Minding the Borderlands

Mark Koester (@markwkoester) on the art of travel and technology

Control Your Brand, Grow Your Business (Part 2): Getting in the Right Place and Marketing Your Way

Startup Lessons Learned Scaling a Brand and Community in China

It’s not easy growing a business internationally. Foreign markets and cultures add a lot of extra challenges. In the case of China, growing your business here requires even more of an iron fist. You have to actively protect your brand. In my opinion, control is THE key factor for foreign brand success in China.

Over the last year, my job at Techstars Community Programs (formerly UP Global) has been managing our regional development in Greater China. We have some programs to help accelerate and scale successful businesses and educate entrepreneurs, like Startup Weekend and Startup Next.

To survive (and thrive) in China, we’ve had to take steps to make sure things are under our management. These changes were hard startup lessons learned.

Gaining control (and understanding from that control) have helped us. Further, leveraging that control have multiplied our business development opportunities. In China, these partnerships are the true multipliers of business success.

In this four part series, we look at controlling your brand and operations in China helps you to grow and scale. In the first part, we looked at Controlling Where People Learn About Your Brand. The key takeaway there was that you need to manage the points where people learn about your business.

In this second part, we examine landing in the right place and marketing your way. Controlling your marketing and setting brand usage guidelines are the first steps. They will allow you to protect where you run your business and how it is presented in different places.

Control Your Brand, Grow Your Business (Part 1)

Startup Lessons Learned Scaling a Brand and Community in China

International expansion is not a straight forward process for foreign brands and companies. It’s tricky to pull off growth without a few hiccups. Expansion never comes without a lot of lessons learned, especially in a place like China.

I work for Techstars Community Programs (formerly UP Global). Our main community program is Startup Weekend. It’s a 54-hour entrepreneurship training and interactive learning experience. I initiated of our Regional Development in China a year ago. Since then, I’ve learned a lot of startup and business lessons.

The biggest lesson is that you have to control your brand and your business operations in China. To grow and scale in a sustainable way, you have to control it.

Once you have control, aim to create strong partnerships. The best plan is to seek mutually-beneficial partnerships with high quality Chinese companies. As an international company, you can’t survive in China without partnerships supporting you.

In this four part series, we will look at some tips and guidelines for controlling your brand and operations in China. Control your brand and you can grow and scale more intentionally.

In this first part, we will look at controlling where people get your main message.

What Do Startup Conferences Mean for a Startup Community?

There are a lot of startup events and conferences in China and Asia these days (and some burnout from them). Generally, these conferences are a distraction rather than helpful contribution for many entrepreneurs. Yet the question remains: What can startup conferences do for a startup community?

About two weeks ago, a big chunk of Asia’s startup community gathered in Hong Kong for RISE, Web Summit’s first attempt to bring their magic to Asia.

RISE definitely stood out amongst many events I’ve attended, and it can teach us much about how a startup conference, if done right, can help multiply our individual community efforts and how it can periodically bring together the disparate parts of a startup ecosystem into one common effort.

On a statistical level, RISE was a pretty big deal with over 140 speakers, 300 investors and 250 media representatives. Over 500 startups exhibiting and pitching added another level of energy. Combine that with nearly 5000 attendees from 72 countries at the lovely Hong Kong Convention Centre and you start to get to the numerical impact that the folks at Web Summit brought to Hong Kong’s startup scene.

Instead of going to dozens of cities, I was able to connect with hundreds of startup supporters from all around the region in one place. Personally I ran into buddies from Thailand, Singapore, mainland China, Taiwan and Korea, and I made new companions for even wider circle, including Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. Likely everyone else my schedule before and during the event was pretty packed.

As a startup community builder and coordinator in Greater China, I am often wondering how best to provide opportunities for knowledge sharing and networking, how to keep the energy and momentum going and how to coordinate individual efforts into a collective platform. Some of the ways I often cite are regular meetups, startup accelerators / incubators like Techstars, YC, 500 Startups, etc. and community innovation events like Startup Weekends and Hackathons.

But after attending RISE and other bigger startup conferences, it is clear that startup conferences and summits are also an important ingredient in a startup scene. An event like RISE in Hong Kong shows a level of maturity the startup scene locally in China and regionally in East Asia.

So, what does a startup summit mean for a startup community? These summits 1. get everyone together, 2. highlight the trends, celebrate some of the amazingness, and 3. provide huge networking opportunities.

You Ain’t Got No Guanxi: Doing Business as a Foreigner in China

When it comes to doing business in China, I hear it said all time that it is all about one’s guanxi or contacts. I don’t disagree that contacts and connections are critical to nearly any venture in any place. But I do NOT think as a foreigner, an international brand or Western business, your ability to build, sustain and grow a business in China depends on one’s guanxi or Chinese-style network. It’s quite the opposite.

It’s not all about guanxi (at least in the Chinese sense) when it comes to building a business in China as a foreigner or international branding. Attempting to use this guanxi route is dangerous, unnecessary and may even lead to failure at times.

It’s pretty much undeniable that as a foreigner “You Ain’t Got No Guanxi” so instead, I recommend embracing a traditional approach to business development.

China’s Startup Scene, Circa 2015: Some Lessons Learned

Without a doubt, the startup scene in China is extremely active. It’s borderline crazy about startups, VCs and related topics.

