Chinese natural ingredients market

China Paradigm transcript #98: Doing business in the blossoming Chinese natural ingredients market

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Find here China Paradigm 98 and discover Gordon Dumoulin’s story in China. Our guest is the founder of  Dumoco, a company that takes part in the Chinese natural ingredients market and botanical raw materials for pharmaceutical, health, food, skincare, and cosmetics applications. Gordon Dumoulin is also the co-founder of Easton Bridge Education, an education center based in Beijing.

Full transcript below:

Hello everyone, welcome to China paradigm, the show powered by Daxue Consulting where we interview seasoned entrepreneurs and experienced managers in China about their business and experience in the country.

Matthieu David: Hello everyone I’m Matthieu David the founder of Daxue Consulting and its podcast China Paradigm and today I am with Gordon Dumoulin. You are the founder of three companies and one of them being food, one being education with your wife. You have been in China for more than 10 years now, more specifically in Beijing. The first company we are going to talk about is in the food business, it’s called Dumoco – if I pronounce correctly – and it’s focusing on ingredients, very rare ingredients with specific effects on health, memory, basically health – how it can affect your health and I have a lot of questions about it. This is not a small market in China when we talk about health and ingredients to eat, we always think ingredients for traditional Chinese medicine and we talk about a Chinese herbology market which is about 150 billion to 200 billion USD of which 15%-20% is exported. It is growing. In some way, there is a paradox. The sales volume is growing but the number of TCM doctors and TCM health buddies are actually decreasing when we look at the numbers. It has been decreasing until 2010 and now, since then, it’s increasing again but still not at the level it was in the 1990s. So, it’s a very interesting segment because we have interviewed a couple of people before who were in health supplements and I believe you are very close to this market (learn more about the health supplement market in China).

The second business you are contributing to – because I understand that it was initiated by your wife – is education, Easton Bridge Education. So, it is based in Beijing, providing education centers in China such as English teaching and also art, science, and so on in Beijing to – I would say those upper middle class, middle class Chinese who are living in Beijing. I will have a lot of questions about this market too later on. Thank you, Gordon, for being with us. Would you mind telling me, if you want to add anything about the introduction of your two businesses and tell us more about what you do?

Gordon Dumoulin: Yes. Thanks for inviting me. It’s a nice opportunity to talk more about China, about doing business in China, and also about understanding China more. As you introduced very well, first I’m from Holland, the beautiful city of Maastricht in the South of the Netherlands and I’m living since 2009 in Beijing. Indeed, I’ve been doing the business with Chinese natural ingredients market called Dumoco. I set up the business myself in 2009 – operational 2010 and actually that came from a more Chinese natural ingredients market course or race. I have always been in the food business when I was living in Europe and when I moved to China some people and some business relations were asking me about some specific ingredients for traditional Chinese medicine and when you start a new business you need to take all the business what you can get to start up. So, I dived into some specific Chinese natural ingredients market and then I expanded to a wider range of natural ingredients. Basically, it’s indeed like you mentioned, related to ingredients for traditional Chinese medicine, functional herbs in which they come in many ways. We can use them for herbal teas, we can extract them, we can make powders and many of those are indeed coming into supplements. So, what we do here at Dumoco, we have different ways. First of all, we have our own export of different natural ingredients to Europe, to the States, Australia and to some other countries. Secondly, we do consultancy for the Chinese herbology market, Chinese companies, Chinese herb farms, cultivations, and also processing companies to consult them in quality control, which is usually expected in Europe and the type of quality control which is expected. So, we also do consultancy works in different provinces in China. The most important in this way is – as you mentioned, it’s a very interesting segment. You specified a little the TCM and also the TCM doctors, but we should look at more widely that – especially Chinese natural ingredients. Functional, medicinal, herbal ingredients are not only used in TCM. Actually, when we go to the States, in Europe, we go to many pharmacies, even to supermarkets and to other shops where you see many kinds of supplements, for sleeping, for being active, for focusing and for many other things. Actually, these are all already related to ingredients for traditional Chinese medicine, but not only to TCM, in Europe, but we have also had – now it’s much less –, many herbal remedies and still, today learning from our grandparents and even from our parents, that take these herbs or take ginger with lemon whenever you have a cold. So, there are many relations in this aspect, and the marketing, the model of marketing in recent decades, is that, of course, many modern fashionable companies who are doing supplements, but at the end of the day it’s all about the Chinese herbology market, it’s all about tradition and the history in this (learn about the push for Chinese medicine during the Covid-19 crisis).

