Commonly Asked – Why Did I Come To China?

In china business by Michael Michelini31 Comments

People always ask me “why did you move to china” or “do you think you made the right decision quitting you dayjob and coming to china to start your own business”…well, lets reflect on each of these separately

Why did i move to china – sure, i ask myself that every now and then….why i didnt have the most clear plan, i did start it more in the usa before i moved out here. I left my dayjob at deutsche bank in april 2007, there were some milestones there:

1 – Wanted to get out of the day job – at Deutsche Bank, I felt it would take a few more years at the current position to move up organically, sure i had job offers and opportunities. I interviewed for internet marketing positions, and had offers from electronics retailer J&R in manhattan ny. I also was considering living down in florida near my family – i interviewed there for a marketing position (i wanted to get out of banking), and they offered me there too. But i realized both of these 2 positions were considerable decreases in salary…..sure, sure they say you shouldnt take a job based on salary…well….i couldnt accept that.
I was also considering investing in opening a franchise – i got in touch with a franchise broker…went through the interview to identify the best franchise opportunity….they were some strange ones…like computer repair services, design service, etc. I told the broker “why would i pay these franchise fees for some no name brands when i could spend less money and open my own independent location under my own name.” he didnt like that question so much, didnt have a good answer for me, and didnt really expect much from me after that, and I felt opening a franchise operation wasn’t for me.

2- MBA not for me – I was considering an MBA, and had actually saved up most of my money to get that MBA. I was taking prep classes at night while at Deutsche, and remember clearly the first day going around the room “please state your name, where you work, and what you want to do with your MBA”, everyone else also had a job at a corporate bank in NY, BUT EVERYONE JUST WANTED TO GET A HIGHER PAYING JOB IN CORPORATE AMERICA after graduating from MBA school. When it got to my turn to answer, I said I wanted to get an MBA to learn how to start a business and network with entrepreneurs. I got some strange eyeballs, and realized quickly that an MBA was not the best investment for me to start my own company. Taking 2 years of my time, as well as tons of my savings ….seemed better to invest in opening a company.

3- New York Bar Store owners blocked me buying more shares. My friends didn’t want me to take majority of the company, I was asking to invest more money into the company, as well as work full time (we all day jobs at the time). Seems the others were afraid of losing power, and I can’t remember clearly the long email threads back and forth, but my idea was shot down.

4 – wanted to do something bigger then getting on the top of Google for “bar products”. I remember thinking, I spent so much time getting to the top of search engines for bar products…..and if I had spent more time doing that for a bigger market….well, I felt I would be in a bigger position in business…

…..thinking…..what is something that has big opportunity, and if I could rank on the top of google for, I would make tons of cash. IMPORT / EXPORT! Bam! That was it.

So I searched online for sources in china, so I could be an agent for them, use my internet marketing skills, get inquiries, make some deals happen, and get a check in the mail for the rest of my life. Easy, right! Found a company “Mainland China Trading” and they offered an agents program. quickly I signed up, and started studying more.

Now, I didn’t move to China right away…..another factor WAS MY NEW YORK APARTMENT LEASE was running out in a month or two, the end of April. So Andrew, my roommate, and I had to let them know if we were staying or not. Whenever an apartment lease contract comes due, it makes me think! IS THIS WHERE I WANT TO CONTINUE SPENDING MY TIME.

On top of that, I had a phone conversation with Piotr (common commenter here on the blog), and he had been living out in San Diego for some time. He mentioned he had an extra room….and he was a couple blocks from the beach…..had a really cheap rent on it, and no contract, just pay him personally.

SO BAM – I had it:

a) End of Year Review with Deutsche – NOT CHALLENGED.
b) Considered Other Jobs, or a franchise – NO….thanks.
c) MBA – too expensive, 2 years of my life, and don’t want student loan debt to work in corporate america as a slave to pay it off
d) Whats a BIG MARKET & needs internet marketing – IMPORT/ EXPORT from China!
e) Apartment lease contract ending soon – have to decide to sign for another year
f) Piotr had a month to month room – IN SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA. – no long term committment, try the west coast lifestyle, start new online business
g) couldn’t buy majority of my current online business – so start my own consulting company to buy from China.

