A famous Chinese saying goes “first make friends, then talk business” (先交朋友 再谈生意 xīanjīaopéngyou zàitánshēngyì). A large part of making those friends is going to and hosting parties and Chinese VCs are turning out to be the most creative in using online tools to make offline events more fun.
“Chinese culture is different from that of the US. So we have to design different ways to make people feel comfortable and open up. While networking in the US is more straight forward, Chinese usually close their mind first. So the key to a networking party is to make way to open up their mind,” Richard Wang, managing partner at DFJ DragonFund told TechNode.
Richard, having experienced both the US and China before joining a Silicon Valley-driven fund, has invited friends from finance, investment, media, consulting, real estate, law and other sectors into one WeChat group. More and more common, these WeChat groups for professionals play an important role in sharing valuable information between trusted friends.
To ensure that the group members actually show up and engage in real conversation, event organizers try to plan interesting activities. Rather than using a prosaic name like ‘networking party’, organizers attract guests by including and advertising games, raffles, or they emphasize a special dress code like 1920-30s Gatsby style or an all-white outfit.
“In Chinese events, we like to play in groups, especially with people we don’t know. Western events are more like cocktail lounge parties, meeting new people one by one,” Echo Chen, an art critic who attended an event recently told TechNode.
For his networking event on May 21st, Richard used Mafia, commonly known as Werewolf (狼人杀) in China, as bait to attract people to attend.
WeChat and werewolves
Mafia, sometimes called Werewolfi, was created by Dmitry Davidoff in 1986. After entering China, it has become one of the most popular party games.
“The werewolf game can test players’ memory, their ability to do logical analysis, and reveals their psychology. Through the werewolf game, we get to have a more in-depth understanding of their character and ability,” Daniel Guo, Executive Director of Strategic Development of SynCapital told TechNode at the event.
Normally played with a moderator to pick out the werewolves, the offline game has now transformed into one that can be played almost entirely on WeChat.
There is no need for cards or a moderator having to tap shoulders. Once the game players search “狼人杀” on WeChat and follow the account, the moderator types down the number of players, and WeChat automatically allocates the roles.
“I liked the theme of this event, it gives us the feeling that everyone is participating. It was my first time to play this game, on WeChat or otherwise. It was an interesting and clever idea to organize an event like this to make new friends and network,” said Feng Yuhang, CEO and founder of Zhanshujia (占数家, literally “data dominator”).
Despite the high profile of the participants at the event, the party does not involve anything business related but instead is filled with playful intrigue. It is overall more of a leisurely, chilled-out weekend gathering rather than a networking party packed with business purpose on weekdays.
“The goal of running this group is to make friends, connect resources, and help out VCs and entrepreneurs,” Richard says.
Chinese culture, especially among people with weak social ties, can be very transactional (“What will you do for me if I do this for you?”). But at these types of events, there are no tangible outcomes.
“I don’t talk with investors so much in terms of business or my profession. I participated in this meet up to expand my social circle and make more friends,” Laijin Zhou, a manager at Alipay told TechNode.
“People who come here all have a purpose. Some come to network, to play a game, to promote their business, to relax, or to find a business partner,” said Mr. Shen from G Group. “We can’t say that this event will directly help our business. It’s just a matter of luck. People are from all different sectors. We will make friends first, then if we get along well, maybe there can be professional help in the future.”
“I attended this event to get to know more people in venture capital and investment. While having a busy week, gathering with friends to chat and laugh in the pub is very relaxing and refreshing. I saw some friends who I have not seen for some time and also met some senior peer investors and passionate entrepreneurs,” Daniel Guo said.
No more business cards
After the werewolf game, it is then so easy and natural to add a new friend’s WeChat. People ask directly if they can add their QR code or just find their name in the WeChat group. There is zero exchange of printed business cards but the business card habit is hard to kick so people still send a picture of their cards.
“WeChat is a powerful tool and we should utilize this tool well, not just for fun,” Richard smiles.
83% of WeChat users responded that they use WeChat for work, according to 2017 WeChat User Report. Important business activities like making introductions, sending out your startup pitch deck, doing a group call meeting are also done through WeChat, rather than email in China.
The outcome of these social events can be huge. Under the pool of hundred VCs in one WeChat group chat, they often co-invest in companies together.
“Yes, we often co-invest in startups in order to maximize benefit to all parties,” Richard says. “Investing is actually all about people. So it is very critical to connect people to exchange resources. In China, we build a friendship first and then talk business, so that’s why I always connect people, and I actually enjoy this.”
“China’s parties are often interspersed with some business topics, while foreign relative will have more family-oriented, life aspects of the topic,” Daniel says. “China’s get-together, because of the practical national conditions, is often held indoors, and less outdoor.”