Doing Business in China — Podcast #27 with Alexis Roig

In itnig’s Podcast #27 Bernat Farrero, CEO at itnig, Jordi Romero, CEO at Factorial and César Migueláñez, Product Director at Factorial speak with Alexis Roig entrepreneur in China about how he got started and the challenges and opportunities he faces on a day to day basis.

Summing up 9 years of living in China in terms of bureaucracy, local partners, recruitment of talented team members, cultural differences and the effects of pollution.

Before moving to Shanghai I was living in France. Little decisions bring you to new places. To me, European culture felt pretty similar once you learn the language. So, after a time in France I was looking for something new, a cultural challenge. And in that sense China, Shanghai really seemed like a personal and professional challenge with huge opportunities for business and technology.

I moved to Shanghai initially working for a French company — and I arrived there without knowing anything. If you have something entrepreneurial in you, China is contagious. It has another rhythm, everybody has another company, side projects. In the first year I started with my own personal project while working at the company.

What kind of projects did you start?

We started out with Food & Beverage products that were innovative at that time. Later I dedicated myself to education, developing collaboration between Europe and China and now lately consulting projects in technological diplomacy. International relation paired with science, innovation and technology.

In general, Chinese don’t cook at home, most people eat out. So we launched a restaurant with mediterranean/ catalan cuisine. Far away from technology, this was a very interesting project.

How do you create business in China?

If you are thinking more about the bureaucratic aspect it’s not easy: As foreigner there is a format to follow, a lot of regulation and norms for taxes and recruitment. These rules for foreigners differ from rules applied to Chinese businesses.

And it’s not just bureaucracy — you need a new approach to everything.

Chinese internet is another world.

You’ll have to think of other ways of doing business — Amazon Web Services, Google Apps, GitHub …. you won’t be able to do business as usual and have to find new ways. When you want to start in China, you’ll need maximum humility and you should look at it as if it were your very first project.

What is the work culture like?

For me as entrepreneur this is probably the hardest challenge. Talent lack, no team work, not much creativity — based in education system. You listen to the teacher but you never question his wisdom. No creativity, no critical thinking, no group work. This education system helps to keep up the system but it also means that China is lacking talent working in new areas of science and technology.

People are only children — this also has an implication on their behavior. In a family there might be six people who are looking after one child, all frustration, aspiration and expectations are focussed on one child. This child receives a look of pressure on what to do in life, whom to marry, where to work, if to buy a house or not…This also affects the way you look at work.

You ask somebody for an opinion — but it’s hard to get an answer.

This is generalizing of course, stereotypes. Now the trend is to bring back Chinese population who left to study abroad, start business or work in laboratory. They know how to move in the Chinese society and have seen the ‘world outside’.

How do you sell in China?

In terms of Internet, the Chinese internet user is very accustomed to buy online. 8 years ago when I arrived to Shanghai, I was surprised! In the subway in the morning everybody around me was buying online through their mobile. At the same time in Europe, we had Amazon but it wasn’t the same thing. I still use my desktop to shop, compare prices and find information about the product looking to buy. And when arriving at the office, the reception was swamped with parcels.

Most Chinese people’s first contact with internet is through the phone. Like in other areas of development, the first product introduced to the market was a phone not a desktop pc.

30 years ago China was a miserable place but now people are dressed with international brand, big cars, use the latest smartphone. The boom of consumer society, deleting the story of the country, religion is the money, the big aspiration is making money, paying a good education for children and finding a high paying job. What’s left of communism is probably only the leading party’s name.

If you are interested in hearing more about starting a business in China, watch the whole podcast on Youtube or listen to it on iTunes.


Listen to our podcast to learn more about Alexis’ adventures in developing businesses in China. Learn more in this Podcast in Spanish on our Youtube channel, listen to it on iTunes or enjoy it through iVoox and subscribe to our newsletter to stay always up to date.

Podcast #25: Becoming a professional investor from scratch

In itnig’s Podcast #25 Bernat Farrero, CEO at itnig, talks with Javier Llorente, an old friend of itnig and investor of itnig and Quipu & Camaloon investor about how he became a professional investor from scratch.


At itnig every Friday we sit down to talk with interesting people whom we meet throughout the week and we make a podcast (in Spanish) out of our conversations. You can listen to it on iTunes, subscribe to our channel on Youtube or enjoy it through iVoox.

