On 20 October 2017, 3 NOC Shanghai students made their way to Ning Bo to participate in the Techstars Startup Weekend Hackathon (Fashion x Tech edition). They were the last participants to arrive punctually, and were rewarded with 3 L-sized participant shirts that none of them selected in their registration. A mass introduction to the event proceeded soon after, and this was followed by an ice-breaking session where the participants got the chance to mingle with each other. This ice-breaking session was especially memorable as the audience was treated to performances (forfeits) by talented singers (participants), including one by a very impressive beatboxer, and the not-so-talented. For this hackathon, the 3 NOC students also decided to stick together and work on the same idea. Finally, with 6 members (altogether) in the team, the most popular idea from the pitching round, and a vague outline of how to proceed, the team dispersed and rested for the day.
The second day started with one less member in the team. Even though this day was intended mainly for teams to work on their ideas, there were also arranged “coaching sessions” on selected topics such as the familiar Business Model Canvas (BMC). While refining their idea through group discussions, the team also greatly enjoyed getting challenged and sharing their idea with both mentors and curious fellow participants. However, it was not all work and no play as the NOC students got to visit the third of 3 point of interests (POIs) that they had time to visit in Ning Bo – a shopping center (located beside an amusement park!), where they did their market validation. The first and second POIs were respectively, the railway station and a café cum working space (which was the hackathon venue). If the initial idea after the first night was a rectangular block of ice, this was the day when most of the sculpting took place. Unfortunately, the number of pairs of hands working on this ice-sculpture would decrease again at the end of the day. Nevertheless, there was good progress.
The third and final day was even more hectic than the second day. Despite rushing to complete the presentation materials in the morning, the team was still not able to get it ready by the scheduled rehearsal time in the early afternoon. It came as a relief that the team was able to barely complete them before the actual presentation (that also went smoothly enough). The best is yet to come though. The best part wasn’t the result (the team did well enough to emerge as the winning team), but the final comments and feedback that the mentors and judges gave each individual group before announcing the overall results. Good feedback is not necessarily nice feedback, but sincere feedback. The mentors and judges did not just share their thoughts about each group’s ideas specifically, but also about entrepreneurship in general, values and attitudes. They include:
You yourself are (and should be) the greatest supporter of your idea. If you don’t believe, you are not going to be able to convince investors, people to work with you, users, etc. If you aren’t confident of what you want to do, you will just follow what others tell you to do.
If you decided to, and did not put much effort into this hackathon, it is fine because you can just go back to school or work once it ends. If you don’t want to continue to work, it is fine because you can just resign. However, if you decide to follow through with your idea and become an entrepreneur, it is not fine when you decide to quit because there will be other employees who depend on you.
Thank you, organizers, for working hard to support and ensure the event ran smoothly.
Thank you, fellow participants, for your encouragement and the entertainment.
Thank you, mentors and judges, for sharing valuable experiences and advice.
Thanks again to everyone for being so friendly and accommodating to the NOC students. Their experience would otherwise not have been as fulfilling and enriching.
Knowing is not better than trying, and thinking is not better than doing.
On 6th May 2017, NCSH had the privilege to invite Miss Li Bowen, the Head of Big Data Solution of Baidu, to speak to the 26th and 27th batch of NCSH. As the forerunner of internet technologies in China as well as a search engine giant, virtually everyone who has set foot in China would have used at least one of the services offered by Baidu. On the other hand, an enormous amount of press as well as investor attention have been gravitating towards Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data. In this wonderful afternoon, Miss Li Bowen shared with us the development of the Chinese internet industry as well as the present and future of AI and big data.
China’s internet history has come a long way, as Miss Li shared, since version 1.0 of the Internet that was led by internet gateways such as Sina, Sohu, etc. Back in the mid-90s, the lack of a widely-adopted search engine and highly scattered online information contributed to the rise of these internet gateways as a one stop solution for online information.
