I spent the last few days of my time in Philadelphia in my closing seminar, which happened to also overlap with the Eisenhower Fellowships Womens Leadership Conference. On Thursday the USA Fellows joined the 19 International Fellows for a day of leadership seminars. The International Fellows are an extraordinary group I wish I had more time with them. I did get to have lunch with Jane Shaw, Chair of Intel. She was awesome, and hearing her story made me realize some key points about how to be great. Ill write more about that in my Fellowship summary post after this is all done.
Friday was the conference, and I had breakfast the with a small group and Christie Todd Whitman, preparing for a panel. The conference was good, although I had to hop out continually for conference calls, and I was one of only three people with laptops open! Mostly I enjoyed meeting people, including Lisa Nutter, the Mayors wife (or re-meeting I guess we met once in the early 90s) and Director etc Aaron Posner.
Getting to China
I flew Saturday non-stop from Newark at noon to Beijing arriving Sunday at 2p. I slept on the plane for about five hours, which set me up well for the adjustment. I breezed through the Worlds Best Airport (said Conde Nast Traveler in 2009) Beijing Capital International.
I couldnt find my driver so I took a taxi to my hotel, the Hilton Wangfuging. I stayed here last visit too, its a nice hotel in a great location and Eisenhower gets a good rate.
Its chilly here, but no more than Philly or NY. Everyone talks about it though.
Beijing Startup Weekend
After settling in and managing to stay awake I headed over to a Startup Weekend run by my friend Andy Mok. 30 people pitched ideas on Friday, the top 8 took the weekend to develop their idea and presented. I was falling asleep so I didnt stay through the judging process, but there was a mix of really smart stuff (sms-based virtual currency for distributing aid), lots of so-so ideas, and some copycats. Theyre very popular here. One of these was a guy from Microsoft who wants to clone Ari Jacobys Solve Media. I was most intrigued by the idea of creating a virtual currency using SMS to distribute aid in disaster relief from Joey Renert (I am going to meet with him Friday). Presentations and the conversations were in a mix of English and Chinese, and the entrepreneurs could have been in NYC or SF. Only one team didnt use a Mac or iPad to present. Everything moves fast in China, and I think that Apple is going to take this place by storm (see the iPhone 4 line in the preceding post).
I managed to stay up until 10p supposedly thats the first step to zone switching successfully, woke at 3 but stayed in bed until 5, then got up and worked out, supposedly another step to switching successfully.
Breakfast in Chinese hotels is an extraordinary thing. I started to take pictures of all of it but was told that its not allowed theyre afraid youre going to go into business and copy the buffet set up! Never mind that every hotel has one. Anyway, heres what I got before getting in trouble:
Thats the dim sum station. There are also stations, as big, for:
Well-fed, I went down to meet Jack Perkowski. Jack is an investment banker-turned-entrepreneur-turned investment banker. in the 90s he built an auto parts business in China called ASIMCO. Now hes building JFP Holdings. Jacks main point/lesson is that to be successful in China, foreign companies need to truly localize, and most dont. Truly localizing means that Chinese managers need to have the authority to make the decisions. ASIMCO was a collection of majority-held joint ventures with Chinese parts manufacturers. The initial plan was to hire western industry veterans, which failed miserably. Plan B was to hire experienced Chinese managers, which also failed miserably (mainly because they came from state-owned enterprises). Plan C was accidental, but turned out to be the winner: hire new China managers managers who were Chinese but had worked in true capitalist companies. Jack believes that Chinese managers look at costs differently their gut reads 100 yuan like $100 (its worth about $15), and they operate that way. Wu Hai called foreign managers wasteful and I think this is behind that. Jacks story is told in Mr. China and Managing the Dragon.
After meeting with my able coordinator from CEAIE, Claire Zhang to go through my schedule for the week, I headed off to have lunch with the head of Morgan Lewis & Bockiuss Beijing office. Unfortunately, he was called away on an urgent client matter, so I met with the marketing person instead. We had a delightful Szechuan lunch. The biggest law firms in China are local theyre the only ones allowed to go to court. There are a few foreign firms that came here early and have good sized practices. Others, like Morgan Lewis, that came later are very small only 2 attorneys in this case, in a firm of over a thousand.
In the afternoon I had coffee with Bill Bishop, who co-founded CBS MarketWatch and has been in China since 2005. He is an angel investor (although not in China) and man-about-the-startup-scene. He confirmed and amplified my conclusions about how difficult it is to do business in China as a foreigner. Even though relationships and Government connections are less important for Internet businesses, only a couple of foreigners have succeeded. (Bills girlfriend has recently opened the first cupcake shop in Beijing another copycat!)
I've started and/or run too many venture capital-backed software companies, plus one ill-fated food startup.