For this Podcast #25 Bernat Farrero, CEO at itnig and Javier Llorente come together to talk about the beginning of his career, the founding of Grupo Intercom and subsequent investments.

https://upscri.be/5c88ff/

Javier is a professional investor, the European Found of Investment (who invests alongside Javier) names him the most active investor in Spain with more than 40 investments. We talk with him about his beginnings?

Javier, how did you start?

I started working when I was 14 years old to contribute to my family’s economy. When I 16 years old I joined the Banco Vizcaya even before it fused to become BBVA. However it was not a job I liked, the days were long and it was boring to me. (Actually I studied clinical psychology but have never practiced).

It was at a time where you said: ‘Internet — what’s that?’

How did you start working with Antonio González-Barros?

When I left the bank I started working in a school focussed on technology. Antonio was the neighbour of the school were I worked and that’s how we were introduced. Antonio was introduced to Axel Serena, a youngster at that time who had lived in the USA and was the first to tell us about Internet. He told us about Internet at a time when in France people were using Minitel.

In May 1995 we founded Intercom as internet provider. Antonio brought together 30 friends, who were all fascinated by email.

In 2000, before the crisis started, Intercom was bought as one of 10 Internet providers but in these past five years other than the Internet provider we had started different classified sites like Softonic of Infojobs.

On Infojobs uploading your CV was free but the companies publishing job offers were paying for the service. After the first three offers we had different ad packages for companies. Monster, leader on the US market, spent an enormous amount of money on the market but there was not much they could do. Infojobs kept growing and became a monopoly.

From then on this was our success at the new Grupo Intercom: To achieve that these classified sites converted into leaders in their category. Softonic for Software, Infojobs for the job market and later on Emagister.

Did you start investing after selling Intercom STA (Servicios Telemáticos Avanzados), the Internet provider?

Yes, we invested in new businesses, some went well others didn’t. There were some business models that had worked in the past but were hard to replicate in 2008/2009.

I remember that in ten years 1999 to 2009 the value of a participation in Infojobs grew from 100 to 3124.8 Euro. in 1999 the 100 were pesetas in 2009, the 3000 were Euro. This is really hard to replicate.

What are you looking for in an entrepreneur for you to invest?

Excel sheets adapt to anything but what really counts is the person.

When you meet somebody, you see the enthusiasm, you connect on a personal level. I am looking for honesty, somebody who is engaged and is hard working. For me the important factor is the team and the entrepreneur who manages it.

I think we invest emotionally and then we rationalize.

Is it important for you to know who invests? Do you lead or co-invest?

I have been in both positions. It’s good to know who else is investing and to be able to exchange opinions. It’s important but not determinant, it’s not a sure fire rule.

Actually I think there are no rules, you kind of improvise.

As a psychologist, what is the profile of entrepreneur you are looking for?

Firstly, the attitude is more important than aptitude. With attitude alone you cannot work of course but for me attitude comes first and then the capacity to create what you want, to learn what you set yourself.


Listen to our podcast to learn more about Grupo Intercom’s beginning and development story. Learn more in this Podcast in Spanish on our Youtube channel, listen to it on iTunes or enjoy it through iVoox and subscribe to our newsletter to stay always up to date.

Podcast #24: Itnig’s point of view on Gymforless’ exit

In itnig’s Podcast #23 Bernat Farrero, CEO at itnig and Pau Fernández, CFO at itnig share their point of view on Gymforless’ exit. How did the company start, pivot, live the change of CEO and reach an agreement with Sodexo which lead to the sale of the startup last week.

At itnig every Friday we sit down to talk with interesting people whom we meet throughout the week and we make a podcast (in Spanish) out of our conversations. You can listen to it on iTunes, subscribe to our channel on Youtube or enjoy it through iVoox.

For this Podcast #24 dedicated to the story of Gymforless, Bernat Farrero, CEO at itnig, Pau Fernández, CFO at itnig, César Migueláñez, Product Director at Factorial, Roger Dobaño, Product Manager at Quipu and Bettina Gross, Talent Acquisition at itnig come together to talk about the beginning, the pivots and the exit of Gymforless.

https://upscri.be/5c88ff/

Gymforless started out as a flexible model on how to use gym, directed to final consumer offering fitness tracking. Instead of models like Freeletics or 8fit, whom we have previously spoken about here at itnig, Gymforless focussed its tracking on workouts at the gym.

