China: GMIC And CHINICT Tech Conferences In Beijing: Learnings From China

Great article on techcrunch about a Beijing tech conference; was in town a month ago, too bad I missed it, would have been great to attend:

After exploring the mobile and Internet landscapes in Shanghai and Beijing, the GeeksOnAPlane (GOAP) group (30+ techies mostly from the Silicon Valley) continued their Asian field trip to Korea today. In Beijing, the GOAP attended two of China’s largest tech conferences: CHINICT, “the largest conference on China tech innovation” (which was livestreamed on TechCrunch), and the “Global Mobile Internet Conference” (GMIC), both of which are held in the city every year.

The GOAP got in touch with and gained unfiltered insight from dozens and dozens of local entrepreneurs, VCs and industry observers during the conferences and the events that took place around them. What follows are just a few learnings and impressions the GOAP group picked up during their China web crash course in Beijing (the size of the tech landscape is summarized in my previous post).

GeeksOnAPlane at the GMIC And CHINICT Tech Conferences In Beijing: Learnings From China.

Doing business in China

I traveled to Beijing to meet truckers and brokers first-hand while performing market research with Xin Tian You (XTY). Xin Tian You (XTY) was founded by industry veterans with the vision to transform the Chinese transportation industry. China has 26M truckers, approximately 12M trucks (85% individually owned/operated), and hundreds of thousands of information brokers. Shipping and truck information market is highly fragmented, inefficient, and lacks transparency; return-trip logistics is problematic and costly. XTY created a mobile app that puts shipment info at truckers’ fingertips, helping them reduce costs and wait time for finding return-trip cargo.

Shanghai: The Wild Wild East of Business

So we spent the last week of the Doing Business in China program in Shanghai. This cool, modern city reminded me of New York with its many sky scrapers, incredible energy, and public transport system. Actually, it has more skyscrapers than New York, its packed with street vendors and entrepreneurs selling their wares, and the subway system is much more modern and cleaner than New York. The bullet train to the airport was cool, and much more impressive than JFK’s AirTrain. Then again, its a bit pointless to build a bullet train to travel 10 minutes at 300mph to get to the airport. (The plan is to eventually connect the bullet train to a nearby city).

As in Beijing, we attended lectures in the mornings and visited companies such as Deloitte, GE, and Microsoft in the afternoons. Our personal tour to the Shanghai World Expo planning committee’s offices were pretty cool. They had an impressive architectural model of the downtown area highlighting the redevelopment plan. Their plan was interesting: completely redevelop a mostly industrial sector of town and create lots of green space, build pavilions, retail zones, and new housing. What was not clear was what happend to the existing inhabitants. According to the plan, they moved to brand new affordable housing “that improved their quality of living.” I know what housing projects look like in New York, but we didn’t get a chance to see them first hand in China, though. Now that would have been educational and eye-opening, I’m sure. Maybe I’m too young, but I was totally disconnected with the whole “World Expo” thing. The Expo’s target customer demographic is the 45-60 year old age group, so perhaps I should not feel bad that I didn’t even know they kept holding these events.

We visited the Shanghai Stock Exchange and was disappointed to see it was completely empty. Actually, there was one sole lady doing her makeup on the floor of the exchange. Since the exchange is now mostly electronic trading, there’s not much point in having traders on the floor anymore. They still have hundreds of stalls (with computers in them) in case a trader decided to drop by and do something there. I guess most decide to trade from their homes via the Internet 😉

Second week of the Doing Business in China Program

So we are in Shanghai now for the second week of the “Doing Business in China” Program, a student-organized program organized by Tepper (CMU) Business School students. This two-week program includes lecture/seminars by Chinese professors and leading business people in the mornings, followed by company visits and presentations in the afternoon. During our free time we explore historical landmarks, museums, and city neighborhoods to better understand Chinese history and culture.

Last week we met with professors from Beijing University and CKGSB on business strategy for both local and multinational corporations doing business in China. Dr. Weiguo Zhang, of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, was kind enough to give a seminar on the history of the Chinese Exchange and an overview of current corporate governance issues in China. He is the Chinese counterpart of the head of the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) in the United States. Afterwards we met with Zero2IPO to meet with the Founder and CEO to learn about his experience in founding the leading integrated service provider for the Chinese venture capital industry. Zero2IPO provides a wide range of services from providing financial advisory services to managing an angel seed fund. Our trip to Lenovo was interesting too; it was cool to see their computer assembly plant and check out their automated warehouse system.

Tomorrow we will be visiting the Shanghai Stock Exchange.  Later this week we will be attending seminars on marketing and strategy at CEIBS and Fudan University and will be visiting Microsoft’s R&D Labs.  Another highlight is our scheduled meeting with Jeff Song, China President of Ingersol Rand.