Matthieu David: So, something I understand now, your market is overseas right, and you represent some producers from China, you help them to get the certification, do it the right way and you export their production overseas.

Gordon Dumoulin: Yes, yes. So, there are two ways, we do consultancy for Chinese companies. We help them in – among others quality control also in some export how to do business overseas and secondly, we have our export department where we have distributors in Europe, in the States, other countries who sell our products, which we manufacture in corporation with our partners in China.

Matthieu David: I understand that some of your people you know, wanted your help to buy those products in China because you were in China. What is surprising me is you have been able to also actually get the producers as clients for consulting to understand how to manage those productions and to export. Would you mind telling us more about how this articulated? Was it from the beginning that you were advising them and supporting them in production or was it in a later stage? How did you get this knowledge and how did you do it and how a foreigner can help them to do – to produce something they are used to producing.

Gordon Dumoulin: Actually, you are a link on both sides. You benefit from both sides. First of all, when you talk about the Chinese side, how you do business in general – we all know that. Its relation, you build up relations. So, at the beginning of 2010, I took night trains – 70% of my time going from one Chinese herb farm to another (learn more about China’s agricultural strategy). Going to productions who extract botanicals or pulverize to powders and you focus these people and it’s a way of doing business in China that – we hear there are many ways – also in the media, but it’s true it’s always about the win-win corporation. You also have to think about either your supplier or your customer, how they can benefit, and how you can benefit. Because if one doesn’t benefit, the relation will not last. So then it’s a natural growth that – of course with some people, you have a better relationship than with others, but you want to help them to improve because also for my benefit, because I’m buying products from them, so I want them to improve, so I can sell better products to my clients in Europe.

On the European side of the American side – European side they feel comfortable because Gordon is in China and I can speak a little bit the same language. And for many people in Europe or outside China, China is very far away and very unfamiliar so they don’t get a comfortable feeling, so this is what I can bring to them, and transparency is a very big word in this – because we are transparent. Our customers in Europe, they know the Chinese herb farms, they know the productions. They know everything. While many other people in the States or Europe, they try to hide because China is their treasure, so they say okay we deliver products, but we don’t tell you where or how – just the product is good.

But we did it the other way around. We are transparent and we build on trust. We built trust from all sides. So, it’s more like a community where we are in one way or the other the glue and the control and also trying to improve the whole community that everybody gets better in this way – and everybody makes money of course.

Matthieu David: I see. Talking about the product. When you talk about Chinese Chinese natural ingredients market, would you mind being more specific about what it is and especially what’s the difference between having supplements, what is the difference between ingredients for traditional Chinese medicine

 – CTM – one thing I didn’t say about Chinese medicine, Chinese traditional medicine – the World Health Organisation, WHO said, they accepted Chinese traditional medicine as a medicine and in June 2019 – the very recent was last year so I believe that may change a little bit your business and the perception of your natural ingredients by the West. By overseas markets. Would you mind sharing some more about Chinese natural ingredients market and how different they are?

