This is the first post in our series: Tips for Foreign Founder. We talk to a group of foreign entrepreneurs who have found success in China and want to share their experience with those inside and outside China.
As China’s economy, spending power, and global heft grow, so too does interest in doing business here. This intense interest, however, is also coupled with intense trepidation due to huge market differences. Getting over these differences is the first step.
“China is an island where nothing works. Your website, app, and the way you worked back in your country might all have to change when you come to China,” says Ryan King, Professor at Fudan University and startup advisor in Shanghai.
Indeed, the biggest web browser, Chrome does not work very well in China and neither does Facebook, the biggest marketing tool for most global startups.
“Look at your customers and see which tools they use. You have to use those tools, not the ones that you had always used outside of China,” says Sian Lovegrove, founder of Shanghai training and director of youth expedition business of UK’s World Challenge in China. In the process of bringing the UK’s business into China, she witnessed the struggles that foreigners have due to lack of understanding the particularities of Chinese culture and business. Since then, she works as an advisor to many foreign startups coming to Shanghai.
Below, we highlight 4 tools every foreign founder needs to know.
Tip 1. Get used to putting QR code on everywhere
On almost every leaflet, brochure, advertisement, and pretty much anything free, you can easily see a plethora of QR codes.
“Although you rarely spot QR codes in your home country, it is everywhere in China. Literally, everywhere,” Sian says.
QR codes entered China all the way from Japan in 2010 but really took off when Alibaba and Tencent adopted the technology to reduce mobile payment friction.
Make sure you add the QR code for your WeChat account on your business care. This makes it much easier for people to find you and reach out to partner.
Tip 2. Don’t use email, just use WeChat
“I have seen some people complaining that they had not received or had waited a long time to get a response when using email with Chinese partners,” Ryan said. “This is because Chinese people, especially those that work in startups do not really use email when working.”
Although it is hard to imagine WhatsApp or Facebook being used in business environment, it is very common for Chinese startups to ‘work through WeChat.’
“When our expedition teams from Austrailia came to China, they didn’t even know what WeChat is. But, now after weeks of doing projects in China, they can’t leave WeChat, not even a second,” says Sian.
Tip 3. Choose 8 app stores to list your app
Since the Google Play Store doesn’t work in China, distributing your app on Android is not as easy as it is for iOS. There are over twenty different Android App stores, including the Baidu App Store and the Tencent App store.
When it comes to developing an app, it is important to first choose on which app store to list. The demographic differences between stores can be quite large.
“I suggest you choose around eight Android app stores first and then start developing the app”, Ryan says.
Tip 4. Make a WeChat official account instead of a website
In China, people live inside WeChat, sometimes even forgoing a web browser. To effectively attract and maintain a Chinese audience, a WeChat official account can actually be more effective.
Once a user subscribes to your official account, they get a message whenever there is an update. It is more accessible and easily keeps your audience updated on for news and events. WeChat official account can be designed to be a little more than just a notice board; it can even be used as an online shop.
A lot of Chinese startups choose to first open up an official account inside WeChat to present their product and service and receive feedback before they create an independent app.
“The only thing is that only Chinese can open up an official account. So, if there is no Chinese member in your team, you might have to seek a reliable Chinese friend to register on behalf of your company,” warned, Ryan.