Guillermo Libre started out with the project and from itnig we supported him in tech development and an initial investment. The work on the b2c segment was very intense and it cost us a lot in marketing and customer acquisition, bringing only small margins.

Transition from daily pass to club, membership

With this panorama, Guillermo made a first pivot from a Daily Pass (pay per use) model to a Club Pass (a subscription) model. It was a hard decision, we were scared leaving something behind that was working and it seemed like a dangerous move.

It’s hard to leave something that is working, even though it’s not your core business.

After all, this was a very important change and from the on the project had a new direction. We were adding more features like rewards to work on churn. However this was only the first of many changes the startup would go through.

Guillermo, founder of the project had to leave the project and move to Madrid. In most cases such a change of CEO in an initial phase is the end of the business. Not in Gymforless’ case. Guillermo knew Oriol, current CEO, from working together in the past and he joined Gymforless to lead the startup through the next adventures. Oriol had extensive experience in Sales and B2B.

Pivot to a new direction — going corporate

The next step for Gymforless was a change in its customer target base. We started acquiring companies and offer gym as benefit for employees. The companies were very receptive to offer these kind of benefits and we soon had a working model. Oriol’s experience in B2B Sales helped this pivot from consumer to corporate business tremendously.

This change made the relationships with the gyms easier as well. Gyms no longer saw us as a threat, or cannibalization of their customers.


Listen to our podcast to learn more about Gymforless’ beginning and exit story. Learn more in this Podcast in Spanish on our Youtube channel, listen to it on iTunes or enjoy it through iVoox and subscribe to our newsletter to stay always up to date.

Podcast #23: Arturo Quintero — International expansion of Moravia

The story about how a Mexican and a Czech built an international company starting in communist times

In itnig’s Podcast #23 Arturo Quintero, partner at itnig, shares the story of Moravia with us: How he set up the translation company together with his partner in the 90s, how they internationalized and created a global structure and what he has learned in the process.

Moravia is the story of a project that starts in a local market, is proven and reaches success and then takes the next step to internationalise.

At itnig every Friday we sit down to talk with interesting people whom we meet throughout the week and we make a podcast (in Spanish) out of our conversations. You can listen to it on iTunes, subscribe to our channel on Youtube or enjoy it through iVoox.

For this Podcast #23 Bernat Farrero, CEO at itnig and Jordi Romero, CEO at Factorial meet with Arturo Quintero, one of our partners at itnig and founder of Moravia to talk about his experiences.

https://upscri.be/5c88ff/

Arturo grew up in Ciudad de México and with luck found his way to study in Poland. During the communist regime, without any political interest he found himself studying in Krakow. “I spent some years there until arriving in Budapest where I met a student whose parents were translators. At that time there were only governmental translation agencies but as you know in this time there were a lot of changes in Europe. Dynamic times when all services like transport and restaurants were liberated. So if you had an idea there was a good chance to build something.”

This is when Moravia, named after the region in Czech Republic, was created. Today it is one of the biggest companies in its sector with a yearly revenue of 50 million $, a strong client base and presence in 9 countries.

It was a great adventure of 22 years leading this company!

You tell your story so easy, but a lot of times this internationalization is hard. How did you take your first steps out of the Czech Republic?

We had big ambitions as we kept seeing that what we were doing was satisfying our clients. They were happy with us. Our business idea in itself is multicultural — localization means adapting the product as if it was created locally — so going global was a natural step for us.

To a certain degree you have to follow your intuition, to just go for it, but you also need a bit of structure, a plan. It’s a mix of both.

Who were your first clients?

Tech companies like Minolta and Hewlett Packard. We were doing translation from English and Czech. And they were looking for local companies to translate manuals and later on displays of photocopy machines. We also started working with Oracle, who already had a team for European languages in Holland, and they gave us their first big contract for Czech. Oracle really liked what we did and asked us to translate to Polish as well. So we set out to create an office in Poland and started working. Next up Hungary and soon we were known for localization to ‘exotic languages’ like Bulgarian, Hungarian…You have to remember the times! There was no internet and all technology, like translation memory, was new.

These first assignments allowed us to see the potential we had. Our goal was to work for Microsoft.

And we finally reached this goal of working for Microsoft in 1995. We added more and more languages and employed technology to help us in our processes. Translation memory is such a technology that allows you to recycle translated pieces as they are saved with their source. The software analyzes the text so that when a similar phrase appears, the translation can be reused. This makes the process quicker, consistent and efficient as we can use content created by other translators in our network as well.