Subsequently, version 2.0 of the Internet arose, flourishing on the wide adoption of smart phones in China. The high penetration rate of smart mobile platforms and its amalgamation with internet-friendly software not only freed Chinese internet users from having access only through their desktops, but also gave opportunities for internet companies to expand their services deeper into people’s everyday lives. This is the period where we see the internet being a truly inseparable part of our lives. This is also the period where we see Chinese internet companies growing from venturous startups to giants in their respective fields, such as Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. All internet companies benefit from traffic. Most, if not all, of the internet traffic would in one way or another go through these three internet giants and their subsidiaries - Alibaba dominated the e-commerce market in China with its payment platform with Alipay, moving towards the big goal of internet finance and establishing a ubiquitous credit system through its new Ant Finance venture. Tencent held the strongest share in the internet communication and entertainment market through its super-app WeChat and gaming sectors. Baidu still remains as the single biggest player in the online search engine market. From cashless economy to O2O platforms, the pervasiveness of the internet is down to virtually every aspect of our lives. One may wonder, where else and how much further will version 3.0 of internet take us? And the answer is: Artificial Intelligence and Big Data.
As a rare female computing engineer, Miss Li realised where her true interests were and challenged herself further by spearheading the AI and Big Data development in China: the Baidu Brain. The Baidu Brain is a large neural network where most types of Baidu’s data, such as location, search, image and video are stored. While most of the other large internet companies are preoccupied by the expansion of their business scope by starting new ventures and investing/acquiring new startups, Baidu stays highly focused on its core business: internet technologies. The development of the Baidu Brain, which Miss Li’s team is working on, would allow the possibilities of smart marketing, with one of the most ambitious goals in the search engine industry: natural language processing.
The development of the Baidu Brain leverages heavily on the development of AI and Big Data. Miss Li shed light on this hugely popular but controversial topic in both the venture capital and technological worlds. AI has been in existence for decades, with the sole objective of making machines ‘think’ like humans by incorporating techniques such as machine learning and neural network to simulate the functions of human brains. With the massive inputs from Big Data, AI would be able to develop patterns in the seemingly meaningless ocean of data and eventually help make logical predictions and optimised business strategies that were previously impossible to make by computers. Recent developments of chat bots, Alpha Go and driverless cars are outstanding examples of what can be achieved with AI and Big Data.
However, as powerful and glorified as it can be when AI and Big Data go hand in hand, one must put a leash on this formidable beast before it becomes unstoppable. There are many controversies that are inherent to AI and Big Data. One would be privacy issues with Big Data, as personal information will no longer be private if not processed and regulated properly. On top of that, AI would likely replace most repetitive jobs once it reaches maturity, and the potential rise of unemployment in certain sectors such as customer services, accounting, etc. must not be overlooked. Lastly, AI and Big Data are ultimately tools developed to improve the efficiency of human activities, but not to have a life on its own (allowed to make independent decisions). Factors that are inherent to humans such as ethics and emotions are not able to be coded into the algorithms of AI, which are ultimately what separate machines from us. As a result, despite of the overwhelming attention that AI and Big Data are receiving in terms of their capabilities, human intervention in their applications and executions must still be of paramount importance.
As the Chinese proverb goes, the favour of a drop of water should be reciprocated with the gratitude of a fountain of water (滴水之情，以泉相报). Such is the motto of Jane Sun, the CEO of Ctrip, China’s most successful online travel platform with a multi-billion valuation. True to her values, Jane has donated generously to scholarships to enable NUS students to embark on their NOC journeys to Beijing and Shanghai. On the 21st of April, SHEN had the rare opportunity to visit Ctrip’s headquarters and speak to with Jane to understand more about her and the company.
Jane Sun came from a humble background from a lower tier Chinese city, but was given the rare opportunity during her university days to further her studies in the US. During her time there, she was blessed to have been supported by a prominent professor and his wife who taught her many invaluable life lessons and treated her as part of their family. As success followed, she said that the professor always told her that the best form of reciprocity for his kindness was to pass it on to other students in need. Today, Jane has donated multiple scholarships to help students not only in local universities, but also other universities in Hong Kong and Singapore such as NUS to help lighten their financial burden.