Gordon Dumoulin: Yes. I’m not sure if this influenced the West, but I can explain a little bit more about TCM in general, I will not go into details. TCM, in general, it’s a different philosophy at looking at health. It’s also a more preventive way of looking at health. I’ll give you some examples. For example, they – a lot of people here in Beijing – eat radish after eating and you know when I just came here I said I’m full – I don’t want to eat radish or I’m not in the mood for radish. I better have dessert or some French teas but I looked it up, a radish has specific substances which make the probiotics start working. So, digesting your food. This is the same for nuts and seeds. You see Chinese people all over China and they eat a lot of seeds especially after dinner. And this is for the same reason. Chinese dates, the tribe dates they are often eaten before dinner because it lessens your appetite, so you don’t eat too much. So, in many ways subconsciously even many Chinese people will not have the straight answer why they do that, because it’s a tradition but generally eating or food in China is much more closely related to health and this is also coming back in TCM. In TCM there are many preventive measures, now, of course, you have many medicines which hardly exist in Europe and then you really talk about medicines concentrated syrups and other things, but the link is coming to supplements because supplements in Europe they have also a prevention. You don’t get sick, you have to eat vitamins, tablets every day or you have to drink lavender tea at night because you sleep well. So, there are many ways that you prevent something to happen. This is also in TCM – the value and WHO indeed appraised the TCM as being a medicine but is a different way and I don’t think it’s fully comparable. When you go to Chinese hospitals for example, usually for acute diseases which need to kill something and so to say in your body, you take a killer and it’s usually a Western medicine and you are cured. While –when you are for example having symptoms of something, you feel uncomfortable or you are having headaches or different kinds of symptoms, people often tend to look more to Chinese medicine to see how they can reduce the symptom. Not only to the medicine but to treatments and to behavior. So, the doctors will also tell you how to behave – the same as in Western societies, run more, walk more, do more exercise, sleep early, etc.

Matthieu David: I had a question about Chinese herb farms. Finding factories in China in some way it’s linked to overseas. It’s linked to foreigners and even that – finding the right factories, understanding the factories, how to work with them – it’s not easy. A lot of people struggle with that and you have been able to connect with entities which are Chinese herb farms which are much more remote, usually, I believe don’t speak English and I don’t believe they are used that much to export. Is my analysis correct and if it is – how did you handle it?

Gordon Dumoulin: Yeah first of all it is correct. The first question is actually why people are having problems finding the right partners, the right companies, right suppliers is – first of all, you have to be there. Like I said in the beginning, at the first year I spent 70% of my time in night trains really going to the countryside, visiting many companies, visiting also many Chinese herb farms and look – many were not qualified so –

Matthieu David: How did you find those Chinese herb farms. You can get a train to go to the countryside and then what do you do? How do you prepare?

Gordon Dumoulin: Oh, first we do some research.

Matthieu David: So, research how do you do it because it seems so unclear, so remote, so local – would you mind sharing a bit more?

Gordon Dumoulin: Yeah, I mean we are not going to the local, local Chinese herb farms – we are not going to a local farm whose producing vegetables for their village, but we are going to specialized Chinese herb farms because we are looking for the Chinese natural ingredients market. I’ll give you an example – for example, ginseng root which is familiar to many Western people, the area of the ginseng root in China is in Jilin province. Actually, at the border of North Korea so the famous mountain Changbai mountain is actually the homeland of the ginseng, so you study first. To come back a little early before I went to China, I didn’t know anything about the Chinese herbology market. So, I studied day and night, learning more about ingredients for traditional Chinese medicine, also studied – actually very simple, spending time on the internet talking to people, trying to find out – okay where is this, where is that? So, it’s also about relations, you talk to somebody and they know. Okay, we have a good company that has a plantation for ginseng. So, you take the train or the plane and you fly to Jilin, and you have a look around and you are amazed every day because you learn and then you find out this whole city is all about ginseng. And it is not the only plantation, there are 120 other plantations. So, you go to study more and you go to study more.

Of course, I have also Chinese people with me, who spoke Chinese at that time, because I didn’t speak and I still don’t speak very well, but they can communicate with the local people and we can find out more relations, more companies how to find out, but it takes time and you have to be here.

Matthieu David: So, your clients in the West, would you mind describing a bit more – are the restaurants? Are they more individuals? Are they doctors who are using it for traditional medicine?

