I was lucky enough to be the traveling spouse on my wife’s recent trip to Beijing. It was her third trip to Asia for work and second to China. It was the first for both of us to be in Beijing though and I took the opportunity to spend some time vacationing and working. We were incredibly lucky to have flexible work schedules to allow this to happen as well as an incredibly supportive family to keep our rigorous home life moving with Robin and I out of the country… seriously I put together a huge spreadsheet outlining the crazy schedule we somehow keep every week with four different sporting activities, tutoring, music, school, and other family commitments. I was exhausted just making the spreadsheet let alone doing it every week. I know you all read my blog so thank you all for being so supportive.
We were lucky enough not to fly through Kuala Lumpur… but did get all sorts of emails asking if we had. The crazy thing is that Robin’s colleague lives there and could have been on that flight but she wasn’t.
We started taking in the city on Sunday with a trip to meet Rui Ma who I was interviewing for my upcoming book on angel investing. She was gracious enough to take an hour out of her Sunday to spend with me at a local cafe talking about investing in China. She has been investing here a number of years and has been investing here with 500 Startups since 2013. She is incredibly insightful about investing in China and said a few things that really stood out to me through the entire trip. Of course she shed a lot of light on these things but the basic things she mentioned that I saw over and over again were:
- Copycat investments worked in the past, but are becoming a commodity
- Investing is changing rapidly
- There are continuing opportunities to invest in Chinese innovation that can be brought to the world
I’ll have more in my book, but thought this was interesting especially after watching a huge piece on the Asian CNBC about the copycat efforts to bring golf to China by Mission Hills. The director was being interviewed, a Chinese native was saying if just 2% of the population took up golf it would be huge. As an investor from the US – I hear this statement a lot by US entrepreneurs so it was interesting to hear it from a Chinese entrepreneur.
Another thing that surprised me were the number of existing brands in China that we simply never see in the US. Given the current interest in Alibaba’s listing in the US I suspect there is an opportunity for many Chinese entrepreneurs and innovators to bring their existing brands to the rest of the world. Often Westerners think of the 1.3B Chinese population as the land of opportunity… but what about the reverse? What about China’s opportunity to sell more of it’s own branded products to the remaining 5.8B people in the world? They have both high quality and low quality products wrapped in their own brands ranging from physical goods to technologies. If they are able to bring more of these to the world more of the profits from those products would stay at home. We’ve seen this more from Japan in the past and have seen glimpses of it from Korea… but haven’t seen many Chinese brands vs. just their manufacturing ability go global.
There is a lot of speculation about this and the large question of course will be if the Chinese can overcome this hurdle. Here is an interesting perspective from Koon Boon Kee on this particular issue – although he is speculating they won’t figure it out and will remain in a position of putting the profits in someone else’s hands.