Fear makes one only weaker

Yesterday morning I received a call from one business partner complaining about two german students not satisfied with the internship position at another business partner in Changzhou. So we decided to drive to Changzhou in order to get a subjective grasp over the issue. And the issue was more serious than we have expected: neither of the two interns are satisfied with the placement, and one was in a very bad physical situation. Plus, he had lymphoma — a type of cancer — a few years ago and is still recovering from the treatment.

Strange thing was that he felt quite in Germany, but since he was pale and didn’t feel very well, we took him to the hospital for a check. We we arrived at the hospital, he couldn’t even stand up and we had to use a wheel chair to escort hime to the emergency treatment department, where the doctor checked his heart rate, body temperature, oxygen level, and a comprehensive blood test.

We looked very serious about his situation, but the doctor said everything was OK with him. She smiled and said to us in Chinese, “I believe he has hysteria”. I’ve heard about hysteria before but never really met someone with such symptoms. So I observed him carefully as the doctor give him a saline. One of my colleagues sat next to him and chatted with him. He seems extremely normal to me when he is not discussing about his illness or cancer. They constantly bursted into laughters when they talked about funny experiences, which is a bit weird since patients next to him are really seriously ill.

After confirming with the doctor again and again, we decided to go for dinner before the saline was finished and he seemed much better. We went to a german restaurant and had a really nice dinner. Over the dinner no one mentioned about his illness nor cancer. And he seemed totally fine.

This is really the first time I see how one’s mind may affect his physical state — in such a drastic way. That’s why when one is afraid of bad things, bad things always happen. Because fear of something makes one weaker, so that one does not have enough energy to defend oneself. This is another ‘scarcity’ problem: when you focus too much on something, you’re using too much bandwidth and leaving too little bandwidth for other things. And you’re trapped deeper and deeper until you are completed depleted of bandwidth or energy — that’s when you collapse.

The best way to fight this problem is to lose some focus on the fears. Then you’ll have more bandwidth to cope with other more important stuff. Just step back, ignore the fears for some time, and find out the long-term plans or goals. After all, not all in life are important, at least some are not any important as we’ve thought.

The lean method

I knew there was something wrong with the management and how we do things at Yabroad, but it was difficult for me to convince other people what we were doing and how we do things are not the best way to run a startup business. When I talk about pragmatism, people talk about visions and having a long-term goal; when I talk about experiments, people talk about previous experience; when I talk about planning and specific goals, people talk about execution. After reading “The lean startup” and “Running lean”, I’m more convinced about how a business should really operate.

The lean method is really about how to get things done efficiently, be it running a small project, or managing a international corporation. It’s about down-to-earth planning and taking advantage of resources efficiently. It’s a call for doing things that really matters. When proposing a new project, ask not if we think it’s cool, ask how we’re going to satisfy the end users. And the first step to go is really getting to know the actual users, what are the problems they find painful and how other products are approaching the problems, and why our proposal is better than the existing solutions.

We made a mistake at Yabroad that we think people are willing to come to China if we don’t charge them much. While our competitors are charging thousands of euros per application, we charge only a few hundred. But we didn’t see an exponential growth, the increase of applications was only negligible. We talked too much about disruptive innovation and thought lowering the price will piss out all our competitors and help us gain a portion of the market share rapidly. We were wrong.

The decision was made without much evidence to prove our assumption. Price is indeed an important factor when people want to visit a different country, but it’s not the deciding factor. Given the opportunity to visit North Korea or Iran, does it still matter if you want to pay thousands of euros or hundreds of euros? Our customers want security and reliability, lowering the price simply does not help, and let’s hope it doesn’t jeopardize customers’ trust in us.

We were not utilizing validated learning. In fact few of our decisions were made based on solid facts and validated results. Arrogant people often think they are the best in this world and they usually piss of everyone else and complain about “why everyone is against me?” Arrogant companies don’t get customers. What they do is not to satisfy customers, they just want to prove themselves correct.

The build-measure-learn loop should be continuous and iterate in fast pace. Build a minimum viable product and measure how successful it is and learn where it could be improved and improve the MVP and enter the next build-measure-learn loop. Validate minimal concepts at a time. Get the whole project running and receiving income before burning out what you have.

It’s true that starting up is really management — if you know where to put resources and man power, and keep track of the direction the business is running towards, you won’t be too wrong.

The Last Battle: Long-term vs. Short-term Gains

During yesterday’s meeting the boss mentioned that our unpaid salary and bonus will be paid, when we have enough money, maybe in April when we receive the other half of high interest loan. Personally I don’t think paying the money will do any good to the company, and eventually it may harm ourselves, since if the company can not move on, everyone, including me, will be disappointed. However, as I’m involved in this, I’m not willing to give up the money I’m supposed to receive. And asking for the money will make me look like as if I don’t care about the company and everyone else’s future, especially when I’m the one speaking out for a few of us. So now I’m caught in a dilemma: I’m not willing to give up the potential short term benefits, which in turn may jeopardize my long term gains.

