Minding the Borderlands

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

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.

Re-Engaging China

I came back to China officially about a month ago. This time is different. It’s not simply a journey of discovery or a pass-through during my international wanderings. It’s not even just about improving my Chinese.

This time I’m committing to and re-enaging with being in China. I have a project, a reason, a focus. I’m not just here to be here. I’m here to try and change something thing, to develop something, to innovate on something.

This is the story of my re-engagement with China and my new job with Startup Weekend China.

Re-Engaging My Chinese Learning

Editor’s note: A couple of days ago I wrote a journal entry about my Chinese studies and why and how I was going to be re-engaging my learning. It seemed like a fitting topic to clean up and share. For all those language hackers out there, check out my on-going project HackingLanguage, where I’m writing about language hacks and building cool tools for my fellow language hackers.

It seems like I’m regularly relaunching my Chinese studies. Chinese is a hard nut to crack. It’s definitely not a language for the feint at heart nor a language that is easily hacked.

To be honest, Chinese is a language that regularly kicks my ass, and even after studying for quite some time, there seems to still be so much more to learn and master.

Chinese learning just takes time and energy. As a self-learner and overly-committed guy, it’s not surprising that sometimes my dedication to studying Chinese lags behind and I have to rededicate myself to my Chinese studies.

Here I go again.

My Journey as a Digital Nomad

Who we are depends on many factors, but one of the key parts in my mind is how you define yourself. In a constantly changing world, self-definitions are important part of one’s journey from who we are and were to who we become and will be.

We take on roles, work on jobs, and develop skills, but ultimately we define ourself as we want others to see us and how we wish see ourselves.

Over the past couple years, I’ve been extremely privileged to re-define myself multiple times. These new titles, labels, skills, and responsibilities are part of my “baggage.”

Over my recent journeys, one identification in particular has stuck to me: digital nomad.

In short, a “digital nomad” is someone who uses an internet connection to do various types of work remotely, like from home, coffee shops, hotels or whoever you can be connected AND also conduct one’s life a nomadic or traveling way.

Here’s how I become a digital nomad.

A Digital Nomad in Isla Mujeres: Diving and Whale Sharks

Isla Mujeres is a place that’s easy to miss when planning a trip to the Yucatan peninsula. But, after a recent excursion on the island, I’d argue that it’s a place not to be missed for various kinds of travelers like divers, snorkels, relaxed-pace travelers or digital nomads like myself.

For as much as I travel, I generally don’t spend that much time planning, but instead read some quick overviews, figure out a travel route, and then just go-for-it. I can figure it out along the way better anyways. For my second trip to Yucatan Peninsula (the first being nearly 9 year ago!), I headed to a small island across the bay from Cancun in southern Mexico: Isla Mujeres, which is Spanish for “Island of Women.”

After landing in Cancun airport around noon, I decided to skip staying in Cancun and headed directly to the Isla Mujeres. This proved to be a fortuitous choice.