During our interaction with Jane, she gave advice on her perspectives on struggles in life. As a poor student, she did not have it easy even with the support of her professor. She emphasised that 90% of the outcome of any struggle depends on how each individual approaches the problem, and seeing it as something positive and challenging can help shape a better outcome. As we step into the working world in future, this would be crucially important with more responsibilities coming our way.
In Asian societies, many women strive for a balance between their career and family. Jane has done so even as a senior executive in the company by maintaining a high level of efficiency in her work, regular exercise, as well as a positive attitude toward her work. She commented: “Family is integral to women at a fundamentally biological level. I want to be able to set a role model for my two daughters and show them that it is possible to be a good mother while holding a full-time job.”
“ An individual’s capability and ability to work in a team is more important than appearance” Jane said this when she spoke about her time as a female senior executive with a small stature, which she related to when she led a majority-female team on Ctrip’s journey to becoming listed in NASDAQ back in 2003. Today, Ctrip encourages female leadership and is led by a significant number of female senior executives, a step ahead as compared to other Chinese companies.
As a multi-million enterprise, Jane explains the difficulty in running such a huge company while staying ahead of her competitors. Innovation has been one of the main focuses of Ctrip to maintain its competitive edge, with two key programs in the company known as the Young Tiger initiative as well as the Global Stage. Through these two programs, young employees who understand the business on the ground level and have direct interaction with customers have a channel to express their new ideas to the senior executives in the companies and execute their plans if deemed feasible. Jane quoted the example of a young director who proposed a business plan to explore the possibility of providing chartered bus services. Today, this Young Tiger initiative is a profitable channel for Ctrip with substantial success.
After the interaction with Jane Sun, Ctrip brought us on a tour and gave us a glimpse of how Ctrip manages the millions of online transactions for flights, train tickets and accommodation in their daily operations. The numerous screens showing the transactions in real-time was astounding, and could be activated using voice control by the operators.
Look, Singapore is 6th in place for travel destinations!
At the end of the tour, we were introduced to the long and illustrious history of Ctrip from its founding in 1999 to its scale today.
It has been a great honour to be able to visit the headquarters of Ctrip and see in person the growing journey of China’s largest online travel booking platform which has made travelling in China extremely convenient even for us Singaporeans.
Check out Ctrip’s website at http://english.ctrip.com/!
On Saturday, 25th March 2017, NCSH made our way to Sheshan Golf Club (佘山高尔夫球俱乐部) at the far west of Shanghai for NCSH’s March Speaker Series. For many, it was probably the farthest commute we have ever made since the start of NOC. The club was a pleasant 15-minute walk from Sheshan metro station, with the fauna of the path graced by hints of blossoms from the coming spring.
The personnel at Sheshan Golf Club welcomed us warmly with nibbles that were exquisitely displayed as we entered the room. The massive glass windows on all four sides showcased the breathtaking scenery of the golf course. More importantly, we gathered today to listen to Mr Roger Foo, GM of Sheshan Golf Club and guest speaker for the series, share his expertise on ‘Hospitality and Entrepreneurship in China’.
Sheshan Golf Club, also NOC Shanghai's longest partnering company (current interns – Debbie and Alicia), is dubbed the best golf club in the whole of China. While it has only been in operation for a mere 12 years since its inception, the golf club is currently ranked 86th in the world and has consistently ranked within the top 100 golf clubs for the past three years. The exclusive and members-only golf club is also known widely for hosting World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions. Since the inaugural event in 2005, the golf club has hosted the tournament ten times and has consistently received praise for the world-class standards of the course and its facilities.
Roger shared with us his experience of managing the club, including the long way he had come before the club attained its current standards. Having been in the industry for more than 20 years, Roger had worked in Phuket for five years before being headhunted. In spite of the many difficulties shrouding his initial move to Shanghai, Roger shared that he fell in love with the metropolis and wholeheartedly believed that China will continue to be the land of opportunities for the next 10 to 15 years. He then left us with some heartfelt advice from his life’s journey and career progression in the hospitality sector.
1. The importance of assimilation
Roger shared that it is imperative to recognize the existence of cultural differences wherever we go. Instead of identifying the differences, he felt that the only way was to respect, embrace and learn them. He had taken lessons to improve his Chinese in order to thrive in China and highlighted that communication is of utmost importance for survival.
