Minding the Borderlands

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

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.

Startup Weekend China: Data and Organizer Tips for Successful Registration Promotion

As “Community Development Manager” for UP Global in China, I’ve been doing many things to help grow and promote our communities, events, and programs around China. Initially I’ve been focused on our most mature and established program, Startup Weekend.

For those that don’t know, Startup Weekends “are 54-hour events where developers, designers, marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts come together to share ideas, form teams build products and launch startups!” We hold roughly 1000 events per year around the world.

Since December 2014, community growth in China has been looking very strong. We’ve held successful Startup Weekend events in two new cities, Qingdao and Xi’an as well as events in more established cities like Shanghai and Hong Kong.

We’ve planted a lot of seeds. May and April of 2015 will include a busy schedule of events, including upcoming events in Beijing, Hangzhou and Shanghai among several others. Number-wise, these will likely lead us to reach the same number of events we held in all of 2014 by May of 2015.

In view of the strong push towards new events in new cities and some special edition or themed events, I wanted to share some of the data and key insights of what I’ve learned about promoting Startup Weekends in China.

First off, let’s take a look at a bit of the data.

Sad Lost Digital Letters

I pledge to spend less time on email (both reading and writing) and more time on writing shareable, linkable posts.

My reasoning can be boiled down to two essential ideas:

  1. Email Time: We’re losing our time to email.

  2. Dead Letters: Email is not where you should put your best words since quite frankly email is where words go to die.

Let’s look at these two points in a bit more detail.

Startup Weekend in China: Recent Strides in Community Growth

Since the last update, we’ve had a very productive several weeks. There were 6 SW events around China: Hainan, Chengdu, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Xiamen. December and early January have scheduled events in Shanghai, Qingdao and Chengdu. And several new cities are in final planning stages before we got public with those. Community growth is looking strong with new cities and community leaders in existing and new cities. We are seeing greater efforts with engaging Chinese students and universities. Social media engagement is improving as well as better understanding of where to find our target participants and partners, who to talk to, and how to build a following.

Our China-wide sponsorship drive is officially in full swing. We are in talks with a few sponsors and are nearly the final stages for signing our first national sponsors. These sponsors will help us pay for China operations and make us a self-sufficient region. Currently we are working to establish a tech sponsorship and business/office space sponsor as well as formalize a partnership/sponsorship with an incubator/accelerator. We have had great successes with the cooperations with US Consulates in Chengdu and Shanghai.

Travel-wise, I facilitated one bootcamp and one Startup Weekend event in Chengdu and traveled to Shanghai for meetings and Chinaccelerator Demo day. At the end of November in Shanghai, I was able to connect with the local SW Shanghai team and a legend of the Taiwan Startup Weekend community Volker Heistermann who was also in town.

December and January will be busy for me and our Startup Weekend / UP Global operations in China. I’ll be faciliating and connecting with events in Shanghai, Qingdao and Chengdu. Chengdu event in January in particular will represent our first government-led event.

Each of these three cities represents a “hub” in a particular region around which we are building several new teams in new cities. We are certain these places will help us grow in new geographic regions in China.

While China is often described as one of the biggest markets in the world, in reality China is a country of multiple markets, regions, cultures and languages. Our strategy aims to empower local leaders region by region, city by city to guide our growth and development into 2015.

I look forward to sharing more soon in our next China Progress Report in 2015!

Startup Weekend in China: Going Forward

September 2014: Officially in China: In order to improve operations, target new areas of growth and development and adapt to China, in September 2014, UP Global in Seattle, USA launched its first official initiative in China by bringing on me as its “Community Development Manager” for China.

My mission is to help adapt our model, mission and programs to China and from their scale our growth accordingly. I’m focused on Startup Weekend as key first step but will expand work on Startup Digest (our newsletter of curated content for startup community), Startup Next (our pre-accelerator program), and eventually Startup Education.