Gordon Dumoulin: No, the majority are supplement manufacturers. So, the majority are – there are even big companies who produce actually natural supplements. Then, some of them are also cosmetic companies who are producing natural skincare (learn more about natural skincare market in China). So, we cannot supply to individuals because the quantities are too small because when somebody needs one kilogram and we have to fly that over, it will be very expensive for people. That’s why we also work with distributors. We have distributors in different countries like in the Benelux, in Germany, in France, Spain and we work with them – but they usually also of course target the larger companies and like I said, most is going into supplements, syrups, tablets, capsules, products like this and I think about 10 -20% maybe into skincare (learn more about the skincare industry in China).

Matthieu David: It’s more and more interesting what I’m discovering because I have – we are used to talking to people who are doing import and export businesses, but not at all in  Chinese natural ingredients market, not at all in food from China, but more from factories and we see plenty of people in this industry. So, I believe your business is very unique and your position is very unique. I’d like to understand more about – because you said transparency is very important – your clients know where the farm is. How do you handle the transparency on pricing if they know so much about the sourcing and so on – how do you work on the pricing?

Gordon Dumoulin: We move on the pricing together with our suppliers here in China. So, they know what we are asking in Europe and we also discuss this together. We don’t have any exclusivity, so our model is – actually, we have our own brands and that’s the local brand, so the end-users at the end of the day do not know where it’s coming from. Our distributors they know. If we have a very big customer who wants to visit a plant or wants to visit a plantation – he’s most welcome. They can come but we have to deal and we have the agreement with the suppliers that they know our customers and they will not touch our customers and even – so actually we put the security and that sounds strange for many Western people – we put the trust with the Chinese suppliers as – to be honest, I haven’t been cheated in 10 years. So, if any customer from Europe – and they know for example from which factory it’s coming, or even from which plantation – they need for example ginseng for an herbal tea if they would contact the Chinese herb farms directly the first phone call is coming to us. This guy is calling and how should we handle this? So, it’s in a way a matter of trust we can put and to be honest – we don’t have any legal agreements with this, because you don’t want to go into legal anywhere, so it’s a matter of trust and it’s again about relations what I said before. You build up relations with the people, you show them trust, you show them support, mutual support from both sides and a feeling that we are here to stay and we are going to make a good relationship together and also a pleasant relation together, for the purpose that we can sell and we can have some market.

Matthieu David: I understand. I feel that you are acting like an agent for them, an agent who will actually manage their exports and their overseas relationship. Does it make sense to say so?

Gordon Dumoulin: In one way yes, in one way, yes, but even some of them are large companies. They even have their own export department, so it’s not the only one – we are not working only with small companies, we are working with some leading companies in China for plantation, for processing and even there we have our relations and we do our own business with our own branding. We have good relations and we also support them as I said in the consultancy, in improving their processes and our processes together.

Matthieu David: You are involved in another business I mentioned initially, which is education. Business called – Easton Bridge Education. To give an idea to people listening to us how big this industry is – it is said that private schools account for 35% – let’s say 1/3rd of the total number of schools in China in 2018. So, it’s massive. I believe that the number of private schools in proportion is much higher in China than in Europe for instance. 53 million students are studying in private schools in 2018. That’s also a very fragmented market and when we look at the English language learning market for 2018 globally, China represents a third of it. Like 29-30% of the total. Final thing is that education for kids is one of the segments of the market where parents want to spend. They are eager to spend. When we look at some statistics in Shanghai, so private bilingual schools on the time of education of the kid, parents who were affluent could spend 100 – 200 thousand USD – of course, that’s over many years, but that’s a sizeable amount of money that Europeans, for instance, are not spending. Most Europeans don’t spend, even the affluent ones in Europe. Would you mind telling us more about what you do in the education business in Beijing and a bit more about your clients as well? I’d like to know if what I just described corresponds to what you see.

