About half a year ago, somewhere on a dusty road in Ethiopia, I was driving our trusty, 30-year old Land Rover across Africa and pondering about the line of work that I’d get into when I come back into the U.S. Although different ideas were starting to float around at that point, I didn’t quite know exactly what it would be just yet.
I just knew that it would have to be another startup, that it should do make a contribution to the society and people around us, and that it should offer plenty of opportunities to learn about things I know nothing about.
Ironically, things actually worked out just that way. About a month later, I was back in New York where my brother introduced me to the concept of electric bikes that were taking over China and Europe by the storm.
As a huge fan of cycling – and pretty much anything else on two wheels – I was intrigued immediately, and then completely sold on the idea when I saw how happy people got when they used an e-bike.
Fast forward a little further and we are now working on a company that will produce and bring high-end electric bikes into the U.S. with the goal to get more people cycling and commuting by bike.
Four months passed since we started and we are both sitting on a 16-hour Delta flight, headed towards Guangzhou, China. There are a few things we’ve set out to do on this trip. We want to meet and evaluate several plants with whom we’ve been communicating for the last few months, establish a relationship with at least one of them and negotiate the terms, and get our production off to a running start.
Moreover, we want to see firsthand how things operate in China! From the limited research and experience we’ve had over the last few months, we have no doubts that China will prove to be a completely different animal that we’re used to dealing with – as far as business goes.
Rules of the game that work in the U.S. will not apply here. Learning to deal with culture where one can never risk “losing face” in front of the other to the fact that there are 3 possible answers to every question, such as “Yes, No, and Yeaaahmm (a.k.a. I don’t know, but can’t really say that) and the fact that all the logic is based on Confucius – it will all pose a steep learning curve.
With all that in mind, it will be incredibly interesting to navigate this new environment – and learn first—hand about Chinese life and culture, what it means to do business in China from the perspective of Western entrepreneurs, and seeing how electric bikes have transformed transportation across the country.
Over the next 1 to 2 months, I’ll be based primarily around Guangzhou (where our suppliers are located) and will be writing about all aspects of the trip on the blog. Next post is coming up shortly!