The story behind AllTechAsia team

I am Wu Nan, a veteran journalist educated at UC Berkeley and Harvard. I’ve worked at some of the most influential Chinese and international media outlets including the Wall Street Journal and the South China Morning Post.

After living through first-hand the decline of traditional media outlets, I am now determined to make a difference in the profession I love deeply. In August 2015, I founded AllChinaTech, China’s TechCrunch-like English tech media startup.

The digital media era has liberated the way people consume information, think and act. Journalists and readers alike have more freedom to express themselves and communicate with the rest of the world, simply by blogging, posting and sharing on social networks. Traditional journalistic norms such as style, genre and beats are quickly disintegrating. As long as you deliver meaningful information to the right people, you’ve done your job and won your audience.

Wu Nan, CEO and Editor in Chief, AllTechAsia

That is where our new brand AllTechAsia comes in. With multicultural backgrounds, our teammates have studied and lived in different parts of the world – the United States, Europe, China, India, South Korea, and Southeast Asia.

Our goal is to share our insights and analysis of the tech industry in Asia, and to use the most compelling storytelling through interviews with industry leaders and startup founders. We also aspire to share big ideas and trends in the IT industry, innovation, and technology across the whole of Asia and connect with readers from the rest of the world.

We believe that tech empowers the world, and we invite you to join us on a fascinating journey to see the future.

Why you should ACT and work with us

I am Wu Nan, a veteran journalist educated at UC Berkeley and Harvard. I’ve worked at some of the most influential Chinese and international media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal and the South China Morning Post.

After living first-hand through the decline of traditional media outlets, I am now determined to make a difference in the profession I love deeply. Last year, I founded AllChinaTech, China’s TechCrunch-like English tech media startup.

The digital media era has liberated the way people consume information, think and act. Journalists and readers alike have more freedom to express themselves and communicate with the rest of the world, simply by blogging, posting and sharing on social networks. Traditional journalistic norms such as style, genre and beats are quickly disintegrating. As long as you deliver meaningful information to the right people, you’ve done your job and won your audience.

WuNanallchinatech
Wu Nan, CEO and Chief Editor of AllChinaTech

The rise of mobile internet has further disrupted business models and rules of engagement.

Are you ready to become a celebrity writer or internet opinion leader on tech? Do you have vital information and brilliant ideas to share, either with a world-wide tech-savvy audience or with select circles of like-minded professionals?

That’s where AllChinaTech comes in. When you have an idea for a story, an opinion or an analysis, we can help you refine it, sharpen your view, polish the language, and help deliver it to millions of English language readers worldwide.

We don’t care what background you are from, what professional or research fields you are in, or where your location is. If you have insights, sharp opinions or even a witty personal story to tell which is related to IT industry, innovation, technology business or startup, ideally about China or the continents that are heavily in contact with China in these fields, e.g. the United States, India or Southeast Asia, please write and blog for us.

In return, you’ll be invited into the AllChinaTech community online and offline, where you’ll have access to tons of reading materials, a toolkit for writing, and human networks of all professions and majors who are ready to help. For those who are web celebs and future star writers, we are willing to split potential profits from distributions.

In our community, it won’t be just a dream to have tea and chat with a Pulitzer prize winner, we’ll have series of events with news celebs, to have meetups or online conferences.

We believe that everyone can be a star writer if you are willing to try becoming one. We don’t write for making a living but for making an impact and progress.

If you are talented, fame and money can follow.

Please send your resume to writers@allchinatech.com. ACT team will respond to your application as soon as possible.

(Top photo features ACT teammates: Victoria Zhao, Wu Nan and Timmy Shen)

The startup journal XIII: Finding momentum as a startup evangelist

Who said that startups are meant to be rising stars? In reality, there are challenges around every corner. But that doesn’t mean you won’t get momentum. The question is: how do you keep it going?

My teammates and I found some momentum last week when we covered The Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC) in Beijing. GMIC, which was first held in Beijing in 2009, is an annual conference that attracts tens of thousands of mobile device makers, game developers, entrepreneurs and investors in the IT industry from more than 60 countries. The scope and the scale of GMIC has earned it the nickname “China’s CES”.

This is not an exaggeration. Every year, celebrity business leaders and influencers from the global tech scene make their appearance in the capital and share their messages at the conference. This year, notable names out of about 3000 speakers include David Hanson, Founder and CEO of Hanson Robotics, Lin Bin, Co-founder and President of Xiaomi, and Gary Bradski, Co-founder of Magic Leap.

For many of my teammates, it was their first time at an international tech conference. They were excited to chase big names, type up stories in conference rooms and ask questions during face-to-face interviews. The biggest challenge for us is that too many things were going on. It was impossible to grasp everything and when an urgent call arrived, we needed to respond without having enough time to prepare for it. Still, our team filed 25 interviews and news stories on site as the most productive English tech media team at the conference.

