Cross Border Challenges: China and the outside

I'm currently in Shenzhen attending Michael Michelini's Cross Border Summit. This is my fourth time in Shenzhen since moving back and my second speaking opportunity in China. The more time I spend in China, the more I'm bullish on the opportunities and the role Hong Kong plays as part of the larger China startup ecosystem.

BTW - watch this conference by Michael here in China. Reminds me a lot of what Loic and Martin is doing at with doing a high quality, extremely curated speakers and audience, versus the mass conferences like Web Summit, Pioneers, and Slush.

After my China trips, this is what I've learned about the Chinese startup ecosystem:

  1. Forget about using non-Chinese apps: WeChat works best for communications (text and voice based) and Baidu works for search. Sure Whatsapp, Telegram, and Slack still works - for now. Facebook, Twitter, and Google don't at all. VPN access is unpredictable.
  2. Building companies in China require some working knowledge of Chinese: most apps are built for the Chinese market. No need for English documentation
  3. It's easy to start: It's fairly easy to get a visa. Easy to start. Easy to get ali pay/wechat pay set up.
  4. Scaling isn't a technical challenge: Scaling in China requires relationships because of opaqueness. This isn't a technology challenge - it's a relationship (guanxi) challenge.
  5. It's not easy to get your money out of China: You can make money in China, but how to actually get profits out is the big issue. I have yet to figure whether this is a timing issue, regulatory, or admin issue.
  6. Group negotiate: Negotiate terms and the nitty gritty directly with the team, the group, and the leader - that way all parties are vested.

Overall, the general dynamics of doing a startup are still similar. For example, Baidu is similar to Google, except that the algorithm optimizes for Chinese content and applications. But the tactics are drastically different - and therein lies the biggest challenge.