Today we held our first TechNode Ideas MeshUp Workshop in Beijing and our first English event. The goal of the day was to bring together a bunch of people who have cool and interesting ideas for a mobile app to make life easier in China. ‘Making life easier’ was up to the participants to interpret and the results were varied.

First of all, Peng T. Ong from GSR Ventures spoke about China’s huge opportunity to create high impact companies, purely from the size of China and its growth trajectory. He metaphorically likened just being in China and doing a start-up, to have a ‘lottery ticket’ to success. Although he warned the biggest cause for failure for foreign entrepreneurs in China, is arrogance and thinking they can simply import their business to China. He encouraged foreigners to have a big amount of humility to understand the Chinese market and its culture. He also strongly believes foreigners should have a local Chinese partner to realistically do business here, since they automatically understand the cultural nuances that trip up many foreigners.  He also reiterated the importance of attacking a big market, especially if looking for funding or a big exit. Although simple in concept, many fail to take the time to perform due diligence of the market size first.

Next up, Eric Wang, CEO and Co-Founder of Wodache, China’s largest car-sharing application spoke about his journey from banker in New York to a startup in Beijing. He spoke of his passion to make a difference and solve China’s pollution problem by having less cars on the road through car-sharing. He then demoed his application which just got released on the Apple App Store. You can download it here. He told participants to think carefully about product features and keeping it simple, because the more features, the more complex and more technically difficult it is to manage on the back-end.

Then the real fun began. Teams split up into five groups of 3-4 and were asked to settle on one idea for a mobile app to ‘make life easier or better in China’. After an hour and a half of brainstorming and sketching the requirements were to identify a problem or opportunity to be taken advantage of, describe what the mobile is and how it works, identify target users and sketch out what the app would look like. Of course in an hour and a half, very little progress can be made. But the important thing was to share creative ideas and get feedback from like-minded people.

The winning team was ‘Get it cheaper’, a mobile app to scan barcodes of products in stores, like a vacuum cleaner which will then search an aggregated database to see what similar products have been recommended by other people and which e-commerce store to get it the cheapest. The user could then choose an e-tailer and buy it directly from there. Peng judged it as the best idea because he thought he would use it and there was a clear path to monetization through CPC or CPA.  For their effort, the boys each received a SwissVoice ePure phone to call through with any device.

Here are the rest of the ideas:

‘Geifu’ is an app to help busy people send gift cards to their friends and family through an app. One use case example is for someone’s birthday, instead of buying something, you could just send them a virtual gift card for Ikea and the receiver could redeem it themselves.

‘Coupon Chicken’ a funny twist on Gongbai Chicken, is an app that gives people discounts for high-end restaurants through coupons, based on location. Vendors would pay the business for putting their deals on the app.

‘Banana’ is an English learning application based on mixing Instagram Draw Something. To make learning English words more visual, the app would display a word like ‘Apple’ and ask users to take a photo of the object. Other users would then rate the correctness of the picture to matching the word to earn points.

The last idea was ‘Friend Finder’, an app to encourage Chinese people to make more friends. The premise was that Chinese often lack the confidence to strike up conversation with strangers, even if it could be for their benefit like career or a crush. The app would identify something about a nearby user and ask them to say something using information about them. For example, if the app told me a girl was into tennis, it would encourage me to talk about tennis with her. The idea is geared towards dating and they even suggested they would sell the company to a dating site like Jiayuan or Baihe.

Overall, all the ideas were interesting and had some potential. The main purpose for the day was to take this very nascent idea and take it to another event like Startup Weekend or iWeekend and find some developers to build out a simple demo product to test its potential. I hope everyone had fun and thanks for coming! Sorry about the bad directions…

Jason is an Australian born Chinese living in Beijing, specializing in entrepreneurship, start-ups and the investment eco-system in China, especially in the tech and social area.

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