As for me, I returned to GMIC, but not as a reporter this time. Besides coordinating interview opportunities for my colleagues and overseeing the topics that we cover, I moderated two panels at GMIC. One was about VR and gaming in front of an audience of about 1000 at the Global VR Summit, another was with three French VR and AR makers for an audience of 100 investors and tech bosses.

Many said that VR is the next big thing, though AR might represent the future. Deutsche Bank forecasts that by the end of this year, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive will sell one million units each, while mobile VR will win over 18 million users by the end of 2016. VR is indeed an exciting topic to discuss.

However, anyone except pros would sweat a little when moderating in front of a large audience. What questions should I ask to get the audience hooked? Will the panel provide any takeaways? Will the speakers to be able to get their message out? Will what they say be relevant to the audience? Getting to know the speakers and preparing questions is necessary. Ultimately, it depends on the theme of the panel.

When I heard that the VR and gaming panel was only 30 minutes long, I was sort of relieved. Because there’s no way that the discussion can be in-depth in that limited time period with four speakers. I had to abandon my previous plan to ask individual speakers the most relevant questions about their products. Instead, I asked three common questions and invited all of them to comment and offer their different perspectives.

GMIC VR Summit
AllChinaTech’s Co-founder, Wu Nan moderates the VR and Game Panel

There are some cocky people who think it’s simple to prepare for a panel. As a moderator, you should should ask whether your panelists like your questions and what they might talk about. The worst case would be if the panelists know nothing about the question, get ambushed in front of the public, and start mumbling and making fools of themselves. That would be a failure for both the panelists and moderator. Considering that most conferences use live streaming and videos, an awkward situation could easily be recorded and spread to other parts of the world.

In reality, most entrepreneurs are busy and they have very little time to respond to your request. In that case, you can talk to them before the panel starts and get everyone on the same page. Still, even though I rehearsed the panel many times in my head, panelists sometimes say provocative things to steal the topic. When that happens, the moderator should push the STOP button and guide the topic back.

Compared to the large panel, I enjoyed moderating the smaller one much more. It was much more challenging to moderate. In my case, I was told that celebrity tech bosses and influencers including Gary Bradski of Magic Leap and Sangbae Kim of MIT Biomimetics Robotics Lab would be there. You can’t drop the ball in front of the big names!

My dilemma was that the information about my panelists came at the last minute. These French VR/AR makers are not very well known, so how can I ask questions to make the talk relevant and interesting to the tech bosses and another 100 investors? Luckily, I had half an hour to talk to my panelists ahead of time and discuss my questions with them. I abandoned my previous questions because two panelists had doubts about them. But I was able to formulate new questions and find common ground with all speakers. In the end, my questions were on two topics: the debate on VR v.s. AR – which will lead the future, and the global competitiveness of VR and AR makers in today’s market.

Finally, there were good takeaways from the 15-minute panel. It was satisfying to see tech bosses smiling during the panel and investors asked a lot of questions. I had found my momentum.

I often compare my career as a writer or now as a startup entrepreneur to being a jazz musician. The ability to evolve with sudden change and to improvise and create something powerful is vital. If you believe in what you do and keep trying, you can do it.

Do not question yourself, even if the whole world throws questions at you, as long as you believe in your mission. Respond to the questions and handle them. We’re living in a world ruled by the law of action and reaction. If you continue to drive positive force against the negative, the result comes naturally.

That’s why startup entrepreneurs are startup evangelists – because they have to be like that.

I am one of them.

Read The startup journal series.

(Top photo from Baidu Images)

The startup journal XII: Catch your rhythm

When your teammates struggle, a team leader knows. The last few weeks have been challenging for all of us and I’m quite aware of it.

The challenge started when we asked each writer in our team to start his/her own beat. They have to follow news on the subjects they are assigned on e-commerce, on-demand services, the sharing economy, gadgets, apps, O2O, VR and AI. They need to be familiar with companies who are key players in the market: tech giants including Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, rising unicorns like Xiaomi, Didi and DJI, or unique startups. They need to react when there’s breaking news, and communicate with companies to conduct interviews and get answers.

There are people who are born to be go-getters who are able to ask questions fearlessly. These have the right DNA to be reporters. For those who are naturally shy, they need the courage to open their mouths. But you can train someone to have the guts they need for reporting.

I keep on telling my colleagues who, for the most part, have never been reporters before, to focus on the outcome and forget who they are. It doesn’t matter that they are just starting. Every veteran reporter was a baby reporter before. What’s important is how to grow from there.