Gordon Dumoulin: Yes, actually the education has been also born from a – in a natural way. Like you mentioned my wife – we started up Dumoco together 10 years ago. She is from Beijing and at that time she was not my wife yet and we set up the business and we were business partners. She helped me and as we all know the business at the start is a difficult one, so we were fighting for Dumoco for the extract, for the Chinese natural ingredients market, and for the export network and at one point we were – living in the outskirts of Beijing and we had an office at the time, a small office and so my wife at that time said – there are two kids here on the floor and they want to learn English from a foreigner and me was a European mindset, focused and I didn’t study for this and I don’t want to do this, I need to spend time on Dumoco, and then I came to one of my first confrontations of Chinese ways of thinking because she showed me the balance sheets and she said – you still want to pay me or not? So, that was a good one and so she – so I said actually its good. Let them come and we can teach them at the weekend. So that was actually her education. She’s an English teacher, she has an English teaching degree and her passion, her dream is her own school – her own English school (learn more about China’s language school industry).

So, we started this for two kids and we expanded, we rented an apartment here in the Tongzhou district in Beijing and fast forward we 8-9 years later we had a full program in our apartment, so we rented another apartment, ran a full program. Especially in the weekend, and also after school – with me teaching in the weekend to support her and she taught during the week and we had two other teachers and since last summer we moved – we found a corporation and an investor also with a license because we were not actually official, so we found an investor with an education license, we moved to where I’m sitting now, we moved to a new school – 400 – 500 square meters, with also more teachers and now we have about 150 – 200 students running and besides that we are doing international summer camps. So, in the past year, we have organized summer camps to Boston, to London, to Holland. Last winter, just in time before everything was closing – to Singapore. So, this is – yeah this is in a nutshell where we came today.

Matthieu David: I see – what you do is an education center based in Beijing and also education – how do you say that? Education travel?

Gordon Dumoulin: Yeah, we call it winter camps, summer camps, English summer camps, so we find corporations with schools abroad, in the US, Europe, Singapore last winter and then we send them on training there together with some – of course with some other educational culture tourism natural aspects as well.

Matthieu David: How would you describe your clients? Are they very wealthy? Are they affluent? Are they themselves parents have degrees or the opposite, they want the best for their kids because they don’t have degrees? How would you describe them? How would you qualify them?

Gordon Dumoulin: We have many different kinds of clients, of course, you need to spend – I mean they spend quite a lot of money on English courses. Usually average you spend for a 60-hour course as frat you spend about – and then you are not expensive, this is for normal smaller schools you spend between 1 -1.5 thousand USD per kid and then you are talking about group classes. When you have one to one classes you spend even more, but many of them – we are building actually also a very large social environment because most of the parents are here so we get to know them and when it’s clicking we are eating together and drinking some wine –we see that many – of course first of all people need to be able to afford, because some of them taking three classes and then they also have a piano class in the music school and they have an art class in the art school – so they are quite filling, but many of them are entrepreneurs, they have their own business in many different ways, in many different sectors. Some of them work – I would call it the upper-middle class because – no actually the whole middle class. We have some lower – we also have a girl she’s living in a village; she’s coming by bus really 45 minutes by bus, just to spend 45 minutes here and they’re really struggling for this, the parents – both are really struggling for this but the average is middle class. The upper class will have their own really higher private education because then it’s what the price counts – so I would call it you know, average middle class and to be honest, the middle class in China is doing very well and is very much comparable to European middle class – I think you know as well and even in some ways better off in terms of spending power. On what can be spent. So, yes, the clients are all families, most of them all go to public schools and the children go to public school and to our education center based in Beijing. I have a son of 7 years old, he’s going to public school here and many of our kids are his classmates, at least in the same school and to be honest, just as an example how still rare it is also – I’m living really in the outskirts of Beijing, my son is in a public school and this is – it’s a huge public school, I think about 1500 students and I’m still the only foreign parent in the whole school. So, it’s also like an imagination for the listeners that you’re still a minority as so to say but a blissful minority. It’s not something negative at all. But you get close to the people, you get close to the residents in the compound, also with the school – the school has its social factor in this.

