Finding Success (as an entrepreneur) in China

Thursday, June 27, 2013 21:55
Posted in category Going to Market

Couple of weeks back I was speaking to a group of 50 aspiring entrepreneurs (University students and fresh grads), I was asked to speak about what it takes to succeed in China as a (serial)entrepreneur.

Setting aside how one defines success (scale, financial gain, awards, etc), there were four things that I felt entrepreneurs needed to do if they wanted to build an organization that effectively broke through the wall.

1) Focus – this is something that you will hear over and over, and while I myself am a VERY poor example of how to focus, I have certainly come to understand how important it is to focus in China. focus on a region, on a segment, and on a single application. Test it on a limited basis, focus on where it works, and then focus on how to blow it up.

2) Fail (and learn) fast – While speaking with Caitlin from One Earth Designs, she mentioned the need for entrepreneurs to micro fail often… and to learn from those failures. She called them microfailures. Seth Godin says they are the only way to ultimately succeed, and I generally believe that entrepreneurs need to learn how to actively learn from failure as only the lucky get it right the first time out of the gate. So, get the product out there, and see what happens. Be honest with yourself about the findings as it is easy to find reasons to stay on life support.

3) Build teams – the true test for many entrepreneurs is their ability to build a team. Team are of particular importance to any enterprise in China as there are few that would be able to develop their product for scale otherwise, and even the best entrepreneurs need to have a medium to execute. For foreign entrepreneurs in China where this gets tough (in my experience) is in being able to trust local talent. There are countless books and blog posts on this topic, but end of day if the entrepreneur cannot overcome the challenges and build a team, they are going to be dead in the water

4) Step back – for any of the above to be possible, the entrepreneur needs to learn to step back from the day-to-day micro management of the organization so that it can grow. Trust your staff to grow through their failures, and allow the organization to build in resiliency. I have seen several organizations fail to scale because of this very fact. The entrepreneur is unwilling to let go because they cannot trust their staff. A lose – lose for the organization, because the entrepreneur is unable to think, and for the staff, who are feel they are being treated like children.

would be open to any comments about what you have found.

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One Response to “Finding Success (as an entrepreneur) in China”

  1. Creative says:

    June 30th, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    Interesting blog post. And I would agree.

    To validate the last two points, I currently work in a start up in Shanghai. My boss is a successful man with another company in the city.

    His VP takes care of most all the Chinese employees and has hired a western educated women to handle HR and a few other things. It works well for a trading company.

    He started a second company (the one I work at) and as it grew it needed a Western designer to market it and just be more autonomous. At first it was amazing.

    I have to say I love the business, the job, but I can’t stand him. He is a micromanaging overlord who I’ve found out has driven a number of other foreigners away by treating them like robots, then screaming at them that they are like robots. He verbally abuses his employees and basically has failed 100% on point 4.

    He can not step back, pull back, let off the gas, nothing. It’s causing real issues with the business and there is no way you are going to reason this with him.

    The company is having a hard time scaling and I’m sure this is the reason just as you pointed out.

    I can’t say this is normal, perhaps he is overly narcissist. In fact I thought I was going crazy until I did some research.

    Some bosses don’t realize how much employees actually help them. If they are not happy they business will suffer. I work very hard here. It’s coming to a point where the verbal abuse, the non recognition, the belittling, and everything else is taking it’s toll. Employees are people too.

    Good blog post as always.