For every single task, you simply have to think about how to get the answers out. In an interview, an interviewer and an interviewee are supposed to be equal. The minute an interviewee agrees to an interview, he/she is obligated to answer questions. No matter if it’s a Nobel prize winner, Jack Ma or a seller on Tmall, they are all equal as interviewees. Never feel bad about asking questions, even bad questions. It is the nature of the job. One can improve over time to ask just the right question, and to ask sharp ones. But it takes time. Give yourself time and learn from each interview. But don’t repeat the same mistakes.

david.nan
Wu Nan interviews David Tang, Managing Director of NGP. Photo by Catherine Lai

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War urged one to know the person they are negotiating with well. It works well with interviews, too. Knowing enough about the interviewee can help frame questions better. Most interviewees are willing to explain or address things they’ve said before. It’s almost flattering that what they said before is remembered and can keep on driving new conversation as they are being interviewed. Even if an interviewer can’t find enough information about the person, it can’t go wrong to ask basic questions about the company.

Tactics can change depending on the role and personality of the interviewees, though. There are startup founders who are storytellers. In that case, go get your anecdote. For others who are geeks and engineers, make your questions technical. There are people who like to face challenges and won’t avoid controversy – be direct with them. The toughest are the ones who are full of empty talk and only want to make advertisements. I usually call that bad PR. Because from a writer’s perspective, an interview like that can’t provide sufficient material for writing. Don’t feel bad that you only have 20 words to say about them. Dare to ask, dare to write – that’s the key.

And lastly, you need to find your own rhythm. Everyone has things they’re good at. Define your interests, follow the subject, keep practicing and getting better. Even if you’ve mastered something, that doesn’t mean you won’t meet challenges. Even if you are interested in something, you may still know very little about it. Break out of your comfort zone and start learning now. Channel your passion from a hobby into work.

Take myself for example. I love jazz because I love the liberty and creativity in the music. A song can never be played the same way twice, whether by the same person or different artists. There’s always change, new definitions, layers of things that can be added into the song. That liberty and creativity can be used in writing stories. Things are changing, and you are chasing them. By talking to different people, you are adding new things to the story, new explanations, gradually getting at the truth. It’s like peeling an onion, waiting to see its core.

A friend recently showed me a song called “The Wild One”, written by a girl who has won a national singing competition, Good Singers in China. In the MV, the 23-year-old from southern China stood onstage with her white shirt, a schoolgirl skirt and a knitted hat, almost looking like a clown. But when she sang, her lyrics about pursuing dreams, the struggle and the courage were so real. Her voice was like waves from the ocean. Her singing gave me goosebumps. No one can ignore that power, when a true story is being told from the heart.

Read The startup journal series here.

(Top photo from pixabay.com)

The startup journal XI: Integrate and upgrade

partnership
From tooopen.com.

Nothing can grow by itself. A startup starting from scratch needs partners to help it out. We are no exception.

Going forward on our six-month journey and beyond, we are building partnerships around us and growing together.

This coming weekend we’ll cover the quarterly event Tech Hive, which is a workshop for entrepreneurs, a cross between a hackathon and a business planning competition.

Its founder Andy Mok, originally from New York, aims to help early stage startups get what they need the most: people, money, and attention. I attended one of Tech Hive’s events last summer when they planned a hot co-founder speed dating session.

At a cozy bar renovated from an ancient warehouse in a hidden courtyard called 1949 The Hidden City in downtown Beijing, 50 or so men and women, mostly in their 30s, gathered around with beers or margaritas in their hands. Men in polo T-shirts and women in skirts, as intelligent and passionate as they were, longed for business partners to kick off their bold startup ideas.

No small talk involved, going straight to what they needed and what they can offer, it was casual, just like talking to someone in a bar. It was efficient, because people would move on if they didn’t find a match. With the indie rock music from the bar mixing with the heat of the summer, it was funky and spontaneous.

JingA
From 08kan.com

As an observer, this was like a scene from a movie about entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, except that no one wore thick-framed glasses or talked like a robot. It was a wonderful moment depicting the hot startup scene in Beijing or revealing the truth about entrepreneurs anywhere in the world. They are risk-taking, open-minded, desperate to test their ideas. They share the same DNA, yet they need each other.

That’s what partnership is about, combining your strongest traits and integrating resources from both sides. Then you can upgrade, developing faster by borrowing each other’s strengths. I’m quite excited that my colleagues will soon observe many more interesting tech events, such as the GMIC Beijing 2016 in April, the largest local tech conference, just like I once did. They’ll learn new things and share insights with our readers from all over the world.

Our other partners include co-working space DayDayUp, with whom we co-organized our monthly signature event Tech Junction. Last Thursday we had our second one when we invited an industry expert to offer advice on how to do marketing via WeChat, China’s largest social network with about 650 million monthly active users.