And the reason for this is that I’m different from others; I care about short-term gains while others can afford not to. And that’s why I feel helpless. I can not expect anyone to help me get things done; I’m on my own. And even if I stand up for myself and gain some short-term benefits for others, they will accept them without appreciating my efforts.

I’m completely trapped, by myself, with my colleagues’ help of standing away from me — neither stopping nor encouraging me and neither refusing nor appreciating my favor — and I didn’t even know how I entered the trap in the first place.

The Last Battle: My Fear

The day we reach an agreement to cut off employees was not a difficult day for me, as I always knew there would be a day like that coming; I was prepared. In the evening when I was talking with Xin, he said he feared not being able to reach the goal when planned during the day, which I fear not. What I fear was returning to the old pattern again, the patten that make the boss keep trying to find funding for us without actually focusing on how to achieve our established goals. I was afraid that he keeps borrowing money to pay off previous debts, while we struggle to reach our goals. I was worried that the boss prioritize fund raising over proving our values.

Yesterday came a challenge: the local government finally seemed to approve one of our projects: letting us operating a part of one restaurant building inside our community, which means we can again get loans from banks with relatively low interest rate. The boss hesitated. According to Xin, the boss wondered if it’s still necessary to lay off people.

Now it looks like the boss has overcome his reluctancy. He finally sent out an email telling everyone about our plan. What remains to be seen, though, is how the restaurant operates in the future and whether it could bring us profit. And even if it does, does it help us?

The boss has one thing I could learn from: he sure knows how to connect with people and never gives up unless he reaches his goals. As for the many things that I contempt about, there’re many.

He never listens to anyone. He is so dedicated to his own thoughts that nobody seems to be able to change his mind. Talking with him is of no use; he likes reading from elsewhere. Yesterday I was irritated by him when he shared something he read about and it was about things we already mentioned to him earlier for several times. A man who trust his eyes more than his ears, I’d say.

He is over-confident about almost everything. He always overcommit. I don’t know a single occasion when he reach his goals or fulfilled his commitments.

He has many things I couldn’t bear with, but what the heck I’m doing with him?

The Last Battle: Our Problems

After yesterday’s 6-hour meeting we finally made a decision: focus on programs that may immediately make money and make sure we survive in the following six month; and cut off more than half of our employees — which makes me think what a pity it is for those being laid off, because it’s mainly the executives’ fault. Or to be specific, it’s the boss’s problem that lead to the current situation.

So what he is doing wrong? Not focusing on the business. Since day zero he is always looking for fundings to support our business, which he fails to define; but he always fails to find enough funding to support the company. Each borrowing was used to pay previous debts, which leads to a situation defined in the book “Scarcity”: the poor gets poorer, the busy gets busier. We are always solving problems that are urgent but not necessarily important — we tunnel and we pay for doing this.

But what’s important anyway, for a startup? Finding out what’s unique about your company and proving that this uniqueness has its value. It sounds easy but think about this: is there a startup that isn’t unique. Every startup claims to be unique; so what’s left is about proving the value of the uniqueness, which is your core business activity and which is what tells you apart from others. If you fails doing so, what you’re doing must be wrong or inappropriate at best. For us, we claim that our business model is superior than those traditional agencies and facilitates young people to travel beyond boards. The results? For one and half years we spent roughly 5 million CNY and attracted around ten customers, which by the way, is less than the number of our employees. So if you keep telling me you’re unique, go and slap yourself until you realize you’re just wasting money.

To prove your value you need the right team. There has to be salesmen that are able to get customers, product developers that make sure the product or service is attractive, and managers to setup goals and coordinate the team members. For us, we are incomplete and incompetent. Basically everyone of us is from an engineering background and knows nothing about marketing and sales; yet this is the most important aspect for our company. When everyone is expecting others to generate revenue, no one will. It also strikes me that, when you feel your efforts will not significantly contribute to your company’s cash flow, you’re in the wrong place. Switch to another position or another company. I don’t think there’re more choices for you.

Make sure you have control over your career path; do not focus too much on pressing tasks; step out of the tunnel and also see the big picture. Keep this in mind.

More beautiful than you’d thought

Two videos today. The first one: Real Beauty Sketches (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XpaOjMXyJGk).

We all get used to the good parts of ourselves and often get trapped in the parts that we don’t like about ourselves. However, others may not view you the same way as you do. Things you hate may be the favorite of another. In a different eye you are more beautiful than you think you are.

And the second one: Information management as an organization on Yabroad.com (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3IogtSHVR0).

