Got to China yesterday and made my way to Shenzhen, one of the first Special Economic Zone’s in China. These zone were created in August of 1980 and were designed to be the first experiments in China for free trade and foreign investment.
I’m learning all about doing business here, and let’s just say it’s veryverycomplicated. There are no rules, it’s all based on relationships, and all kinds of interesting things can happen to your company as you grow it. Now, I thought I was a hard-core entrepreneur, but this is a totally different level of risk. Things can turn on a dime for a startup, and it really makes you appreciate the rules and regulations we have in the US. Our systems can be screwed up and complicated, what with all the lawsuits and red tape. However when you compare the snafus to the free-for-all, anything goes, model here in Chinacomplete with retro-active rulingsyou start to yearn for some regulation!
On day one I couldn’t sleep, a 15 hour flight will do that to you. So, I took a walk around a huge theme park here (see model on rightthat’s only half the place!) and had a “that was a first!” experience. As I walked through the amusement park I realized I was the only white person out of the 10,000+ people, mostly children, enjoying the sunny 85 degree day. At 33 years old I don’t get these strange moments too often, so it was a great feeling to be thrown so way off base.
As I walked in I kept seeing people look at me out of the corner of my eye. Then groups of kids at the part started yelling the two or three English phrases they knew. Imagine 30 kids yelling “Hello!!!! Hello!!!!” over and over again to you, and having hundreds of people in the theme part stop what they are doing to turn and look and point at you.
My first reaction was “did I sit in something” or is there a piece of toilet paper hanging off my shoes?! Then I realized that the folks at the theme park had been bussed in from the farm-land to the north of Shenzhenmany had never seen an American, or someone with blond hair and blue eyes, before!
I was stopped at least 30-40 times in two hours to take pictures. It was cute, five kids would surround me and all put up the peace sign and smile like they were taking a picture with Michael Jordon. Now, I can ball, but I’m no MJ.
Speaking of balls. when I sat down to eat something I asked the women what the balls floating in the soup were. She said that the first group were “fish balls.” I said great, and then asked her what the other balls were. She said “cow balls,” I said great. 🙂
Right as I started eating a group of 25 or so eight-year-old students surrounded my table and started testing out their English on me: “What is your name?!?! What is your name?!?! What is your name?!?!” they screamed in unison over and over again with a bit of melody. “My name is Jason, what is your name?” I responded. After a pause they started the song over again, “What is your name?!?! What is your name?!?! What is your name?!?!” Funny.
Their teacher came over to me and said “I’m English teacher them.” I responded and introduced myself, and she had no idea what I was saying. I realized she didn’t speak English either! I was told by some folks here that there is a strong mandate for everyone to learn English in Shenzhenas well as in the rest of Chinaand that people are looking for any opportunity to test it out. No kidding!
Now, the online growth is staggering here. There are hundreds of thousands of Internet cafes, and a hundred million folks online (which explains why American sites are getting pushed down on Alexa and Chinese sites are taking the top slots).
Unfortunately people don’t have credit cards here, or any way to pay you for goods online, so ecommerce is going to be a bust for the next five or ten years on a percentage of users basis. However, if you have 10% of a billion people online able to do ecommece that is a 100m customers, and that ain’t bad.
Online advertising also has a long way to go. Folks are doing deals on a sponsorship basis, and the advertisers don’t know about metrics or deal formats like CPM, CPA, CPC, etc. In other words, online advertising is like 1995 in the US. There are no advertising networks here either, so smaller companies have no way to get advertising.
Well, I’m off for some dim sum and then going to the computer market and a net cafe to check out the scene. The biggest opportunity I’ve seen so far is online gaming. Had some meetings with WeGame.com, which is run by a member of my extended family, and they are doing some amazing things with “e-sports.” You did know that China has named online gaming as the countries official 99th sport right?
Next up into the backrooms to check out software piracy, $20,000 worth of software for $15, and a 300 computer netcafe hidden in a dump of a building that you enter through a back alley!