Our mission is to establish a tech community to connect with thinkers and dealmakers around the world. Despite the fact that we are in Beijing, the world is flat. Tech enthusiasts who are in and out of the city and who want to learn about the startup scene on the ground, to meet other people and to get tips to help their businesses can always join the event.

Tech Junction
Tech Junction (Photo by Catherine Lai)

After all, we are a tech media platform. We provide news online. When we need to physically meet and interact with our readers we need our partner DayDayUp, who has a cozy space and a similar mission to connect businesses in China and elsewhere.

We all want a win-win outcome. It involves benefitting both parties in a respectful and balanced way. When a common goal is set, negotiation is necessary to make sure things are going on the right track. It should be a balanced and respectful process, not a painful bargaining process or an attempt to rip off the other party. If that happens, a partnership may fail.

Partnership is not just between companies, it’s between individuals – employers to employees, friends and couples. Knowing the other party always takes time, understanding, and adjustment. Don’t take things personally, avoid conflict, and think about the greater good. Then it will be easier to get what you both want. Until it’s time to toast the outcome with a glass of champagne.

Read The startup journal series here.

The startup journal X: Our years in corporate culture gave us a chance to found startups

Group of Business People in Office Building
From translatemedia.com.

As a tech media outlet, we’ve been observing a rising trend that executives left large tech companies to found their own startups in China’s tech scene in the past three years.

A notable case happened last week. Mark Yang, the former CEO of “China’s Craigslist” Ganji.com, fully resigned from all his duties at 58 Ganji, which was one of the largest tech mergers between two biggest classified sites in China last April.

It came as no surprise to the public, because in January Yang admitted that he has started a new journey to become the CEO of a secondhand-car trading platform. He said the reason for his resignation was simply because “he was too bored” of his role as the co-CEO of the newly-merged behemoth. He said in an interview that sometimes he would just sit there drinking tea all day.

Also last week, AllChinaTech interviewed Dr. Yu Kai, the former director of the Institute of Deep Learning at Baidu, who recently founded a startup, Horizon Robotics. Unlike Baidu’s vision in developing cloud computing technology, he set his eyes on the “smart home” concept, aiming to make brains for electronic appliances.

I met Dr. Yu last spring when profiling “the brain” behind Baidu’s deep learning project for my former employer, the South China Morning Post (SCMP). In a small meeting room with a large white board, we talked about how he saw the future of artificial intelligence and how it will likely impact human life.

I remember that we even discussed the film “Her”, a fictional story about a writer falling in love with a “Siri”-like operating system and was later abandoned. Dr. Yu asked me to focus on a bright future that he believed in – a beautiful tomorrow where robots can liberate humans from danger. For example, they could call a truce during war to avoid human deaths. Recalling that, I think we may have found an answer to fighting ISIS.

Anyway, Dr. Yu struck me as a dynamic but relaxed person. He spoke very vividly to guide you into his scientific world, which can be complex and abstract. He knows how to tell a narrative to make his story lively and relevant. He was so different from the many leaders of the corporate world who almost all talk in the same way, with expensive suits and carefully combed hair; nor was he like many other scientists I interviewed who are typical nerds, including some Nobel Prize winners. I adore nerds but they can be very similar to one another, too.

My instinct was somehow right. Months later, Dr Yu announced his resignation from Baidu and founded his startup. Soon after, I also quit my job at the SCMP and started the journey of my own startup. I can see some similar characteristics between him and myself.

I may also be too dynamic to stay at a corporate company. I have too many new ideas that I want to explore instead of sitting in my cubicle, reporting to my boss and making phone calls. I’m passionate and a go-getter. I’m a dreamer and a storyteller who is willing to call upon others to do something meaningful together.

That’s perhaps the reason why I ended up with my business partner, like others who paired up to carry out their startup ideas. We are all storytellers who pitch investors a narrative that a business idea would work, share with our readers or customers a product that can change their lives, and inspire our colleagues to make our dreams come true.

corprate
From pixabay.com

We’ve certainly learned from corporate culture to be professional while finishing tasks on time, to communicate in a civilized way using a common simple language and to yield to a system, allowing it to maintain its order. But that culture can eat you up. You are losing your creativity, courage and motivation to try something new. You are replicable and replaceable because you were just a cog in a machine.

I’ve always thought that everyone has their own unique talents. They just have to find the best way to express themselves and find a way to make their ideas work. There are the ones like myself who keep on trying to explore our paths. There are also the ones who give up too early and settle for a quiet life without having lived their dreams.

Specially, an environment like China may feed those who are more willing to explore, because what we have is far from perfect and everything is uncertain and changing, while in the western world, many are not willing to give up their comfortable lives or have too much to lose.

