Lessons from Organizing Shenzhen China’s First BootUP! Weekend

In china business by Michael Michelini6 Comments

Still physically and emotionally drained from an intense weekend mentoring and witnessing 5 startups form and finally pitch to a panel of judges. I really thank Bruce Levin who helped all weekend, as well as Patrick Wong, Paul Jones, Donald Han, Jun Li….and many many more. As well as those who dedicated their time to be there all weekend – taking valuable time out of their schedule.

While I did just blog about the BootUP! weekend on startupcn – I want to use my personal blog to be a bit more “personal” and not feel guilty for saying how I personally feel rather than the group itself.

Yes, everyone really loved the weekend experience, and even if some left the weekend earlier they thanked me dearly for helping organize and put it together with Bruce and some others. But I have the following lessons to share, and I am still looking for answers, ideas, and feedback:

  1. Language – in all these events I have had trouble deciding how to balance language in China. I am American, and my Chinese is limited. I push Li Jun and others in the organization to help with translation and getting speakers, volunteers, judges who are from the Chinese business community. I don’t want this to be a bunch of foreigners hanging out in China talking about China business, for me to feel it is a success, we need to balance Chinese and foreigners together……yet when I helped pair off teams, putting equal balance of Chinese and foreigner, seems the Chinese did not come back throughout the weekend, maybe they are shy, maybe they are busy….or maybe they are intimidated by the English language and/or the naturally more directness of a foreigner.
  2. Culture – an SZteam Chinese investor was visiting the office on Saturday, sitting with Li Jun. At that time, in the “break room” some of the team members were joking around and pushing each other. The Chinese investor took it as disrespect towards the office, not caring if they broke something or interrupted others. Li Jun asked me to tell those members to stop joking around, and I tried my best to explain to the Chinese businessman that its a cultural difference and not meaning disrespect to him and the office. A few other instances like this. as well as the bullet point above with the language…culture and language go hand in hand…and maybe that is why some of the teams had people jumping off and quitting and new people joining, etc throughout the weekend.
  3. Managing Personality Levels – again, similar to the above 2 points, but we had some extremely extroverted personalities mixed with extremely introverted personalities. And I think most people that have read my blog and spent some time in China (or Asia overall) would agree most Chinese are quieter and less direct, while the typical American / European is more direct and agressive. This also added a new dynamic to the group formations.
  4. Making money at the event – just under pressure to pay the rent from SZteam coworking (yes, we are trying separate the startups community (startupscn.com) from the coworking space (szteam.com) and many are confusing the two groups), I wish we didnt have so much pressure to pay the rent and could instead focus on pure community building and networking, but this is life. We didn’t charge for the event, but we also didn’t get any sponsors for the events except members themselves bringing food, snacks, and making small donations in the donation box to pay for the air conditioning.

Today my email box was flooded with feedback from members, as well as new people interested in future events. One to highlight is a great guy who came, Lucian, gave me the following thorough email today:

Hi Mike,

I wanted to thank you again for the event hosted in Shenzhen. I am so happy ur pioneering the way in the local community and you rally the troops there. I was literally impressed with the quality of judges you brought to the table! The event was great, the place is super nice (better than boot actually)! I am looking to get multi entry visa for China and with only a few RMB for ticket transportation I might be able to come out to events you guys host!

Some suggestions to make it better:
– figure out a way to avoid people abandoning SW middle through the process! Otherwise it creates distress for the teams that get built
some solutions:
–> charge people $50 HKD admission fee or so and upon completion of the event refund it back!
–> have a different category of people that can join the event such as “observers” where people are maybe able to come one day or so. Maybe they are a local person and are intimidated, maybe they just want to see diff ideas.
– have perhaps a communication workshop at the co-working space and make locals and foreigners aware of cultural differences when communicating and working in groups. This could be done the same date in 1 hour after the start of the event…etc
Otherwise the foreigners risk having an ‘aggressive’ attitude and intimidate locals. Since Face is important to them, they might be reluctant to work and tensions arise in the group. (It could avoid situations where the mexican girl or the other asian woman get “bullied” by one dominant force and their ideas not appreciated, valued or taken into consideration)
– perhaps have like hang out at the end of the night in a larger group including more locals (it was great what we did!, plus it gives u opportunity to learn about a person on a personal level and build more trust)….the idea of socializing with people u work after work hours is hugely popular in Japan.