Personally, I’ve been to some 50+ startup events and worked with literally hundreds of entrepreneurs and startup supporters over the last year. There are hundreds of startup, tech and other events infusing Chinese cities on nearly a daily basis.

From the perspective of Startup Weekend, an international 54-hour startup business creation event, where I am our principal China Regional Dev Lead, 2015 will be our most active period ever in China.

From all these events and working with startups and corporations around innovation, I’ve had a number of interesting conversations that have helped me gain an perspective on what’s happening in China’s startup scene.

In this post and for the sake of future posts on China, I’d like to share a quick overview about China, some broad generalizations about China and Chinese and some things I consider noteworthy about China’s startup scene, circa July 2015. Hopefully this post will set a few things in place for deeper dives into China’s Startup Community, Ecosystem, and Future.

Six Months in: 2015 So Far in China for Startup Weekend, Techstars, Startup Next and Co.

Six Months In: 2015 so far in China

UP Global recently was acquired by Techstars. It’s an awesome opportunity for both organizations to combine forces to increase the pace of innovation for entrepreneurs around the world. For my part, I’m focused on China, and I wanted to share what we’ve been up recently.

2015 has been a pretty amazing period for our activites in Greater China. Unlike some other regions of the world, China’s growth for our programs has been pretty stale historically and we’ve had a number of “special issues” (more on that latter).

I’m happy to say this recent 6 month period has been our densest ever in China. It also brought on several new cities and communities as well as some pretty incredible stories. We’ve partnered up in many amazing ways to strengthen our ability to serve entrepreneurs better.

Transcribing and Burning Subtitles to Videos on Mac OS X for Free

I want to show you how simple it is to transcribe the audio text into a subtitles file and then burn that translation directly onto a video file. I’ll do this all by using free, open source software on Mac OS X.

Sometimes it’s really redeeming to take a problem (e.g. I want to add Chinese subtitles to a cool video), then research it on the Web, download the necessary programs and then learn by doing and do it.

Here is what you need to transcribe and burn subtitles to a video (mp4 or avi or whatever) on a Mac OS X

  1. Aegisub: an open source program for transcribing a syncing subtitles file (SRT) for a video’s audio
  2. HandBrake: an open source program for encoding videos from one format to another and allows for adding the SRT subtitles text directly onto the video

The following is how I implemented these two programs to create Chinese subtitles on a video using free, open source programs on Mac OS X. Here is the resulting video: “创业周末是什么? in Chinese”.

Where Are People Meeting Up in China? Event Data Sources for Western China Meetups

(Note this list is under revision so feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.)

The short answer is they aren’t. Or, the more nuanced answer is that people in China are “meeting up” in much lower quantities and event numbers compared to many Western countries and major cities around the world. Chinese are definitely not an isolated people. They are gathering, but more around playing games, dancing and other small group and friends and family activities.

Quite simply, Chinese people in mainland China have not yet embraced a “meetup culture,” by which I mean an open, inclusive community of multiple group meeting and gathering around shared interests.

For me personally this means a focus on entrepreneurship, tech and design meetups. Perhaps the largest meetups in China are around speech practice (Toastmasters) and English practice. This are indeed happening regularly.

In spite of the smaller raw numbers and somewhat specialized interests focus, there are some groups scattered about meeting up. People are gathering. It’s just also somewhat harder to find these groups.

This partially has to do with there being a lack of a single events platform in China. Language barrier also is important too.

Specifically, we are working to make great events more accessible with Startup Digest, a weekly newsletter of startup events in over 300 cities around the world. My friend Jordan and I recently launched a version in Western China a couple weeks back. It’s mostly for cities like Chengdu, Xi’an and Chongqing.

If you are interested in knowing about tech and startup events in Western China, you can subscribe here: https://www.startupdigest.com/digests/western-china.

As an aside to that effort to build and develop our Startup Digest, I wanted to share a bit of info about where we find meetups and events data in (Western) China.

UP Global in China: Where Are We Going in 2015?

新年快乐! 新年快樂! Happy Chinese New Year. With Chinese Spring Festival starting, it felt like a good time to where we will be going in 2015 with UP Global in China, compared with where we have beee from 2010 to 2014.

Let’s first look at my role with UP Global in China and how all this craziness got started. After we will then examine our key initiatives, programs and communities for 2015.

Prove Your Existence: UP Global in China in 2014

I was brought on as “Community Development Manager” for UP Global in China in September 2014 with the broad goals of community growth, evangelism and business development.

It all boiled down to the ability to prove: 1. if our programs fit (or could be adpated to fit in China) and 2. if initial money could be raised to reach some level of sustainability.

The short answer to both these questions is “Yes.”

Yes, our programs do fit in China. While there have been some setbacks and community challenges, I firmly believe that our UP Global programs can be adapted to flourish in China, and we’re actively working to make this more so each and every day.

Yes, we can reach sustainability in China. With the signing of our first, two China national sponsors in January 2015, we are on the way to being sustainable and self-suffient in China. Thanks to ServCorp China and QingCloud for believing in us and our vision of providing greater access to entrepreneurship in China.

With the basic proof for our existence in China proven, let’s turn towards specific 2015 pushes and objectives.