At the very start of the year of the Pig, MultiMinds joined a diverse group of entrepreneurs on an inspirational and commercial tour through China and Hong Kong. This amazing journey was organized - into perfection - by the Chamber of Commerce of East-Flanders (Belgium), and inspired 61 people of 50 different Flemish companies (of which most are already active internationally).
My personal knowledge about China was rather limited and pretty biased from what I had been reading in newspapers and heard in the news or documentaries. Basically my idea of China before this trip, was one of a giant communist country with little ethics, isolated from the rest of the world, copying all good Western things at very low cost. “Made In China”.
But when you think about China for a moment, the success stories of Alibaba, Huawei, and many more, can’t be ignored either. Even Apple feels a backlash in their overall numbers when the Chinese consumer market slumps.
So my personal trigger to take part in this journey was about getting a reality check, with a focus on technology innovation, business growth and ethics. And return with lots of inspiration to boost MultiMinds’ own growth and innovation, and who knows... doing business in Asia!
After 10 intensive days, visiting different Chinese and international companies (with offices in China) from start-ups to major businesses, talking to Chinese as well as foreign entrepreneurs livingin China, wandering around Shanghai, Shenzhen and Hong Kong, I confirm my earlier impression of China was indeed a little biased.
From an ethical perspective I am still convinced that there is little to no privacy. I had the impression that the number of camera’s hanging in Shanghai and Shenzhen equalled to surplused the number of citizens per city. And with face recognition technology included, linked to a load of personal information; the Chinese government knows about every single step you take.
In addition, Western platforms with the likes of Facebook and WhatsApp are still blocked. China clearly has its own set of rules and standards.
From an economical and technological evolution point of view I was totally blown away. China clearly outperforms US and Europe here, and mainly because of 3 factors:
Chinese people have an incredible drive and motivation to move forward. When the government takes a decision, it drives action seamlessly unanimous and derived from a huge respect to their government. Also on a company level, and not driven by government, the drive to achieve success is huge.
2. Speed and size
This “drive” goes hand in hand with an incredible level of efficiency which means that they move forward at lightning speed. For example, the city of Shenzhen was built less than 20 years ago, and has a population count of over 12,5 million. The city looks like New York, full of skyscrapers, but is also buzzing and full of life. The Chinese population is really pushed by the government to live in the cities rather than on the countryside.
The Chinese and Asian consumer market size is so much bigger than Europe. Therefore the growth numbers of some companies that we visited, are extreme. Bytedance for example, is the owner of TikTok, and the company has a focus on building global platforms for content creation and entertainment. Their growth numbers were stunning: With around 1.000 employees in 2015, they grew to 45.000 employees in 2019. This means a hiring rate of 40 people per day ... at 7 days per week. Bytedance has a turnover of 75 billion US dollar by now.
All these impressive numbers are also enabled by the lower cost of labour and manufacturing, and the low tax rate. This is one of the main reasons that international companies, such as the (originally) Belgian company Premium Sound System, has its manufacturing plant in Shenzhen.
With this low cost of production, the Western world (and for sure Belgium...) has a very hard time to compete with China when it comes to manufacturing and hand-labour.
3. Everything is Digital
The best example to supports this statement is WeChat. WeChat is not only a social media tool that integrates about 20 separate apps that I use today on my mobile. In addition WeChat is THE payment method in China. Literally everywhere you go, you can pay with WeChat. With 800 million internet users and 500 million smartphones sold per year, digital connectivity is getting embedded everywhere. Eat your heart out Apple Pay and Google Pay!
The Chinese Government also goes full speed for digital: The Chinese National Bank is the biggest investor in blockchain and cryptocurrency technologies.
From the Belgian entrepreneurs that work and live in China, we get feedback that the digital technology is booming, and evolving extremely fast. But all this stays relatively unknown and hidden under the radar outside China, so we Europeans only know half of the evolution news.
China seems still behind on health and life sciences. From the visits to some accelerators in Shanghai, China is your ideal market if you are a technology start-up in this area.
But other from that, China is mostly interested in Europe for its luxury brands: The growing middle class population wants to drive a BMW or a Mercedes too; tourism from Chinese people to Brussels, Paris, London, etc. has doubled over the last years. Boeing and Airbus are preparing a boost in production to ship the vast amount of tourists to Europe soon...
Even on educational level, with a focus on engineering, technology and mathematics, China is bypassing US and Europe. This is considered as a serious threat, but we should rather learn from it, and start acting as well: education and training is key in a fast changing world.
In short, I was so much more impressed from this tour than from our tour we did 2 years ago in Boston and New York. The Chinese drive, will to succeed and speed of execution doesn’t seem to stop any time soon. China is no longer a copy-paste economy: They are now in the driving seat of innovation.
“Made in China” has clearly become “Designed in China”.
Maybe this is the right moment for MultiMinds to be part of this evolution. Why not...
A last but important side note. China was impressive. But part of the inspiration that you take back home comes from the interaction you have with your fellow travellers. A diverse group from start-ups to international companies, from service to technology companies, from academic world to investors, ... Perfect recipe for great discussions!