"It is the way it is, we just learn to assimilate to the environment, we learn to adapt."
2. The importance of creativity
Roger revealed that the Profit & Loss statement often translates to the measure of his capabilities as a GM of Sheshan Golf Club. Thus, he learnt to recognize market trends and constantly innovates to raise revenue and decrease expenses. In a multi-million industry, he needed to expand his mindset to think above and beyond, instead of restricting operations with the mindset of ‘just a golf course’. He illustrated how he challenged conventional marketing methods, such as the use of advertisements in magazines, by replacing them with creative communications via WeChat. By giving more thought to possible channels, it could very well turn to revenue streams for a company.
3. The importance of specializing
Roger is an advocate in the importance of finding something you are particularly good at and to keep doing it. Having a broad spectrum only equates to one being neither here nor there, and breed mediocrity, which can be unhealthy or even dangerous. He believes it is key to build your expertise, knowledge and skill set in order to establish a specialty you can call your own. For Roger, he chose golf management as a niche, rather than a mere degree or academic direction. He has also been working in relevant fields since graduation, which built the credibility of his management skills in the industry.
4. The importance of having local Chinese as partner
Network is everything in China and in order to succeed when the opportunity presents itself, one must always ensure that there is a trustworthy local partner onboard. Having a local partner will definitely be able to provide value to your venture with their local know-how and expertise.
With these learning points conveyed over the sharing session, Roger motivated NCSH with his genuine advice to boldly venture out and assured us that there is no harm taking a risk since we have the age advantage as youths.
The remaining time of the session was then handed over to the Director of the golf club – Gavin. As a native Canadian, he had relocated to Shanghai due to the work opportunity offered by Sheshan. Gavin briefly touched on his experience thus far, with the conclusion that the past five years in Shanghai had further developed his character. Every hardship and hurdle made him a stronger person and conferred a perseverance that would no longer be shaken easily.
"Many people see the negativity and they leave. If you could only look past it, you will see and experience so much more. China is a beautiful place, one with many opportunities."
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Roger and Gavin for their insightful sharing. Despite the long journey, the visit to Sheshan was definitely a distinctly different experience from the bustle of Shanghai that we have grown accustomed to. The afternoon’s sharing drew to a close as we appreciated the all-encompassing beauty of China - both in its natural, picturesque scenery and the dynamicity of its economic landscape that presents a myriad of opportunities for the willing.
Last Friday, NCSH26 trooped down to the busy Jingan District after work for the first Speaker Series of 2017. Making ourselves comfortable in Chinaccelerator’s cosy office space, we were treated to a night of design thinking and fantastic facilitation by the Principal Consultant at Inly LLC, Alec Walker.
Alec introduced us to the novel concept of design thinking, which we learnt was a general problem-solving method. There are 2 parts to it – first, come up with a compelling enough problem and second, come up with options before narrowing it down to a smart, and most viable option to make it a compelling solution.
There are 5 steps to design thinking:
Empathise with your user group. While this is the most time-consuming and tedious step, it is also the most important. Observe your customers. Focus on what they do and what they say. Taking note of subtle actions can give you great insight into users’ preferences. Besides observing, this can be done through interviews, surveys or trying to think from a user’s perspective.
Define the problem, awareness and desire. First, isolate the problem you want to solve. Next, for each problem identify the number of people facing that problem (i.e. market size) and among that population, the number of people who are actually aware of the problem. This seems pretty obvious, but it is important that people are aware of the problem or you will have to spend twice the amount of effort to educate your market. Finally, ascertain the number of people who have a desire for a solution to this problem by assigning a scoring matrix to awareness (yes/no) and rate of desire (1 to 10). Multiplying the scores together will give you a number that indicates the market size for your solution.
Firstly, go for quantity and remove all filters! It’s a sure-fire way to come up with whacky and crazily creative ideas, but be sure that when you filter them out, the remaining ideas remain independent and relevant. Second, remove egoism from your ideas and adopt an open mentality ready for exploring different hypotheses. When you try and fail, you learn. Because with every failure, you are making progress.