So, was I another OPPORTUNIST. Its almost like a bad word here in the expat community in China. An opportunist is seen as someone without a clear objective, comes to China, tries different projects, burns cash, and ends of failing, getting a job, or going back to USA soon.

Sure, I am an opportunist – I felt like its the 1800’s in USA, the gold rush of california. Have to get on the ground to see whats happening.

If you read back on this exact blog, you’ll see my time in California. It was pretty cool, but I needed to be in the action. I was frustrated trying to remotely contact factories in China….and took a 1 month trip to see trade fairs, visit factories, and meet different business people. IT WAS INTENSE. I am an adrenaline junkie, I love adventure. I wanted to try to make things better, more streamlined, clearer, and easier for westerners to do business.

haha, you can read along in this blog to see some speedbumps I hit there. I learned you cannot CHANGE CHINA. You have to adapt to learn how to do business the way it has been done forever, there is a fixed mindset, a culture, a way to do things. It is this way, and they aren’t going to let some foreigner come in and tell them how to they should be doing it.

Do I regret quitting the day job and losing that income, as well as investing the money I have? – HELL NO. I got what I was asking for. And this is money damn well spent. Better then some MBA school, that I could put on my resume. This is blood, sweat, and tears. Sweat equity. And no one can take that from me.

I am on the right track, sure its been difficult….and I have to admit, harder then I thought. But I am on track. INTERNATIONAL ECOMMERCE – mixing import export with the internet. That is where I am positioned, and I am right in the center of it.

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  1. keep it up mikey!! u know u r doing gd!!! 😉
    add oil!! x

  2. very well written Mike. a good analysis and it just proves again that you made the right decision. if you didn’t you would be questioning it the other way your whole life. I think you have balls to do what you did. you put your own as.s on the line and you are successful. you are learning through experience – which is what you continuously say on the blog – way better than an mba. (i’ve been trying to justify an mba for a while – took the GMAT and got an awesome score i just cant see that its worth it yet). i say the only tough part is being so far away. we dont get to see you as often and im sure you miss us and your family. but it looks like you made tons of friends out there and some really good friends so keep it up. the world is getting smaller and it will only get easier for you to travel. Keep it up mike. I enjoy the blog

    1. Author

      thanks Piotr….
      While I guess I should plan better, that is constructive feedback I always get. But i think i am the “phase 1” of a startup…I push things along, get people motivated, and make it clear enough for the “phase 2” people to come in and organize it. Just have to make cashflow steady enough to afford the “phase 2” people – which I would classify as the MBA graduates!

      and its hard to be away from friends and family so long…..that has definitely been the biggest drawback…..september/ october I will be home…NY , Florida, try to get to cali.

      1.  hello michael, nice blog..
        i think ure a nice person.. hope to know you more as friend…
        my name is aileen but you can call me lheen:-)
        im  31  fmale, you can add me up or you can msg me on my email to this address
        thanks and godbless!

        1. Thanks Lheen,
          glad u enjoy the blog. Moving to china and transitioning to asia has been been an adventure
          On Feb 6, 2012 2:03 AM, “Disqus”

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  6. Mike it was interesting to learn your story. I think you definitely made the right decision not pursuing the MBA and having the courage to pursue your own path.

  7. Yes, You are absolutely right that that is the main question for everyone. But, I like your all details regarding the use of well known franchise.

  8. I still don’t know why I moved to China…and when I moved back to the US, I didn’t know why I left.

  9. Great story!

    I am really tempted to drop everything and go to China/Hong Kong to open my trading co.

