Minding the Borderlands

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

A One-Way Ticket, Destinations Undecided

A one way ticket assumes no way back, only a finality of departure and the edge of uncertainies to come.

“How many one-tickets have you bought in life?,” I asked a fellow traveler.

“None,” they responded. We had been sharing the typical travel dialogue of where have you been and where you are going. After, we had meandered into the profounder meaning of what a true “one-way ticket” meant.

Over beers in a Colombian beachside, we were talking travel logistics. It somehow carried the deeper implications of a life philosophy: roundtrips vs. one-ways.

I have purchased a few one-way tickets in my life. Each was a point of decision. The most significant was the first one-way ticket to Europe.

There have been other one-way tickets for me since. Yet I largely divide my time, travel and life between roundtrips and one-way trips.

When you pick a departure without an obvious return, you have made a decision. You turn your back on your old horizons and stare into the new.

Time Tracking = Conscious Time Usage

I obsessively track my time. I track my time in order to be aware of the task I am doing at that time.

It’s not about knowing where my time goes, though that’s an awesome side effect.

For me time tracking is being conscious of my time; being mindful of what I am doing at a certain moment.

The conscious act of setting a task and starting the timer frames my usage of the subsequent time.

By timing a task, I am aware of my time.

On Writing: Find a Topic That Pulls You, Then Just Write

Writers like to set goals: word counts, daily posts, time spent writing, pages completed, etc. These objectives seem like a good method to getting your writing done.

Unfortunately we rarely hit these goals. We suck at goals, especially when we set a goal without creating a routine to reach it.

Even worse, when we don’t hit our goals, we end up beating ourselves up. Negativity sneaks into our process. We doubt ourselves. We become the suffering artist.

Control Your Brand, Grow Your Business (Part 4): Partnerships and Business Development in China

Startup Lessons Learned Scaling a Brand and Community in China

China is notoriously one of the hardest business environments for foreign companies to operate in. It is often said business is stacked against outsiders. And it is.

Yet, as a market, China holds huge potential for many growing international companies. You can’t exactly ignore one of the largest customer bases. It is a a customer segment that is growing and spending.

For many businesses, China growth is a key assumption in their overall growth plans. Inevitably for many multinational businesses, the Chinese can’t be ignored forever.

In Mainland China, we’ve been working to develop our programs over the last year. Originally under UP Global and now as Techstars, we have been navigating Chinese culture and startup situation to grow our community programs, like Startup Weekend and Startup Next. Hard fought victories come with lots of entrepreneurial lessons learned.

In this four part series, our main focus as been about how to control your brand and operations in China. If you can’t control it, you can’t grow it. And, in China, control is not easily won.

In China, control is not easily won. In the first three parts, we looked at centralizing your business’s information, ensuring your business is in the right place and controlling your finances.

In this fourth part, we will look at partnerships. Control allows you to grow, and one of the most common methods for developing your business in China is partnerships.

Partnerships are a key driver of most successful, foreign companies in China. There are a lot of good examples of this. Companies like Coursera and Uber have used partnerships to help get their businesses started and leveraged their partners’ existing distribution networks to scale and grow.

In my view, it’s very, very difficult for foreign brands to survive and thrive in China without good partners.

Control Your Brand, Grow Your Business (Part 3): Money Matters in the Middle Kingdom

Startup Lessons Learned Scaling a Brand and Community in China

It is risky taking your business outside your home country. But with risk comes reward; with hard things comes big opportunities.

China remains the land of risk and opportunity for business today. Even as its economy and stock market struggle, it’s remains a period of strong, grassroots business creation.

In my job at Techstars Community Programs, we’ve spent the last year developing our operations in the Middle Kingdom. We grow startup communities to empower and educate the next generation of entrepreneurs.

China business is a hard place with few easy victories. The reality is that you need to first survive, before you can thrive in China. I want to share some insights from this journey.

To my mind, control is a huge factor to successfully operating in China.

As one of my colleagues likes to say, we have to be “super anal” (i.e. tightly controlling) about what we do in China. This level of control can be hard for Westerners who assume trust. Many aren’t used to complicated negotiations and unclear intentions.

In this four part series, we are looking at controlling your brand in China.

In part 1, we looked at controlling information. In part 2, we focused on ensuring your business is in the right place and positioning your marketing in a manner that fits your identity.

In this third part, we will look at controlling finances. Failing to control finances is a make or break aspect of operating in China.

To grow and scale a business in a sustainable way, you have to control it. For anyone operating in China, control is critical to your ability to understand what you are doing and operate lucratively.

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.