Another thing I thought it would be cool to share with you is this link that I came across…
http://www.cyberport.hk/campaign/cyberlink/vol036/detail_page_3.html

It is run by the Cyberport Creative Micro Fund Young Entrepreneur Programme (CCMF-YEP) which is “designed for the tertiary students and recent graduates of Hong Kong and Shenzhen, aims to help young and creative talents in developing the technical and business skills they need to capture the opportunities in the booming Internet and/or ICT busines”.

It is co-organized by Hong Kong Information Technology Joint Council, Shenzhen-Hong Kong Union for Promoting Science & Technology and the PKU-HKUST Shenzhen Hong Kong Institution, and managed by the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s Centre for Entrepreneurship
I think there could be some synergy with this program and the events you guys have at SZ Team and you could connect with maybe the shenzhen organizations. This way this university kids will come out and attend the startup weekend events in the future.

Lucian is a real hustler, and Vlad and I told him about the tropical MBA internship with our buddies Dan and Ian….but I may get greedy and keep Lucian for our Shenzhen efforts, as he is looking to make the jump to full time startup and Hong Kong is not the best place to pay the rent and bills if you want to bootstrap!!!

Also Luigi is helping us get more PR press, and is talking to Shenzhen Daily, Bruce took some time to reply, below:

1. Does Shenzhen Team mostly survive by donations?

Shenzhen Team is a co-working space, located in the Science Park. Co-working is a recent trend that is taking hold all over the world, but especially in areas with a concentration of high tech workers. It involves people from different organizations, often entrepreneurs, sharing an office space and facilities. It provides a sense of community for people who might otherwise work at home, or alone in a small office, or in a crowded public space, such as a coffee shop.

Shenzhen Team sponsors a number of activities and groups, including a weekly meeting of the Shenzhen Startups group, and a quarterly “BootUp” startup weekend. These startup weekends are also a growing trend around the world, and now Shenzhen has its own.

The SZ Team co-working space is funded by users who may pay on either a per use basis, or join as a member, subscribing to a one month or three month plan.

2. If it is a profit organization, then how does it intend to make a profit in the long term?

Besides membership and usage fees, Shenzhen Team is considering different revenue streams in order to sustain the valuable service it provides. These include sponsorships, grants, leasing space for groups, corporate meetings and training.

3. Who were those judges? Were they paid for going?

The judges for the BootUP! startup weekend were local entrepreneurs with a multiple successful businesses. We had a mixture of Chinese and foreigner judges, who all generously donated their time for this event.

Paul Tittmann, American spending 38 years in Asia. CEO of Pacific Access a large Turkish trading company in Shekou district, previously executive in Global Sources and TNT China

Mr Pang, a successful Chinese businessman, the first China CEO of Cisco Systems, also many years in Sun Microsystems and spent 5 years living in USA

Yoyo – Director of Media for Phoenix TV (HK)

Marshall Taplits – Local Tech guru, owner of 2 bars in Shekou and Implementation Manager for TradeStone Software

Jon Buford – Founder of boot.hk coworking and CEO of his new startup makible

4. What happened to the winning start-up last night?

The winning startup will be featured prominently in blogs and other promotional materials about this event. The SZ Startup group will be pleased to take inquiries from VCs and other investors about the any of the teams that participated in this event, as well as other startups in Shenzhen that are seeking seed capital.

5. How often do you have these pitch nights?

SZ Startups plan to hold BootUP weekends at least once a quarter. The next event being planned will be carried out in concert with startup weekends held in other cities across China, which is looking like Nov 19-20, 2011.

But I am going to keep pushing it! I know we were considering doing a weekend from Sept 16 – 18 , but no way…..gonna have to wait til later. I’m gonna be in USA Sept 21 to Oct 12

Overall, this shenzhen coworking is fitting my overall career and life goals….I do want to start a podcast series, and I am running two main projects – my ecommerce business and this Shenzhen startup community development…. also now adding training services….but overall, I think it makes sense….

AND IT SEEMS TO BE WORKING!. Stay positive, listen to what people want, and keep adjusting.