Matthieu David: What are the parents looking for? Are they looking for opening the mind of their children? Are they looking for core competencies like English – being fluent in English, or are they looking also now and because the education market may be more mature than before – are they looking maybe also to learn how to play a piece of theatre? How to learn instruments? How to do liberal arts, drawing, and so on? What’s your perception of it and the evolution of it over the last 10 years? My perception and I’d like to know if you agree with that is that – 10 years ago it was much more about core skills, learning English – learning maths, learning whatever core subjects and now it opening up to the drawing, dancing, music instruments, playing theatre. Is my understanding correct? Do you see that with your clients?

Gordon Dumoulin: Yeah, I see that and you are correct. It’s more – you have specific courses, when you talk about English, you have specific courses but our general courses have the aim that the students and the kids are able to express themselves and they feel comfortable to express. We do – in our education center based in Beijing, we do many ways, we play Shakespeare, we have many jokes, we do games and all in English and it’s all about that they can feel more comfortable in expressing themselves. I don’t correct them every time when they make a mistake. Let them talk, let them express, let them speak – and this trend what you just mentioned is correct, people are looking for – you know, kids who are more able to express themselves, to be more diversified in many ways, also internationally that they learn more. We also talk a lot about cultures in other countries so they learn more about this. I’m amazed about what the kids know here about other cultures in comparison to what I learned in Europe about China which was a big mystery at that time. But I’m amazed at what they already know and I want to give it a more attaché that they also see and feel. So, yes and then we have specific courses also of course – I mean for example when a kid needs to have an exam for a certain school, for example, Cambridge or Toefl or things like that, we have specific courses to prepare them for this, so there’s also, of course, a specific target course and then we have the general language course.

Matthieu David: I see, so still you feel that there’s a functional need for education to pass the exam, but it’s opening up to more liberal arts and more non-core skills. One other thing you are mentioning on your LinkedIn profile – it’s a bit another topic, but you say change is inevitable. You have written that – why do you say so, because I wanted to ask you because Peter Drucker who is a consultant we look into a lot at our company Daxue consulting, invented the name of strategy and business, is saying – what’s in common with all entrepreneurs? It’s not their education, it’s not where they come from, it’s not their social background, what they have in common is that they think change is positive. They see change as full of opportunities when none entrepreneurs would see change as a threat. As something which is threatening their position. So why are you writing change is inevitable?

Gordon Dumoulin: Because first of all this – how you look at it, it doesn’t matter. Whether you take it positive or as a threat, but I do believe that change is inevitable. We have a very – unfortunately not a lot of positive situations today, all over the world because of the coronavirus but change is inevitable and that’s what I learnt also here in China. Indeed, in Europe, many people see change as a threat, but in China, you have to change, you have to adapt. There is a certain – I don’t call it negativity, there’s a certain nervousness that you need to improve, you need to change, or this doesn’t work so we need to go another way. There’s always something happening and this is also coming to my third passion what I’m doing, I’m also doing a blog of 5iZ – actually started, I’m no longer on LinkedIn. For me, it’s cross-cultural awareness about different cultures and different societies what the change is there, and what are the differences there. And so, what I learned in China – change is inevitable, but I also see that in other societies that this applies also to other societies and if you see it as a threat it holds people back and societies as well.

Matthieu David: I wanted to talk about 5iZ as you mention it, and especially about the name, I found it very interesting and shows how deeper you know China. You named 5iZ because China is not talking about North, South, West, East only – but also North, South, West, East, and Centre like Tiananmen being at the center of China and the center of the world. Would you mind telling us more about what does it mean for you?