    Might even need your services! 🙂

    1. cool Jay….

      many people talk to me about moving to China….

      i think its similar to starting a business….there will never be a perfect time and you just gotta take a chance sometimes….

      look forward to doing some consulting haha

  10. Good read. Inspiring story. Would make the same decisions as you did in your position. Keep on blogging and good luck! Maybe we can catch up in China sometime – I am still caught with my endeavour to find the BIG idea for a startup relating to China. Cheers

    1. thanks for the comment Marcel, yes I am keeping up with the dream man – would be great to catch you in China one day!

  11. Good story Michael 🙂 China is indeed a beautiful country, and we are lucky to be here. Closed for so many hundreds of years to outsiders, the opportunities are here for those with the skill and persistance to grasp them.

      1. Do agree. If people want to get somewhere in “real” China, and not “only” in international-business&foreign-companies-China, they need to speak Chinese. How is your Chinese now?

        After 4 years living in Shanghai i’m inching closer to being able to speak in most situations, though there are still gigantic gaps 🙂

        1. hi Henrik,
          thanks for reading. I think in any country where you want to sell and integrate with the people there language is a good first step. I can have basic conversation with Chinese people but not business talk…. sigh.
          Yet my excuse is I never knew how long I would stay in China. but it seemsI keep extending my stay!

          1. Not so sure about the language requirements any more…

            I speak/read/write fluent Japanese. Helped me for daily living/social interactions, but for business success, I think you need the business drive first and foremost.

            I have friends in Japan who developed great businesses with marginal Japanese. In this day and age of virtual/personal assistants, the requirement to speak the language is a bit less I think…

            As with anything, delegating when necessary important. Can’t remember the famous diplomat/ex-president or whoever, but even though they spoke fluent French, they always relied on an interpreter for matters of international diplomacy to ensure the right point/nuance was carried.

            I would also think the majority of expat business owners here are making money by international business, not local/”real” China. I know I’m much more comfortable selling Chinese resources to the West than vice versa…

  12. Hey Michael, just stumbled upon your blog but I’ve been seeing your name float around a lot from Nick and Tim from the Elevator Life whom I met last September in Guangzhou and also on the DC forum. I am also planning on moving to China this fall (can’t wait to get there!). Initially my plan is to move to GZ as I loved it there and really enjoyed the entrepreneurial scene however, I’ve been reading and hearing only positives about Shenzen and I’m getting seriously intrigued about it. Overall, in terms of the scene, but also living costs and proximity to manufacturers and overall quality of living, which would you recommend between GZ and SZ?

    Thanks a lot! I’d love to meet you when I get there!



    1. Hi Payman,
      cool welcome to join the chaos in China!

      I always suggest at the beginning to rent a room or do a short term lease so that you can try diferent options quickly.

      If anything shenzhen and guangzhou are only about an hour train away from each other …. hong kong is also just across the border so gatherings between friends in all of these cities happen regularly

      1. ditto to not getting a long term lease. In the last 6months, I’ve lived in hotels provided by employers and would even suggest getting monthly cheap hotel rentals, so you dont have to worry about internet, laundry, etc. you can concentrate fully on work and networking.

        I don’t have much GZ experience but networking and being around entrepreneurial peeps definitely happens in Shenzhen.

        I’ll be back there again this week, maybe for a month of client work and looking forward to it!

  13. Hey Mike, George here and I’ve been living in China… mmm.. forever? OK, ‘only’ for 14 years…ouch. I live in Dalian, up in the North-East. BTW do you speak Chinese already? This is one of the FIRST skills that you must have living in China, no? Ok, maybe get in touch and brainstorm something together… I’m in internet biz too! Cheers! GP

    1. hey George
      thanks for reaching out! Sure learning Chinese is a good first step. for some reason i thought first to build my business to be stable and then learn chinese. for some reason my business in china still isnt stable haha!
      internet business in China….then we MUST connect. best way is to book a call with me via

  14. a lot of Chinese want to move to USA becouse of living, and a lot of American want to move to Chinese becouse of biz..interesting..

  15. very interesting story..

    When I search “shenzhen entrepreneur” in Baidu, and find your nice blog in Chinese. Later trace it here, :). I am in HongKong now and back to shenzhen next month to start my own business. hope to see you there.


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