That’s why new narratives can be written, stories like those of many of my former bosses at NetEase, one of the largest Chinese portals, who have become billionaires in recent years. Among them is Tang Yan, the founder of Momo, a tinder-like dating app which has lured in 60 million registered users to lead the SNS market in China. Momo was listed on Nasdaq three years after it was founded in 2011.

These kinds of stories have inspired thousands or even tens of thousands of entrepreneurs to leave large Chinese tech companies to found their own startups.

After all, dreams are worth fighting for and I am one of the thousands.

(Top photos from qingdaonews.com)

Read the startup journal series here.

 

The startup journal IX: How the “Internet Plus” strategy is affecting China a year after its launch

InternetplushomeLast week I joined one billion Chinese traveling across the country to be with our families and celebrate the most important holiday for us, Lunar New Year. In my hometown of Xi’an in central China, I witnessed how the national “Internet Plus” policy has made an impact on ordinary families.

Living in Beijing, the country’s capital, one may take it for granted when a national policy takes place and changes our lives. Last March, China’s premier Li Keqiang announced the “Internet Plus” policy to connect all businesses through the internet and to boost big data, computing clouds and innovation. Since then, hundreds of thousands of apps have mushroomed and on-demand services are dominating every aspect of Chinese life.

I’m one of millions of Beijingers who have gotten used to a convenient life facilitated by a smartphone and various apps. I order clothing and shoes on Tmall, one of China’s largest e-commerce platforms run by Alibaba. Dealers in most Chinese cities can guarantee delivery within three days. A bridesmaid’s dress I ordered on Tmall saved me after an international order on J. Crew didn’t work out.

Timesaving is the primary reason I use apps. I order electronics and cosmetics on JD.com, the second largest e-commerce platform in China, because they offer overnight delivery, often for free if the purchase reaches a certain amount. I’ve become a fan of an app called BeeQuick, which delivers fresh fruit to my home in just half an hour. I purchased a 10 dollar yearly service for food delivery app Daojia because I can’t resist the warm dim sum and crispy pan-fried dumplings they can deliver to my apartment within an hour.

Internet

My belief that I was blessed with such a convenient life because I live in Beijing was proven to be wrong. After I landed in the airport in my hometown and had trouble getting a taxi, my sister advised me to use Uber instead of Didi, which is my favorite ride-hailing app in Beijing and the largest service in China. Apparently, Uber offered big discounts for both drivers and passengers for two weeks during the Lunar New Year holiday, luring many private car owners into becoming Uber drivers in Xi’an.

Almost every app offers discounts. When my sister and I took my niece shopping, I was surprised to find out that you can even use Meituan, the largest group-buying app, to buy ice cream for the eight-year old. We also used apps to book movie tickets and reserve a karaoke session for my family. The experience was superb, because you get your favorite seats and you never need to wait. You’d be foolish not to take advantage of these discounts, my sister said to me.

I realized I had no privilege over those who live in my hometown or perhaps any other Chinese city. Smartphones and apps are everywhere and I’m happy to see how they have made our lives so easy. About 128 million Chinese are using mobile internet, a recent report suggests. Uber claimed that ride-hailing orders in Western China’s Chengdu have become the highest in the world. More than 3.5 million people, one fourth of the city’s total population, are using Uber less than one year after the service entered the city.

However, the real challenge is how internet companies can stay profitable. Analysts have warned that the cash burning wars and endless discounts can kill on-demand services and sharing economy businesses. But if companies are smart enough to keep offering deals at low profit, they can still achieve profitable revenue due to high demand. Look at Alibaba! Its Q3 report at the end of December showed USD 5.3 billion in revenue and a 32% YOY increase, thanks to the seven million sellers on Taobao and the profit from tens of thousands of Tmall sellers adding up from 760 million types of products going to Chinese homes.

wechatred

Traditions are often hard to change, but they can evolve. Chinese won’t miss out on swamping their friends with red envelopes during Lunar New Year. For the superstitious, numbers such as “6”, “8” and “9” will always bring fortune and luck.

WeChat, China’s largest social network with 580 million daily active users, invented virtual red envelopes two years ago. This year, it released a function to give out small amounts of “red envelopes” with lucky numbers: “2.66” stands for blessings in the new year; “8.88” means fortune will find you; “9.99” stands for long-lasting luck.

On Lunar New Year’s Eve, Wechat users sent 8.08 billion “virtual red envelopes” at the speed of 400,000 per second. As for me, I’ve stopped counting how many I’ve given out and how many I’ve received.

This is perhaps the most money given out through an online game in a day. And it gives you happy surprises. When I received a red envelope for RMB 5.20, it made me smile. This number in Chinese sounds like “I love you.”

(All photos from Baidu Images)

Read The Startup Journal series here.

The startup journal VIII: the invisible ethical line for a startup entrepreneur

ethics-startupjournal
From Entnet.org.