Gordon Dumoulin: Actually it has been – you know, before I went to China I was most of the time in expert management jobs, so I traveled for about 15 years all over the world, meeting many cultures and doing business there, coming to the homes and so you know – culture was always a passion for me and seeing different cultures, and I had been in China before I had moved here, also many times but just being here for a week is something else and plunging in a black hole and start to live here. And China gave me – China as a country, as a society gave me so much learning that you can look at things in so many different ways. We have been brought up which is normal, as Chinese have been brought up here and Europeans have been brought up in Europe, you always have some kind of mindset in the culture and the society where you grow up, and this is natural and this is normal. And having the opportunity to live here, spend time here in a practically almost Chinese environment it was really – I’m very grateful having that experience and banging many walls because you have your own mind-set and like everybody is stubborn and everybody wants to have their right. So, you have many different learning experiences about how people think and how other people can think and approach new things. So, it’s very important that people start to realize all over the world that there are many differences in culture and cultural intelligence in how to do things. Also in business and when we go then into the business side you have many fantastic models on how to do business, but at the end of the day, it’s about feeling the people and about feeling the country and also knowledge about what worries those people – what is their daily life. What’s it all about and how they approach problems, and opportunities as well. How they teach their kids, how they live at home. I’ve been grateful in this and I wanted to share that and coming back to the name, 5iZ – yes center is a very basic thing which I feel also a little now. You know I mean – all the changes happening for example today – also with the virus, but Chinese society 10 years ago and today is completely different almost. You go through many changes and you learn to be more resilient. You learn to be calmer and tackle problems, threats, or opportunities in a calmer, resilient way and if it doesn’t work – fine, you go to the next opportunity.

Matthieu David: It’s close to 1 hour, I have a few questions to end the discussion. The first one and I often ask these questions – what books inspired you the most when understanding about China?

Gordon Dumoulin: For me, one book generally, not only about China – and I read it last year, I’m still reading it again – it’s The Silk Roads, from Peter Frankopan. It’s a fantastic book about the history and about the world history but through a very different perspective and the message what you learn there is that the history what we learned as a kid, in our society is very different from the kid in another society. Such as China or anywhere in the world. And so, this is a book I really recommend – also in understanding China. First of all, you cannot understand China completely – no one understands China, you don’t understand France – I don’t understand France completely – you all have these few items which characterize a country but this is nothing to make this diverse society clear because it’s very diverse. So, just for the perspective – read this book and know that you know nothing about the country. So be objective when coming here.

Then some other books – first of all, there are many books about how to do business, how to be successful, get your things, e-commerce – digital retail, new retail – all this. Read those books, some of them are great but it’s not about understanding China, it’s about understanding the market because China is a society and its people. This is what I’m always telling many people – because people want to know about China – I say why do you want to know about China? Because I want to do business – I say either you find a good local partner, then you don’t need to understand China. If you want to understand China you need to know the culture, you need to spend some time, you need to read about it. Few books that I have on this one is – first of all, a very old one and but still, it grasps a good feeling, its Red Star Over China – from Edgar Snow. Red Star over China- he was an American, he was actually the first foreigner who met Mao Zedong and this story gives you an insight also how people think and we are not talking about the historical events, but how people think and many thoughts are still applied today – how people think in terms of the collectivity of pragmatism in many – the many characteristics which are not defined, but which indicate as the characters of Chinese society is coming back. Secondly, I think – I don’t know if people have seen the Wandering Earth – the movie, the Chinese science fiction movie, a great one last year – I’m not sure if it’s not Netflix already – because I don’t have Netflix here, but read his book, it’s from Liu Cixin, he is one of the biggest science fiction writers in China – so in general, read either fiction or non-fiction biographies if you want to learn about China more.

Matthieu David: If I say more, The Three-Body Problem is written by him as, well right?

Gordon Dumoulin: Yes, exactly.

Matthieu David: And it has been popularised by Obama who read it before it was published and The Dark Forest the other one which was – yeah – I think he’s buried in Peking University and he was the first one – maybe the only one, but he was the first one I’m sure to be the member of the Chinese communist party and he lived in China all over the different periods of China, including during the controlled evolution. What are the most surprising success for you in China and the most surprising failure in China you have witnessed? I’ll give you an example of mine – I’m very surprised how e-commerce developed, because when I arrived people were paying cash at the front door when they get delivered and they didn’t want to use their credit card and now it seems that they use their phone to pay with a QR code that could be scanned with another number, taking more money than what you really want to pay. So, it’s a change I wouldn’t have expected to go so fast and so far.