4+5. Prototype and Test
Yes, we’re cheating by combining these last 2 steps together. But prototyping and testing are extremely intertwined. You have to focus on one idea and take it seriously like a science. Identify the most likely thing to fail, test it and see if your hypothesis was right. If it fails, you learn. If it does not, pick something else. Both ways, you learn and move on.
Although we were all pretty tired from a long week of work, it was an extremely engaging 2.5-hour long session and we had a lot of fun with the unique activities Alec had planned for us. NPNT – so here’s us having some good ol’ TGIF fun together.
Learning about design thinking through these activities was fun, but Alec was such an inspirational talker that he left us thinking about these 5 questions not about design thinking, but about entrepreneurship in general even after the event.
1. What problem are you solving?
Make sure your problem is a real and huge one that needs to be solved. This is the number one question from investors and judges.
2. Do you need to reinvent the wheel?
Design thinking is useful, but you don’t have to use it for EVERYTHING. Don’t overthink and use what you need.
3. How important is innovation for a startup?
Innovation is easily THE buzzword in this era of startups and entrepreneurship. Radical innovation, incremental innovation, and phrases like Artificial Intelligence, Big Data, FinTech. But must every startup be based on innovation? Well, Alec says yes. Existing players already hold market share while solving an existing problem. Startups that want to break into the market and compete for market share will find it tough to compete without adequate innovation.
4. Do you really want to think like everyone else?
In the past when Henry Ford asked what people wanted, they said they wanted faster horses. If you think like what everyone else is thinking, it is highly likely you will come up with a set of solutions no different from everyone else.
5. What is the idea most likely to fail?
Start with it to save time. Ideas are easy, and it should not matter at all if they fail. You can easily generate more ideas. But be careful with what you’re testing. Time, energy and money are the 3 most important resources, be extremely careful with them.
Ultimately, we learnt that failure should never deter you. To quote Alec, “the best thing about applying design thinking is that you always learn something”.
As we take a short break for CNY, here’s a little note-to-self to fellow batchmates to keep our eyes and ears peeled for inspiration, and to never stop hustling.
A batch countdown party is mandatory, of course. We held a countdown-cum-housewarming gathering at one of our houses.
The New Year’s Eve was filled with much fun, laughter and FOOD. Everyone brought something for the potluck party and we found some serious chefs among us! We’re talking homemade chocolate gingerbread cookies, curry chicken and chunky mushroom soup.
With a (paper) cup of Moscato in every hand, we did the cliché countdown together, ending in a resounding “HAPPY NEW YEAR!!” that probably annoyed some of our not-so-enthusiastic-about-New-Year local neighbours. Chinese New Year is definitely a much more hyped up affair here compared to the Gregorian calendar New Year.
Nevertheless, it’s safe to say we partied the night away because nobody went home until a whooping 4am!
Our New Year celebrations didn’t stop there. After spending the 1st of January recuperating from the lack of sleep, we went on a day trip to a strawberry farm on 崇明岛 (Chongming Island) on 2nd January.
The whole journey took about 2-3 hours before we finally reached a huge farming area. Chongming Island is famous for its vegetable produce so we found a large, empty restaurant and had our fill of various vegetables there. Even our anti-vegetable friend Douglas approved the vegetable dishes!
We found the strawberry farms – albeit with some initial struggle – and got straight to picking. The rates we got were 30RMB per 500g to pick our own strawberries straight from the greenhouses, or 25RMB per 500g to buy from those that the farm workers already picked.
Most of the ripe strawberries were already picked by the farmworkers, but you can still see some hints of red if you look close enough.
We asked for plastic bags after picking our fill of strawberries...but were told that the ENTIRE BASKET was for us! You can imagine how odd we must have looked back on the Shanghai Metro afterwards. Needless to say, we got some curious looks with our hot pink baskets of strawberries and strange English accents haha.
And the strawberries...they were the BOMB. Think crunchy, juicy and just the right mixture of sweet and sour. Totally worth the long journey and muddy greenhouses!
