The world of today recognizes China as an industrial titan that is responsible for supplying wholesale gadgets to all corners of the world. This was already the case way back in 1998 when I first saw the country with my own eyes. It could churn out huge loads of various products for the mega companies of the world. It was a rising giant, embracing technology and globalization in its own unique way. The big players knew it at the time, and they were rushing in to secure their place alongside China’s industrial ascent.
But what about the little guys? What about the small-time entrepreneur looking to access China’s manufacturing hubs? Was it possible to create a bridge that would easily connect one to the other?
I found out that yes – it was possible to do just that. That’s how my e-commerce portal, Chinavasion, came to be. And along the way, I’ve learned two very important lessons that I believe every global-minded entrepreneur should take to heart:
Opportunity is a buzzword that a lot of people toss around, and for good reason. Entrepreneurs will thrive or wither due to their ability to seize these opportunities. The problem, however, is actually finding these opportunities in the first place. They rarely come to you while you stagnate in your little corner of the world, seeing only what your neighbors see.
China was my first stop. I had already heard that the country was the go-to place when it came to wholesale gadgets and electronics, so I decided to tour the country while keeping an eye out for business opportunities. That’s when I noticed something weird: the factory outlets in China were only exporting goods in massive quantities, as in cargo containers and bulk air freight. You can’t do business in the country if you don’t have enough money to buy stuff in stupidly large quantities. Another problem was that these transactions were often conducted face-to-face, meaning you couldn’t access China’s manufacturing hubs if you weren’t in the country. That’s where I saw the opportunity present itself. I realized that I could use the connective power of the Internet to create a ‘bridge’ – one that could allow smaller players with limited funds to buy China-made products in manageable quantities.
I would never have seen this opportunity if I wasn’t there, actively looking for it. I had to get out of my comfort zone to learn stuff, to visit a totally foreign country. I didn’t even know Mandarin at the time! Long story short: if you want to find opportunities, then go out there and explore. Suck up as much information as you can, and you’ll eventually find your very own niche to capitalize on.
Another thing I’ve learned as I built up my company from the ground up is that people are just that – people. Complex, multi-faceted individuals with their own belief systems, quirky oddities, and general outlooks on life. You have to spend a lot of time and effort to get to know these people in order to clear up misconceptions and get down to business with them.
I place emphasis on this because of how easy it is to focus on how ‘different’ we are from one another. Media outlets sensationalizing stories, politicians drumming up anger to gain public support, analysts foretelling the worst possible outcomes – all of these play on our fears of those we don’t really know. My own trip to China made me realize that I was working with people that ultimately want happiness, the same as me. I eventually went on to learn a lot of things about the way Chinese people conduct business, from a deep focus on establishing relationships to intricate displays of courtesy and humility. It took quite a bit of adapting, considering the frank and straightforward way business is conducted in my home country of Germany. My budding business would never have made it far in China if I insisted that my way was the only right way and that everyone else’s way was wrong.
That’s why we made it a core tenet within the company to foster a spirit of equality and cooperation. I wanted to focus on what connects all the people I work with, from my suppliers in China to my customers in the US, UK, or EU. Build those bridges, overcome the barriers that differentiate ‘you’ from the ‘other,’ and you may be surprised at the lucrative partnerships you can find.