Business model — What is it and how has it evolved?

We follow an Enterprise model lets’ say with few clients but high volume.

When we started out I was the first sales person. Before there was Internet getting access to people who know a certain language or people who know a certain technology was really hard. I am not saying it’s easy today either but there are certain advantages. I was the one who brought the first clients, at that time I did not even consider myself a sales man but if I look back at it, yes I was doing sales, growing our company.

Later on you need a process, a sales methodology and a lot of discipline. As we were working with big companies, they already had processes in place and a clear budget and visibility of the market. However, when the buyer has a lot of knowledge, it makes it also hard to defend your prices and keep your margins.

What is most impressive for me is how you opened up new offices in different countries. What does it mean to open an office in Japan or China?

Every experience was different and we were learning continuously. In general there were two reasons to open an office:

  • be closer to our clients
  • have a cost advantage in production.

China, Czech Republic and Argentina were places with highly qualified people, high talent to develop software at competitive costs. Japan, USA and Ireland were close to our clients, here our sales was strong working on product acceptance, budget etc. Translation is always done by an agency with translators — we do the compilation and quality control.

How big was your sales team by country?

We did not structure our teams by country. Our customers, take for example a company developing software for architecture with Asia, Europe and the Americas decide whom to work with. We had to convince all three of these points and we realized they were very well connected. I could not offer a discount to the office in Singapore as there was direct communication with California office. We replicated this structure in Moravia as well. Connecting our offices and making sure we had the same communication.

Operative point of view : Did you move the HQ of your company from Czech Republic to another place?

No, it remained in Czech Republic and from there creating subsidiaries. When I left the company, of course, I don’t know what changes have been made.

There were enough consultants who came and offered a move to Ireland. But it was never our goal to maximize for tax purposes.

Venture Capital — Have you ever raised outside capital?

No, every year was of growth and profit so we were able to reinvest our profit into growth. When I left private equity entered the company but not before. We did not need it. Now looking back I can see that it could have been an advantage but it had never crossed our minds before. I think venture capital allows you to be faster. You are able to

  • grow more quickly,
  • implement technology &
  • do strategic acquisitions.

It’s not just the money but also the people behind it with their experience who can guide you in the growth in the company.

Why did you decide to leave Moravia and how was this process?

There is not one reason. With the birth of my daughter my perspective on life changed a bit and there were different dynamics with my partner as I was looking for a more aggressive growth as we were entering a more competitive market.

It’s a pleasure being part of the beginning of such a successful company.


Listen to our podcast to learn more about Arturo Quintero and Moravia’s story. Learn more in this Podcast in Spanish on our Youtube channel, listen to it on iTunes or enjoy it through iVoox and subscribe to our newsletter to stay always up to date.

Podcast #22 Setting up and managing a sales team

Selling is pure adrenaline. The pressure we have in sales makes us feel alive.

In itnig’s Podcast #22 we talk about all things sales: How to close a deal, what motivates a sales professional and the way to setup and manage a sales team.

At itnig every Friday we sit down to talk with interesting people whom we meet throughout the week and we make a podcast (in Spanish) out of our conversations. You can listen to it on iTunes, subscribe to our channel on Youtube or enjoy it through iVoox.

https://upscri.be/5c88ff/

For this Podcast #22 Bernat Farrero, CEO at itnig, Jordi Romero, CEO at Factorial, César Migueláñez, Product Director at Factorial, Masumi Mutsuda, Media at itnig talk with Ramon Santocildes, CEO at Quipu and Ernesto Venditto, Camaloons’ Sales Director about setting up and managing a B2B Sales team.

Ramon is an engineer by education and has developed his career in telecommunication companies and joined Quipu in the spring of last year as CEO. Ernesto on the other hand has worked for different web portals selling web services to businesses. For him Selling is a lifestyle.

What do you like about Sales?

Ramon: Selling does not mean being a charlatan. For me it’s detecting opportunities, needs and giving the best solution possible to customers.

Ernesto: Selling is part of everybody’s life. Just living we sell in all we do. I like to establish relationships with people, to present myself and discover other people.

Closing a big deal is satisfying. A personal conquest!

Listen to our podcast to learn more about the motivation of a sales professional, about how to detect a sales personality and how to manage a sales team.

Learn more in this Podcast in Spanish on our Youtube channel, listen to it on iTunes or enjoy it through iVoox and subscribe to our newsletter to stay always up to date.