The New Year celebrations were made so much more meaningful spending it together with our batch mates. I guess you can say we are each other’s family away from home. Since we ended 2016 and started 2017 right, here’s to an amazing year ahead! *Cheers*
P/S: Batch 27, we’re looking forward to seeing you soon too!
Last night, we concluded the last speaker series of the year. Bobby Lee, CEO of BTC China, one of NOC Shanghai’s list of companies, shared about Bitcoin, China, his own personal entrepreneurial journey and the lessons he has learnt from it.
Bringing us into the world of Bitcoin and digital assets, Bobby explained that Bitcoin was first created by Satoshi Nakamoto and is meant to be a digital asset first adopted by Libertarians who believe in owning value that is rightfully theirs. Supported by Blockchain technology, a public ledger for all bitcoin transactions, Bitcoin is protected by cryptography, which includes its 32-35 character long private key that consists of numbers, lower, and upper case alphabets.
A revolutionary technology, its importance lies in its ability to transfer value, providing real value at the speed of light. Bitcoins are able to transcend spatial boundaries and time, is limited in supply, decentralized, and has very low fees. Due to these characteristics, Bitcoin is inherently useful for making payments instantaneously, even over geographical boundaries.
Painting the Bitcoin scene in China, Bobby mentioned that Bitcoin has been rising in popularity within the country due to individuals’ perception that Bitcoin is an investment for the future, one that cannot be manipulated and controlled by a single entity. China is also home to over 60% of the global Bitcoin mining share, due to the availability of fast assembly, good chip design, and cheap electricity.
Apart from sharing about his profession and passion, Bobby reflected upon 7 key learning points about being an entrepreneur in China:
Concluding the night on a high note, Bobby shared about the business aspirations he has had since he was a child, and the sense of gratification he gets from growing and directing his own company. He also provided advice on career choices, stating that there is no one right path and that we should all follow our personal goals and achieve them.
As the last speaker series of the year, we would like to thank Bobby and all the other speakers who have participated in our past speaker series, and shared about their inspiring startup journey. We hope that future NOC events will continue to be as inspiring and thought-provoking as those this year.
That was one of the comments someone left on a moment I shared a couple of weeks ago. That moment was a sight, a short clip function in WeChat that you'll soon learn to use in no time, of my team and I OT-ing on a Wednesday night. DJ Blue (only for that night; on other days she's my boss) was in the house playing Big Bang and other ancient Chinese songs while serving us wine that she bought a week ago at the Shanghai Wine and Dine Festival that we were also involved in that I'll elaborate on later. My team was rushing some decor out for our stores before Golden Week arrived in order to capitalize entirely on the local and foreign crowd that would hit the streets then. We stayed till 10pm that night and it was such a fantastic time despite the additional efforts that I hardly think 'OT' would be an appropriate verb to use in this context.
Sounds great doesn't it? It is. And there's more.
This company that I speak of is a freshly-minted NOC partner company, Lider Lesi 里德里西. It's a F&B company that actively manages two brands currently, Churros and Ei Mio (Frozen Yogurt). There are future plans in place for up and coming brands (food also of course, desserts to be specific) so future batches, you are in for a complete hell of a time in the best way possible. I work in the Brand Team so I report to Blue or more commonly known as 蓝姐姐 in the office. She's awfully capable and patient but at the same time expects nothing but the best from her subordinates so yes, she is demanding when work is in question. She manages a total of seven of us, two of which are Chinese Marketing Managers who are the loveliest supervisors ever and a SINGAPOREAN Brand Comms Manager who has been here for a grand total of ten days so far hahaha but he's definitely here to stay (he got headhunted by Blue allllllllll the way from Singapore #lifegoals). What these three people have in common is that they worked in BreadTalk for a period of time, including Blue, so you'll be hearing much talk about Singaporeans, Singapore, Singlish and the list goes on. Feels pretty close to home at times. There are three others in the team who are remarkable at what they do as well, namely marketing, space design and design respectively.