Seven years ago when I was studying at the journalism school at U.C. Berkeley, one of the most important classes we took was Law and Ethics. Today, those ethical rules on writing objectively still stick with me.

I’m crystal clear on my professional protocols as a writer to make my stories balanced and well-supported with facts, data and quotes from credible sources and independent research whenever I write.

Right now I’m also an entrepreneur. In the five-month journey operating our tech new media platform AllChinaTech.com, it has been a whole other learning opportunity for me, whether by self-teaching or learning from my colleagues and other startup entrepreneurs.

I have been to many offline events and gatherings in Beijing where entrepreneurs talked about hiring process, financing, company operations and management. Not a single time did I hear anyone speak about business ethics.

My own moment for reflection has arrived, as I ask myself, where’s the ethical line for a entrepreneur? Especially for those of us who are both writing and trying to build a business model from it. Our longterm goal is to fill a gap by profiling startups in China, which are often neglected by mainstream media.

It’s not an easy answer. We are trying to do what we think is right. For a small team of five writers and three editors, it’s difficult to go after the thousands of startups in China. We ran a campaign recently asking Chinese startups to pitch their stories to us.

But we didn’t sell ourselves short. We made it clear that we are only going to write about the ones with interesting business models or the ones have proven their market value to some extent. We are not doing PR for them. All of our writing is based on objective interviews and independent research.

I often tell my colleagues that despite the fact that we are still a young media startup, our editorial standards are not weaker than those of foreign agencies. We are certainly learning from the best reporting while gradually establishing our own styles and strengths.

So the ethical line is clearer. As we hold our ground as an independent media platform, we can observe the flaws and ethical breaches in some companies. In general, I admire most of the startup entrepreneurs I’ve encountered.

Many of those CEOs and founders have become the faces of their own companies. The story of how they’ve come to do what they do and the vision they have to make an impact and change an industry are often very compelling.

But there always are the ones who oversell their stories. Sometimes PR staff misrepresent the company, too. It’s a shame that sincerity or uniqueness is often missing in this context. And no one wants to consume boring fast food forever. One antidote is to speak from the heart in order to get your stories printed and to move your audience.

But you can’t tell the same story repeatedly. Try to say something new each time. Even if it used to be a juicy story, if you tell it over and over, it becomes leftover food.

david.nan
David Tang speaks with Wu Nan at Tech Junction. By Catherine Lai

Becoming an entrepreneur myself, I’m also obligated to share with the public who we are and what we do. By launching our monthly event Tech Junction, I’m hosting and interviewing VC investors and startup founders to exchange ideas and inspire many more with our dialogues.

I’m learning to not to blush when I need to speak up about AllChinaTech and I’ve tried to speak from the heart instead of making phony advertisements. I’m listening to and learning from Kara Swisher’s podcast on Re/code where she interviews entrepreneurs.

I’ve noticed that she would give her interviewees enough time to let them introduce themselves and their business models. I’m not sure when she worked for the Wall Street Journal that she would use her brand to help other companies sell themselves so directly. But I respect her because she still asks the sharpest questions. She has her ethics.

Ethical breaches are common among Chinese companies. They sometimes bribe reporters to only write positive things about them. Bribes vary from a few hundred yuan in red envelopes to more valuable gifts such as smartphones.

Any writer should be aware that the moment you accept the red envelope, you are trading your independence away. You are losing a piece of your soul because the core value as a writer is to be able to write compelling stories objectively.

Logically, it doesn’t make sense to print a story saying only good things about a company. There isn’t a single startup that doesn’t struggle while it’s growing. There isn’t a single business that doesn’t meet with competition and challenges. If you try to fool the readers you’re only making a fool of yourself.

That’s where the ethical line shines, as we advise our colleagues not to take red envelopes. Because we believe that if we insist upon what we do and try to write the most insightful stories on the Chinese IT industry, we’ll be recognized and respected one day.

That’s what I’m telling my coworkers. Even today we all live a modest life as a startup team. With courage and effort, money and fame may even follow in the future.

As long as you know where the invisible ethical line is. And hold on to it.

Read the Startup Journal, VII, VI, V, VI, III, II, and I.

(Top photo from Larisa-K on flickr.com)

The startup journal VII: What the year of 2015 means to the Chinese tech scene and to myself

As a media startup which closely follows the ups and downs of the Chinese tech industry, we know how heated and how deep the local tech scene can be.

The biggest challenge to the Chinese tech scene came in June when the Chinese stock market crashed. Since then, the “winter theory” of the Chinese capital market has cast a shadow over the local tech industry.

Many feared that a tech bubble in China was about to burst, or that for a while it will be extremely difficult for startups to gain financing.