Beijing: Visiting the Great Wall of China

We had the day off today and visited the Great Wall of China before leaving for Shanghai on an overnight train. It was a beautiful, clear day but it was extremely cold day. The day’s high temperature reached a cold 27 degrees F with strong wind gusts.

Great Wall of China in the winter

The Great Wall stretched out to the horizon as far as the eye could see. This particular section of the Wall was built on jagged mountain terrain. Climbing the wall was challenging at some points given that the steps were about one-foot high each, and at some points were at a 70 degree incline. We walked for about an hour up the Wall until finally reaching the highest point on the Wall in that area. The wind gusts were strong enough to knock someone over. The wind almost blew the gloves off my hands! It reminded me of those river-flood rescue videos in which the people getting rescued lose half their clothes while getting pulled out of the raging rivers.

Beijing: Visited Forbidden City today

Forbidden City at nightToday after our lecture we walked to the Forbidden City. The city was shrowded in mist, at least that’s what I told myself. I am pretty sure it was a thick layer of smog. The sun was barely visible, only appearing in the sky as a dim orange disc hanging above us. It barely warmed us, as we walked through the crowded streets in the 30 degree weather. It was hard to imagine what it must have been like 500 years ago when they first built the city given the throngs of tourists and the persistent street vendors that kept circling near by. We had visited the Summer Palace yesterday, so the Forbidden City, though still impressive, was a little underwhelming. The Forbidden City was (is) also undergoing considerable renovation in time for the 2008 Summer Olympics, so some of the buildings were covered and closed to the public.

Main gate of the Forbidden City at night

The Forbidden City lies in front of Tiananmen Square, site of an infamous massacre in 1989. The square itself is one of the largest in the world (not sure if Moscow’s Red Square is larger). Supposedly, up to 500,000 people can fill the square, a site of many public speeches during Mao’s reign. On the main gate of the Forbidden City is a large portrait of the Communist leader, Mao.

Beijing: Smog and other issues

Just a quick note about China. The smog is pretty bad here. Plus, I found it amazing/cool to see people use bamboo for scaffolding! Anyway, just a random, “I can’t believe it” type of post.

Summer Palace in the afternoon

Yes, it is actually daytime in this photo overlooking the Summer Palace (shot from the frozen lake). The sun is a barely warm golden ball in the sky. I was tempted to photoshop some blue sky in my photos, but there simply isn’t any blue sky in Beijing. Just gray haze. I wonder if this is what Pittsburgh was like in the 1950’s. Nowadays, the air is actually clean in Pittsburgh. I can’t say the same for Beijing. It’s definitely as bad as, if not worse than Mexico City.

Bamboo as scaffolding

Yes, they are using bamboo as scaffolding on this high rise building (aka skyscraper). Amazing. I saw some scaffolding on buildings as high as 20 stories, though I was told they bamboo on buildings even higher than that. I guess the price of metal is too high after all. Pretty cool stuff. I wonder if OSHA would permit that in the U.S.

Beijing: Visited Summer Palace; not so summer-like, though

Beijing’s Summer Palace was amazing. A must-see if you are in Beijing. We visited the summer palace after attending morning class at Peking University.

Tower at Summer Palace

It’s winter time in Beijing. In other words, it’s freezing!!! The lake at the Summer Palace was frozen solid. Well, it was frozen enough for people (including myself) to venture out on to the lake despite the “thin ice” signs. The ice held up pretty well, though you could see some cracks forming, and at some points along the shore the ice had completely thawed.

Summer Palace as seen from middle of frozen lake

Shanghai: New Years Celebration

So here we are in China!!! I guess it’s finally beginning to hit me: I’m in China! I am beginning to get over the initial shock: It still seems like NYC Chinatown or Flushing, Queens, to me 😉

On New Years Eve we woke up late, had lunch, and visited the Shanghai Museum. I thought the coin collection was pretty nifty (hey, I am a Finance concentrator after all! 😉 ), the Chinese paintings and calligraphy were beautiful, and the bronze gallery was impressive.

At night we decided to go to the Bund to see the fireworks and went to The Rouge (spelling?), the hottest nightclub in Shanghai to party.

Flaming bars at La Rouge

For 300RMB we rubbed elbows with who-knows-who, (I don’t know Chinese celebrities, but there were some professional photographers taking photos of a particular couple all night long); it was a good time. The view of the river and Shanghai skyline was worth the cover charge and the cool nighttime temperatures.

It was a late night. The next day, before checking out of the hotel, I saw CNN’s coverage of NYC’s Time Square celebration. I felt a bit homesick as I watched the ball drop from 7000 miles away, but I will be back soon enough…