This company can hardly qualify as a start-up with a fully structured hierarchy. There's an IT department, HR, Finance, Operations and plenty others that assist with the company's operations. Everyone's awfully kind around here which enhances the working environment greatly. Coming to work doesn't feel like coming to work in the least bit. This company would probably change you in ways you can't even begin to imagine. I know for a fact that I now dislike Fridays (a little) and love Tuesdays (because Mondays are school day) way more than I used to because it means I get to come to work hahaha it sounds bizarre, I know but it's happening as I type this in my beautiful office (we have one of the nicest physical offices around :D). Every once a month too, there will be a fruits day where everyone in the office will gather at our pearly-white counter to feast on fruits and snacks but mostly fruits because #frozenyogurtelements. It may not be a start-up but there is still an awful lot to learn. You'll find out when you come ;)
Okay let me get to the bit where I talk about what I actually do here. I do market research mostly, which means anything related to consumers, churros, frozen yogurt that includes analysis etc and well, just food essentially. Pinterest is my best friend here rather than Google because I'm using a company computer (which means no VPN) but you have the option to bring your own. I must admit it's been a challenge operating Windows and Firefox in Chinese but that's why you're on NOC isn't it? To step out of your comfort zone. People always get terrified at the sound of that but honestly, just start small. It gets easier from there and before you even realize it, you'll be out. Anyway I digress; so yes I do market research here which means my job pretty much entails looking at food all day every day. Oh and did I mention sampling as well since obviously, you can't do F&B without the actual eating. I recently visited our R&D space and had five or six servings of yogurt/frozen yogurt (upcoming flavours) and a GINORMOUS ladle of sauce topping to myself. I can't provide photos unfortunately so I'm afraid you can only depend on my words for now and your imagination to craft that precious image of me gorging myself silly which could well be you next year.
Complimentary froyo, courtesy of Lider Lesi :D
On a good day, this is how it looks like around my office perimeters. The interiors are undergoing change soon so you guys can find out for yourself the new look :)
There was also a Shanghai Wine and Dine Festival earlier in September which hosted roughly 150-200 retailers at Shibo Garden 世博公园 for three days and culminated in an estimated total of 50,000 people. Think Singapore Expo Food Fair but two-three times that scale. We went on day one to check out operations, traffic etc but naturally, we worked hard, played hard and ate hard all at once. We ate loads of churros (in front of our booth because #freeadvertising), had our faces printed on coffee, admired the most breathtaking sunset I'd seen in Shanghai against the backdrop of a bridge and river and well, the sky fell dark before I'd even realized. Enough said, just look at them photos for yourself.
Before I end this post, I just want to say best of luck to you guys (future batches) wherever you may be working at. Shanghai is an incredibly gorgeous and vibrant city that is very much understated in my opinion. Make the most out of your time here especially if you get to work at Lider Lesi because I am devastated that I only got to be here for a mere three months but nonetheless, it's been nothing short of amazing. Be brave in making mistakes but don't repeat them, be open-minded when interacting with people because there's something to learn from everyone even if it appears minute, be optimistic even when it feels like there's no way out and you feel completely alone. Remember, this too will pass. For better or for worse, embrace it and bask in every second of it.
On Saturday, we were glad to have Loïc Kobes, Co-founder of Coolhobo as well as Justin, from China Accelerator to share more about their company and startup experience.
Part I : Loïc Kobes, CEO/ Co-founder of Cool Hobo
Loïc was born and raised in middle Europe. He enjoys travelling and previously worked for Siemens, Lufthansa, Ole and more before starting his own startup with his close friend, Flo.
A combination of food and virtual reality, Coolhobo targets food scandal problems in China by providing consumers diversity in food purchases. Their two-sided platform allow consumers to easily source for food products from credible European brands whilst giving European brands the opportunity to establish themselves in China in the long run.
On top of that, each food box they deliver comes with a complementary VR headset that gives consumers a peak into the European lifestyle and food production process of the food they ordered.
In his sharing, Loïc shared 5 important takeaways he had from his startup journey.
1. Why you shouldn’t be overly excited about China market
Firstly, China is a complicated and expensive market, where customer acquisition cost is high. Contrary to popular belief, customer acquisition and setting up a business is difficult here due to heavy red tape, stiff competition, spoiled consumers and the country’s unique ecosystem of apps and technology. Speaking from his personal experience, he shared that he spent 8 months settling the paperwork for setting up Coolhobo. As a foreigner, he also had to adapt to the Chinese ecosystem and learn how to use the different apps and sites unique to the country like Baidu and WeChat.