However, in the past few months, many Chinese tech companies were able to raise huge amounts of funding. It shows that the tech sector has the most potential to grow in China.

I said at the beginning of my Startup Journal series that the momentum of the Chinese IT industry remains and is actually driving the Chinese economy, which is backed by as many as 600 million Chinese Internet users.

The successful financing cases that have recently occurred in the industry are related to on-demand services, which are feeding the needs of the huge amount of Chinese Internet users.

These include online education, family-oriented services, various online to offline (O2O) services and all kinds of e-commerce platforms changing Chinese everyday life, which is now dominated by smartphones, mobile Internet, and trendy apps.

The largest group of consumers of online education in China are students older than 12 years old. This group is estimated to contain as many as 70 million people.

In mid-December, a Beijing-based online educational products provider offering online courses and consulting services completed USD 31 million in financing. The same week, an online education platform backed by Alibaba raised USD 60 million in Series B financing. In late November, an online education platform backed by Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com received USD 47 million in financing.

Gold coins are not only raining down on the online education sector, but also shining on family-oriented services such as family care and home decoration. In December alone, three platforms raised dozens of millions of dollars and one home decoration platform’s valuation was boosted as high as USD 157 million.

O2O
From Baidu Images.

In 2015, O2O was a double-edged sword for tech entrepreneurs and investors. Chinese tech media say that hundreds of O2O companies have spread out in 14 different sectors.

Starting in late 2014, Chinese tech investors have poured buckets of investment into many service-oriented platforms with bold business ideas, such as home massage service app Kungfu Bear.

O2O itself is not new. It’s widely known as a business strategy which attracts customers from online platforms to offline stores. Because they were so easy to finance at the time, O2O service platforms erupted before June.

This also has something to do with the government’s “Internet Plus” strategy, launched in March. Basically, the government aims to use the Internet and mobile Internet to connect all industries and businesses, so that they can produce offline and sell online, take orders online and serve offline.

Kungfu Bear is among the O2O pioneers who have raised several million dollars in just two months. It connects consumers to massage therapists directly, with benefits to all parties. It lowers the cost of getting a massage in fancy venues where customers are charged high prices and massage therapists don’t get paid very much. It offers a convenient solution for customers and lets them enjoy the service in an environment in which they feel cozy and comfortable.

It is a promising business model (the platform takes a reasonable cut from therapists) and there’s increasing demand and supply, supported by mobile Internet. Because of this, Kungfu Bear copycats and O2O services in general have mushroomed: O2O fruit suppliers, live or cooked crawfish suppliers, at home manicure and facial services, you name it.

If Kungfu Bear plays its cards right, it can lead the O2O sector. But it is failing. It burned too much cash on subsidizing therapists and consumers in order to beat competition instead of proving to investors that its monetization model is solid. It has gone too fast, swallowing smaller massage services and expanding its services from three cities to seven within months, instead of building a standard service that makes customers stay.

In September, rumors circulated that the company failed to complete its Series B financing and faced difficulties. Although the company dismissed the rumor, it has not yet announced any progress in financing.

kungfu bear
Screenshot from Kungfu Bear.

For a while after June, O2O became an unpopular business model for investors who have become much more curious in investing after the stock market crash.

E-commerce, on the other hand, has flourished. In the last week of December, 2015, a Beijing-based fresh food e-commerce platform that supplies seafish, shellfish and crab was able to raise USD 100M in its Series C financing.

The reason is simple: Chinese people love seafood. There’s high demand and there’s supply.

Cross-border e-commerce is also hot. Almost every e-commerce platform is offering overseas purchasing services: the largest platform, Alibaba’s Tmall; the second largest, JD.com; cosmetic and fashion websites Vipshop.com and Jumei.com, child product platform Mia.com and foreign-brands-only website Ymatou.com.

The Chinese purchasing power is too large to be ignored. And Chinese love buying things even more than Americans. Chinese people spent USD 14.3 billion on Tmall alone on the “Double 11” shopping festival in November. This sales number is three times more than the Black Friday revenue of USD 4.47 billion in America.

2015 was an interesting year for myself, too. I co-founded a media startup, AllChinaTech in August. In fact, this four-month period is already feeling like a year. I’ve worked harder than I’ve ever worked and learned so much about the startup scene and doing business. Every day there’s something new to learn. I’m transforming from an industry observer as a reporter into an entrepreneur, an insider diving into the tech scene.

I’ve given up a few things. I moved out of my spacious apartment where I used to host dinner parties, making sushi and mojitos with friends, to a tiny studio. Since I began the startup life, I’ve mostly lived on takeout noodles. Well, I’m too busy to cook dinner anyway. I’ve hidden my dresses and high heels and started wearing jeans and shirts, as a “startup person”. Although I was able to put on makeup once or twice to go to my once-favorite swing dancing parties. Pleasure was short but enough to freshen me up for more work.