I didn’t know I could make a video relatively smoothly with much confidence. But I made it. It sounds not bad. I’m confident when talking about things I know and familiar of. I’m not afraid of getting my voice heard. On those occasions when I’m reluctant to speak out, it’s not because of I’m afraid I have a horrible voice or my English is not interpretable. But now I know my voice is more than OK and so is my English. I just need a little confidence on the contents when I start to speak. I may do more of these in the future, but probably with a script before rolling the camera. 🙂

 

Traditional Chinese Festivals: An Infographic

Last week I made an infographic on Traditional Chinese Festivals. It’s the first time I make this sort of things and I’m already in love with it. Infographics are straightforward in showing ideas using numbers and pictures. Unlike blog posts, infographics are easier to read; and unlike tweets, infographics can contain a lot of information. In a way infographics are similar to fruit salad: you like it because it tastes good, and it’s good for you because it supplies you a log of nutrition; plus, you never get bored with it since it comes in various combinations!

So here’s the infographic I made, probably not the best one you’ve ever seen though. But shut up and I’m working on getting it better! 🙂 Continue reading

Facebook vs. Google advertisements

Since last week I’ve been investigating how to efficiently promote our website (yabroad.com). Our Facebook page got 139 likes a week ago, and now we have 175. Among the 36 new likes, 22 are from two Facebook campaigns. The first campaign cost 15 dollars and earned 20 likes, averaging 0.75 dollars per like with a click-through rate of 0.290%. In a way this is affordable and more efficiently than stand at international students’ dormitory in Shanghai and spread flyers. Three of us probably sent out around 100 flyers to international students but got nothing to our Facebook page nor website. The first campaign focused on gaining new likes and it went quite well; our second campaign cost 5 dollars, promoting a video post with a goal to earn new likes. This campaign boosted another 2,169 reach, 143 clicks and 2 new likes. Had the video been more engaging, probably we could have gotten more clicks, shares and likes. Since Facebook users nowadays are exposed more and more to various contents, it’s become increasingly difficult to get users engaged.

In the meanwhile, we also launched three campaigns on Google Adwords. So far we got 30 clicks and cost about 40 dollars. The average CPC is $1.36 — almost twice of that for FB, but the conversion rate is zero. No one has applied or enquired our pages (maybe due to the low volume). Google Adwords is different from Facebook. On Facebook you attract people to your FB page but not your website; whereas Google takes visitors directly to your website. FB leaves you a space for imagination, though. Once you get a page like from someone, he/she will be able to see the updates your page posts.

Suppose the Google CPC is twice of Facebook CPC, if one in two earned FB followers click one of our promoted posts, FB is doing better. That does not sound like a issue. I’d place all my bet on Facebook and maybe time to buy FB shares?

We also tried to promote on LinkedIn but failed to find appropriate ways. LinkedIn is mainly for serious jobs, not internships. Instagram neither, there seems to be a lot of robots on Instagram; it’s not clear for us to find a way to promote ourselves, either. So for the moment, we only consider Facebook and Google. Oh no, Facebook is our focus and Google is not helping much, but we still need to spend the remaining 90 dollars we got from a coupon, slowly.

Chief Flyer Officer a.k.a. CFO

We went to attend the Expat Show Shanghai this weekend trying to promote our Yabroad Open Platform. In the show we have to talk to different international people that may be interested in our business. Our targeting group is international youngsters who might be interested in coming to and living in China for internships, studies, traveling, or volunteer works. Unfortunately there were not many people within our target group in the Expat Show: not so many international youngsters came to the show. But we thought it might be worthy of convincing those mid-aged people to get interested in us. We went to speak with them and give them our flyers. I successfully sent out around 80 flyers in the morning and was nominated as the CFO (Chief Flyer Officer) by my team. Here’s what I’ve learnt:

  1. Stand close to the entrance. When people come to a show they may receive as many as hundreds of flyers, so it is important to talk to them as early as possible. Waiting for audience at the entrance has many benefits: they are not bored or exhausted (yet); it impossible to escape from you when they have to enter from the entrance; if people are interested in your business you can tell them where your stand is and they will remember your business when they come to your stand.
  2. Block the way. It may sound nasty but you can do it under camouflage. For example, simply stand in a narrow hallway and slightly stretch out, like bowing slightly may make you appear more politely. If you block people’s way and are smiling at someone, he/she has to listen to you.
  3. Observe and listen. Make eye contact and speak with people you feel comfort with. Generally, women are less likely to refuse your attempt to talk with them. In the meanwhile, listen to what people are talking about. For instance, I heard someone calling his friend “Patrik” with a Swedish accent, then I just asked him if he comes from Sweden. It turned out he is from Finland. Me too! Then I introduced him our business and he seemed interested.
  4. Smile, relate, compliment. Nobody likes a poker face when talked to; smile and people will get pleased. There are many occasions when I ask people where they are from, and I’ll respond “Hey! I’ve been/studied there!” or “My girlfriend is studying there!”. Then people may start to ask you questions like “how do you like it there”. Just compliment them. Then introduce them your business. Hard to refuse.

Overall I think the experience was great. I got to know more about our end customers and how to introduce our business in the shortest time, as well as how to communicate with potential customers and talk with strangers. And hey, being a CFO is not difficult! 😀 Continue reading