (yet) feeling worthy of the meetings we have lined up for the coming week. I hope I can live up to expectations.

To summarize, I simply leave you with… mind blown.

‘Til next time… Kirk, out!


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