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Nan’s home-cooked dinner before her startup life. By Wu Nan

So here’s my 2016 plan: I can be a workaholic but I should still try to spend time with my family and friends. Everyone says that you can make sacrifices for your dreams. I’d say that magnifying motivation without losing the joy in daily work matters.

You dare to dream big and you work for it. That’s what I’m doing now.

Read the Startup Journal VI, V, VI, III, II, and I.

The startup journal V: To change or not to change – a question of survival

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from my experience running a startup company is how to adapt to change. No matter how carefully you crafted your plan, reality may force you to change your strategy. There’s a gap between your target and your performance. You need to fill that gap and do it fast.

At the beginning when my business partner and I founded AllChinaTech, we did some quick consumer research and we found that wide-range and short tech news on the Chinese tech industry was needed. Our primary model was TechCrunch and we were confident that we would rise as the TechCrunch of China.

Relying on our expertise in the Chinese tech industry, we also wrote in-depth analyses. But as a young team with a few staff members, we can’t run those in-depth pieces as often as we would like. After publishing 200 stories in two months, we noticed that not all of our short news stories made the impact we expected. In-depth stories generally get better reception, but not always.

Our primary readers are in the United States. Despite the fact that tech media is thriving there, the general American audience has very little knowledge about the Chinese tech industry. Certain investors who have invested in the Chinese tech sector or have been following the local startup scene responded positively to our analysis. The average reader though, seemed to recognize only the big Chinese tech companies such as Baidu, Tencent and Alibaba (the BAT). That partially explains why most foreign media outlets in Beijing primarily follow news on the BAT companies.

We were facing a dilemma. We could cover BAT, but then we had to compete with mainstream foreign press outlets, which have established reputations and better resources to cover the topics thoroughly. Our advantage as a startup media platform is that we are more flexible. We can test different coverage directions and styles in a short period of time.

We discovered a neglected subject – new startups in China actually have great potential and are reflecting the growing market. Many online education, e-commerce and travel sites are rising and they could be the future unicorns. That’s something we want to try. We started to cover tech-financing news on startups in China and the topic is attracting more and more readers.

butterflyflickr
From Flickr.

Another new exploration is our move towards new media. Many media organizations claim that new media is a crucial development strategy that reflects the future. In reality, new media projects are time consuming and expensive in terms of investing in proper video equipment and skillful producers. But it might be worthwhile. Sometimes a one-minute video may attract millions of page views, which a thousand-word article may not be able to do.

Some people find it unbelievable that makeup tutorials are among the most popular videos on Youtube. Notably, Bostonian girl Michelle Phan’s Youtube channel has attracted millions of pageviews and won her the title of “makeup guru”. I confess that as someone who barely wears makeup, I’ve watched some makeup videos once or twice and learned a few things from them.

So video is an option for us. Despite the fact that we are new, we have colleagues with multimedia skills and that’s a direction we will explore. But first, we need to make some calculations. How much time can we afford to spend on one video? When there’s a video to produce and an article to write, which one we should go for?

It all depends on what result we want to see. If we want more traffic and a trendy video can bring that traffic, then we should do it. If we want to show our insight and establish our brand, in-depth analysis may be more attractive to our readers. The two are not necessarily contradictory. But we need to find a balance and being able to do both is a skill. And we’re still learning and trying.

Another question is the hot debate on “blogging versus journalism”. To date, many veteran reporters including myself have accepted blogging as a form of journalism. But let’s admit that it is different from reporting. It’s best to combine the liveliness and unique voices of blogging with hard facts and stats from reporting. Ultimately, style varies. Tech reporters at the Wall Street Journal will write differently from writers at Re/code. They have different editorial standards and writing codes.

But hooray to Kara Swisher, who dared to say ‘no’ to the Journal and challenge old-school print media. I’m not saying that Re/code is the best at tech storytelling. But it is successful. People like it. As for myself, I regularly read a combination of Mashable, Tech Insider, and the Journal. They each have their different strengths, like different fruit trees. You can pick the tastiest fruit from different branches. But you don’t always want to eat an apple. Sometimes you may crave an orange or a banana.

Buzzfeed has taught many people a lesson. At first it was just an online collection of cute cat photos that make people laugh, but now the new media empire is valued at USD 1.5 billion. And it’s inspiring, because it has transformed into a platform that provides readers with appealing social news stories such as New York writer Matt Stopera’s story of his romance with Brother Orange, a farmer in southern China, which has drawn millions of followers.

That’s what we are trying to achieve: combining blogging and news writing to make our content more social media friendly. As a young startup, we are changing, growing, evolving like a chrysalis turning into a butterfly.

Read the Startup Journal VI, III, II, and I.