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?

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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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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Competing in China’s e-commerce market requires a startup mentality

Xin Wang of Brandeis University International Business School and Z. Justin Ren of Boston University School of Management wrote an interesting article about How to Compete in China’s E-Commerce Market for MIT Sloan Management Review. They analyze why companies like eBay, Groupon, and Google have struggled in China.

They offer advice relevant to both entrepreneurs and large companies: understand your customers, make decisions quickly, and pay attention to your competition. As The Startup Owner’s Manual and The Lean Startup point out, the entrepreneur’s mission is to understand their customers’ needs, test hypotheses by gathering customer feedback, and iterate quickly based on their findings. When doing this, you’ll have to discover how to solve your customers’ problems better than your competitors do. And since you are testing and iterating, you’ll have no choice but to create a culture of quick decision making.

As Blank and Dorf point out, “a startup is a faith-based initiative”. It’s important for large companies entering China, or other new markets, to remember they are also “faith-based initiatives” — even though they are market leaders at home, their approach is unproven in the new market. They need to think like a startup.

When entering a new market, make sure you understand the competitive climate and your target customers’ needs. Then, alter your offering to carve out your own piece of the market. Otherwise you may end up another example of large company hubris leading to failure in a new market.

Using extraordinary service as a competitive advantage at Hai Di Lao

Creating a sustainable advantage in any industry in China is difficult, especially when competitors promptly copy anything that works. Hai Di Lao, a hot pot chain, uses extraordinary service to draw large crowds to its many locations and offers lessons for entrepreneurs in China on how to create a sustainable competitive advantage.

Hai Di Lao was founded in 1994 and now has over 50 locations throughout China.[1] Due to their success in China, they are planning to expand into the US and Singapore.[1] They are renowned for their high levels of service and high-quality food, and for customers waiting hours for a table on most nights.

Hot pot around every corner

Hot pot restaurants are as abundant in China as Starbucks are in the US — or as Starbucks are in most other countries for that matter. If you’ve never eaten hot pot (you may know the Japanese version: Shabu Shabu), I can offer a simple explanation: they bring a pot to your table, put it on a burner, and then you order vegetables, thinly-sliced meats, fish, or anything else to cook in the boiling broth. The most common style includes a pot with chicken broth on one side, and chili oil on the other. It’s delicious simplicity, and comes in many forms throughout China.
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Amazon in China — an example of localization

Amazon’s entry into China is a lesson in understanding the local market and catering to its needs. The most obvious difference is Amazon delivering goods themselves, or at least making it seem like they are. Not only do they understand the local market, but they may even be using a lean approach.

I suddenly started seeing z.cn (Amazon’s URL in China) everywhere I looked. At the time, we were still living in Hangzhou — a second-tier city about 100 miles from Shanghai — so the ads on busses throughout the city donning Amazon’s smile stood out. Advertising is pervasive in China and I wouldn’t be surprised if I found babies with logos on their foreheads; but the sheer volume of ads with z.cn and the Amazon smile surprised me.

Amazon seemed to focus on books and a few other key categories when I first noticed them making their z.cn push, though the range seems to have expanded since then. The similarity between their approach in China and the US isn’t what I find instructive, rather it’s the changes they are making for the local market that should interest entrepreneurs and foreign companies.

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