Gordon Dumoulin: Yes, coming to your example this is very true and we always think about Chinese 10 years – 15 years ago with piles of cash because they wouldn’t trust anything else and they wouldn’t trust other people – while this is totally gone in 10 years, in less than 10 years even. But yes – I mean the daily change, as an example the daily changes that are happening – but also the daily changes and the daily speed what’s happening to yourself. You are really coming in to – you are forced to keep moving, to keep moving either by new regulations, by new opportunities, other companies like you say the new retail is coming. We are forced today, we are forced today with the quarantine or the confinement – our school has been closed for 2 months because we are not allowed to open and we don’t want to open because we want to be safe. We are already working, we have now our video classes at the weekend, we have our online classes. My wife is teaching almost the whole day online classes. We have set up an online library – we all did this in a matter of weeks. As for the surprising success is indeed the fast change which is happening and that you can adapt to that. So actually, this success is not more like business success, but it can come out in the business – the success is that you must break yourself open. You must be more adaptable and you must be more wide looking in things which you might be stuck in the business – for example, you have been doing business for 10 – 15 years at home or Europe or even here in China and you say I cannot do anything else. This is what it is. No, this is not true, even within your own business you can innovate. You can differentiate. As for the speed of differentiation of innovation is stimulated – also even forced upon you because – not forced in a negative way but you go with the flow, and you also want to lead some of those flows. So, this is I feel really a success in myself that you are much more wide – open-minded in doing business.

Matthieu David: Last question – what do you read to stay up to date on China? What are your sources? I believe that’s a common question for foreigners – what kind of sources can they use? It’s hard to read the Chinese newspapers, even for people who have a very good Chinese level HSK 5 or 6 – it could be hard. So, what are the other sources you are using to stay up to date on what’s going on?

Gordon Dumoulin: First of all, I think – of course, you have some English language – like China Daily, Global Times – many people see these newspapers often as not very objective but actually there are many interesting articles and there are many insights which can teach you more about China. Also, about society, also about governance. Some more other sites – there’s also one site – it’s called Sixth Hong and they have some social articles, articles about society, about what’s moving the people and different kind of aspects, they touch these topics and you have similar sites of this like RADI China, Sub China – so you actually have different sites where you can find – so to say non-mainstream insights of China. Because the mainstream – people know but there’s actually – it’s not very interesting because it’s always coming back to the same, and it doesn’t give you an image of society and when you want to do business here or when you want to be interested or when you are interested in China, you need to know more about the people and what’s moving the people – because they are your customers or your suppliers and you also want to trust your suppliers. So, try to find some other news agencies which diversify the news. Of course, go to my blog, I post almost every day different things about Chinese society. LinkedIn is also a fantastic medium with many people telling their own experiences and their own insights and so – this is usually the sources what I’m using, and then, of course, you have the Chinese twitter – Weibo, you have WeChat where you find the trends, what’s happening in China.

Matthieu David: What’s the link for your website?

Gordon Dumoulin: 5iz-China.com.

Matthieu David: Thanks Gordon for your time, thank you very much it was very instructive, very interesting to see how you have been able to develop your business on natural ingredients, a very unique business I believe. I wouldn’t have the chance I think to interview someone who has been able to go into this industry which looks very, very local. Thank you everyone for listening and stay safe during these times of virus outbreak. I hope you all stay safe.

Bye, everyone.


China paradigm is a China business podcast sponsored by Daxue Consulting where we interview successful entrepreneurs about their businesses in China. You can access all available episodes from the China paradigm Youtube page.

Do not hesitate to reach out our project managers at dx@daxue-consulting.com to get all answers to your questions

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