Take a page out of Alibaba’s marketing book

Red Credit Cards and Dollar Note in the Jeans Pocket - LargeWe just received a coupon we can use to take 15 RMB (about $2.50) off of a purchase on Alibaba’s Tmall or Taobao, but it’s only good on 11/11 — Singles’ Day. Last year Alibaba made headlines when shoppers spent an incredible $5.75 billion on Ali’s sites in a single day.

With Alibaba now listed on the New York Stock Exchange the value of another massive day of spending will be seen not only in profits, but also in a stock boost. Indeed, the stock boost has already started with investors expecting sales to reach $8.2 billion on Singles’ Day this year.

Alibaba does a great job of using this day to generate sales and headlines, and there’s an excellent growth hacking lesson to be learned here.

What can you do to set a fire under your users to get them spending money on your site? Or maybe for you it’s all about signups, or something else — how can you use the calendar to give them a nudge? Can you follow Ali’s lead and use that to generate press coverage?

4 rules for motivating your team members

When managing teams in China, it’s easy to think about managing the team as a whole while forgetting that you’re also managing individuals. This is of course true anywhere, but it’s especially easy for foreigner managers working abroad to think they only need to manage the group.

It can be helpful to compare managing teams in your home country to managing a team in China. Understanding the general differences in motivations and expectations help guide how you talk to the group when explaining initiatives, defining expectations, and generally building the team’s culture.

But when I first moved back to China three years ago I fell into the trap of only managing the group, forgetting that I was actually working with individuals, each with unique motivations. I’ve also seen other foreigners managing Chinese teams fall into the trap of thinking only of the group as a whole, rather than also thinking of the group as a collection of individuals.

It’s time to start managing both the group and the individuals.

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Mix it, pour it, just don’t drink it

It’s important for entrepreneurs to believe in what they are selling — in essence, to create a field of distortion around themselves that makes it seem like anything is possible with their solution. They just need to make sure they don’t believe what they’re saying to the point of distorting their own view.

I often find myself saying to entrepreneurs “your job is to mix it and serve it, just don’t drink it yourself!” This usually slips out of my mouth when I’m talking to an entrepreneur who is pushing their idea so hard that it seems like they are trying to convince themselves of its brilliance, though in most cases I think they actually believe it, which is what concerns me.

This doesn’t mean it’s bad to serve the Kool-Aid to others (metaphorically speaking, of course). Really, as an entrepreneur that’s a huge part of your job: selling others on your dream. And while it’s absolutely critical that you make a case for your product or service that has people fighting to buy it, you have to make sure you critically assess the reality of your situation.

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Building your team of rivals

Do you get along with your co-founders really well? Do you feel like you always see eye-to-eye on everything? Then you would probably benefit from adding some “rivals” to your team.

I’ve started reading Team of Rivals a number of times and although something always prevents me from finishing it (the book is excellent, life just always seems to get in the way whenever I pick it up) one of the lessons I’ve drawn from it is that it’s beneficial to surround yourself with people who will challenge you with different perspectives. (This book is really about far more that just that, but cut me some slack here.)

I’ve certainly seen this in practice with founding teams, including some I work very closely with, and have witnessed the benefits of constructive and respectful disagreements that push the team to find the best answers to the problems they are trying to solve for their customers.

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The humble entrepreneur

I’m lucky to frequently meet with entrepreneurs as part of my job. Like many who work in the entrepreneurial space, I spend as much time getting a feel for the team as I do considering their idea.

I recently met with an entrepreneur who impressed me with his humble attitude. He didn’t try to convince me that he knew everything about his customers, or that he knew the industry better than anyone else — instead, we had an engaging discussion about his key assumptions and how he would like to try to validate them in the market.

That great discussion not only gave me confidence in the entrepreneur and made me interested in working with him, it also got me thinking about what traits I look for when considering working with an entrepreneur. Like many investors and partners in the entrepreneurial space, I spend as much time getting a feel for the team as I do understanding their idea and assessing its potential. Here are some of the traits that turn me on, and some that send me running as fast as I can in the other direction.

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Chinese studying abroad — an interview with Danny Wang

This is the third and final post in my series on Chinese studying abroad and the entrepreneurs serving them. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Danny Wang, co-founder of WeblishPal, a platform that connects Chinese English language learners with native English speakers. WeblishPal focuses on serving Chinese students who are interested in studying abroad in North America.

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Chinese studying abroad — an interview with Greg Nance (part two)

This is the third post in my series on Chinese studying abroad and the entrepreneurs serving them. This is the second and final part of my interview with Greg Nance, serial entrepreneur and CEO of ChaseFuture. As noted in the first part of this interview, ChaseFuture offers services like mentoring and essay proofreading for Chinese students aspiring to attend top schools in the US or UK.

In this part, Greg talks about ChaseFuture’s strategy in China, India, and Russia; co-founders and finding early employees; growing organically and creating a business that can scale; and gathering customer feedback as ChaseFuture considers expanding their services to better serve their customers’ needs.
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Chinese studying abroad — an interview with Greg Nance (part one)

This is the second post in my series on Chinese studying abroad and the entrepreneurs serving them. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Greg Nance, serial entrepreneur and CEO of ChaseFuture. ChaseFuture offers services like mentoring and essay proofreading for Chinese students aspiring to attend top schools in the US or UK.

This is the first of two parts of my interview with Greg, where he talks about how he ended up in China, his first startup Moneythink, and the lessons he learned from Moneythink that are helping him with ChaseFuture.
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Chinese studying abroad and the entrepreneurs serving them

Chinese students are studying abroad in droves. In this series, I discuss some forces behind this trend. I will also publish transcripts of interviews I conducted with two entrepreneurs serving this ever-expanding group.

The trend of Chinese students going abroad seems unlikely to slow in the near future. The International Herald Tribune cites Global Times research data showing that “the number of [Chinese] students wanting to study abroad has increased by more than 20 percent each year since 2008”. In addition to ample job opportunities for returning graduates, the reverence for foreign degrees makes the payoff for returnees substantial.

This flood of students means there are plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurs to provide value, and profit while doing so. I recently interviewed two serial entrepreneurs targeting Chinese students studying abroad — this series will include transcripts of those interviews.
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Increasing customer retention with discount cards in China

It had been a hectic week, and my back was not happy about it. My shoulders had locked up and my upper back was screaming. I decided to go to the spa across the street, a respectable chain with locations throughout Shanghai, for a 90 minute massage. They don’t offer the cheapest massage in the area, but it’s one of the best, isn’t shady, and is reasonably priced.

After my massage I stumbled to the front desk to pay; I was so relaxed it was hard to walk straight. With my defenses down, they decided to make the pitch I hear with surprising frequency in China: “Would you like to pay 3000 RMB today for a prepaid discount card, then we can give you 20% off this and future massages.” I gave my usual response, “Maybe next time.”

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