2. Networking Tips
Network matters. Loïc emphasized the importance of finding a mentor that sees value in your startup. He also talked about the consistent effort required to build your network. Building networks is not an one-day affair, but the result of accumulated efforts over an extensive period of time.
3. Lean Startup Model
Ideas are shit. Instead of building your ideas based on assumptions, use the lean startup model and test your ideas as soon as possible. This is to allow you to further improve upon your idea and validate it with data.
4. Networking Tips
Data is king. When establishing a startup, it is important to build analytics and metrics to help with decision making. This allows for accurate and sound decision making when coming up with your product or service.
Lastly, building a great team is very important. Whilst gathering the right people for your team is a complicated process, Loïc shares his two methods in finding his team. The first way is through friendship, and another is through attending startup events, where it provides you the platform to see how people work and the skills they have.
Part II : Justin, China Accelerator
Justin, from China Accelerator then shared about his company. China Accelerator is a send funding program under SOSV, an early stage venture capital firm created by Sean O’ Sullivan, the founder of internet mapping. China Accelerator provides the opportunity for non-Chinese companies to enter the Chinese market. With a high return of investment of 38%, it provides resources and mentorship to startups, allowing them to build up their products and services. Its sister company, MOX, is a mobile-only accelerator in Taiwan that enables mobile apps, platforms and services from around the world to reach hundreds of millions of users.
We would like to take this opportunity to once again thank Loïc and Justin for taking time off to speak to us about their companies and startup experience. We hope that future NOC speaker series will be as fulfilling as this.
Follow NUS Overseas College (NOC) Shanghai on Facebook for more recent updates.
As part of SHEN’s initiatives to foster a more entrepreneurial environment in NCSH, we would hold monthly Speaker Series where we invite entrepreneurs to share their stories to NOC students.
In January, we had the good fortune to meet the Co-founders of Igloo home. A Singaporean start-up, Igloo home is essentially an amalgamation of Smart Technology and a mobile application. In 2014, Co-founders Anthony and Walter formed a team of four to participate in a hackathon organised by SingTel - SingTel Innov8. The winner would walk away with an all-expense paid spot at a US accelerator. 60 hours into the hackathon: Anthony’s team emerged with customers and $20000 in crowdfunding; and a spot to the accelerator. Today, they are one of the official Global Partner of Airbnb Host Ecosystem which gives them easy access to 2 million host listings globally.
The genesis of the idea could be traced back to Walter – CTO of Igloo home who faced problems managing his Singapore Airbnb listings.
Igloohome addresses two key areas of concern for Airbnb hosts:
Its energy saving product, Igloosense, also helps hosts save energy costs by up to 30% by recognising when guests are not in and automatically shutting off the air-conditioning.
(Taken from Digitalnewsasia: https://www.digitalnewsasia.com/smart-home-startup-igloohome-raises-us125mil)
This January, they were participating in a regional hackathon “The Next Unicorn” held in Shanghai. When we met them, they had made it to the Top 18. Their other mission was to meet potential Chinese partners as they wanted to expand into the Chinese market.
The Chinese home sharing economy is indeed very attractive. There are at least twice as much listings when compared to Airbnb. In Anthony’s words “make it or break it, at least we tried and it’s worth trying”. To many entrepreneurs unfamiliar to the Chinese start up ecosystem, the Chinese market can be easily summed up as an unknown abyss. The risks might actually outweigh the potential gains. Nonetheless, the vibrant start-up culture here in Shanghai continue to excite co-founders and founders who want to take that shot in the Chinese market. As fellow Singaporeans active in the Start-up scene here in Shanghai, we would be really excited to see Igloo home making its name here!
Check out Igloohome: http://www.igloohome.co/
申城 (shen cheng) is an ancient name for Shanghai.
As a group of NUS and NOC students who are in Shanghai for a year-long internship programme, we have named our student organisation as SHEN (Shanghai House of Entrepreneurs).