Matthieu: Hello, everyone, thanks for listening to China Paradigm, the China business podcast sponsored by Daxue Consulting. Today we interview a strong entrepreneur in China Thomas Meyer. Thomas, you are the co-founder of Mobile Now group which is if I read correctly on LinkedIn, a full-service mobile development studio with a focus on branded apps and games, set up in 2009, you are in Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Changsha (so that’s for China) and also Singapore, you are about 50 people now as I understand and you worked on more than 80 product. And actually your website is full information about all the cases you have worked on, I would have a lot of questions on them and also a lot of information on how you started a mobile company in China. So thank you very much for being with me and us actually, the listeners.
Thomas: So thank, Matthieu, for working with me, and it’s very nice to be here and also to have the opportunity to share and hopefully some interesting information.
Matthieu: To give an idea to the people listening to us about the size of your foreign business in China, could be in terms of revenue, a number of people in the team could be number clients, but to give an idea of the size of the company contract.
Thomas: Yes. So Mobile Now Group is today about 50 people, 48 to be exact, with a couple of people joining students so, you know, still 50, and it’s been a very stable number for a few years now. It’s… which is great because we can focus on projects and not so much on growing teams and skill set. From a revenue perspective, we’re very happy, but I’d rather not give too many specifics for various reason, China is pretty competitive markets start all right.
Matthieu: In terms of clients are you work on return on linking 80 product, you say a between 80 to 100, right?
Thomas: Yeah. So I think we’ve done probably over the course of the 9 years about close to 100 projects for the mobile industry in China so that’s roughly around 20 projects per year and there are fairly large projects, there are a platform, mobile platform projects.
Matthieu: Yeah, from what I saw, if we dig a little bit on some of your product, I saw that for TRL, you created a marketplace for the real estate.
Thomas: Yeah, that was a fantastic story. So they basically it’s their online marketplace, so they have a China Mobile first websites and that website has been going across the region at the moment and replicating various versions in Australia, New Zealand, India, Singapore, Japan Korea, and so on. So it’s a typical story for China firsts that are now spreading around the world, just because China is actually quite advanced these days in terms of mobile technologies, mobile platforms and mobile experiences and it’s also big business market, it’s major markets. So we see clients more and more adoptees China first strategy international; clients I’m talking about.
Matthieu: And you are developing for the other countries, for Singapore, Australia, and the other countries?
Thomas: It’s more marginal but it happens more by accidents because of the nature of our clientele or the clients, they are themselves international. So most of them really want us to stay focused on the Chinese mobile market, and it makes a lot of sense, but in some cases such as JLL, yeah spreading across the region can often become an option.
Matthieu: For people listening JLL is Jones Lang LaSalle, so they’ve been doing real estate for decades. It’s a major real estate company in the world, and I didn’t know they would be doing anything with China and their marketplace for that, I didn’t know but…
Thomas: Yeah, you need JLL when you need to find a very fancy office for your staff, and they serve mostly MNCs and large clients looking for office and commercial space.
Matthieu: Well, I’m surprised, my question was, you are China-focused, you started your mobile company in China, you seem to be very centered on China, you are in Changsha, Hangzhou, I guess that shows how centered you are in China and you are actually following clients to go to Australia and Singapore. But I feel as far as I understand by being in China for 10 years, China is very specific and from very often, you don’t work with the same players, the same agency or when you go out of China if you have worked on this case for the entire marketplace?
Thomas: Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. I think some agencies networks are international ones and so they have the benefits of having offices in markets all around the world, but they may not have the specific skill sets that we have from a design and development and technology perspective. And I think we are in a sweet spot where we understand the China market and the mobile trends in China and can deliver on the China market but also on an international team. So we can bring whatever we learn in China in other relevant markets. And in the global economy, we live in today, that could potentially mean a much wider region. But I have to say that most of our work is still very focused today on China, yes scenarios in China challenges.
Matthieu: Talking about what you just say, it is very interesting for everyone who is living in China or with connection with China, you say that we can leverage innovation in China to go global to adapt it to the world instead of the reverse we saw like 10 years ago. You’re in China long enough to see the change, could you elaborate more on a couple of cases where you have seen an innovation which is Chinese or made in China, I’m thinking about QR codes in China of course, but linked to mobile in your industry with your cases that you have been able to leverage the fact that it’s a very mobile first industry and mobile first economy sorry in China? I know if you have a couple of cases that he would be very interesting to know.
Thomas: Sure. So actually in my case, I’ve been a mobile specialist in China, a mobile innovation specialist for 17 years, I started in Japan. And when I was in Japan working for operator there, I discovered already 99 QR codes, recovered mobile wallets and code screen phones with rich media content which we could do a lot of things with that. And of course it was on a totally different sets of technologies, different phones, Japanese phones, and I constantly say that QR codes were invented in China, but I can definitely say that adoption, and there is ash and what people do, what companies also do with those is that it’s probably where the innovation really lies and where you can really talk about China first.
So through both the scale of the markets and the inventively of the businesses involved here because they’re working from a y-shaped basically so how they look at their daily problems to solve and they look at it differently from a different angle, the innovations are really there. They have not invented QR codes, but they use QR codes more and better than pretty much anyone else on the planet.
Matthieu: Do you have other cases that you feel China has been served to use so still innovation to adapt to use something?
Thomas: I can think of a lot of things, but perhaps one that will be the most interesting for everyone here is mobile payments. You just have to look at share size of peer-to-peer online to offline or mobile commerce payments, wherever it comes from, China’s really leading the way. And in terms of numbers, I mean, just comparing China versus the US, totally dwarfs the US when you look at those graphs if you compare to China, so you see you create big transactions happening over mobile and going super fast in China.
In the US, it’s kind of like still stagnant in comparison to that. So it’s very sustainable that perspective it’s not a… you know, it’s not an important point to look at because mobile payments define transactions, define business, and they helped to define experiences and customers, and shoppers experiences in there are different ways than what happens to the rest of the world. So social commerce in particular on a platform such as WeChat is what our clients and our teams are thriving on and working with and for quite a few years now and for about 4, 5 years. And it’s just amazing what can be done with social commerce and social CRM and how it can help really our business, our clients, develop their business.
Matthieu: When you’re talking about social commerce and social CRM, is it about selling through social networks? Is it creating, as you said, apps iteration on social networks? What is it exactly what you call social commerce? Is it to leverage KOL to sell social marketing?
Thomas: Yeah, no, it’s always something that is super clear that anyone understands when they live in China, but something that’s nobody quite understands when they live outside of China. Because the other social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, and the others, LINE, Kakao, are not really geared the same way as WeChat is in China, right? So let me just summarize in this way by explaining that WeChat in China, it’s postal of services. It’s not just a social network; it’s my mobile wallet, it’s my postal services. I buy my train tickets through WeChat; I buy my groceries through WeChat. And the reason really is that WeChat has built an app that’s actually an operating system for building services on top.
So as a mobile company in China, what we see is clients not asking us anymore to build native apps, iOS or Android apps, they ask us for building WeChat mini-programs. And for us, it simplifies my life a lot because WeChat provides us on this API, all these tools that enable us to build really quickly very, very smart mobile services, but on top of that can deploy it and share it really easily over social networks.
So if you’re doing the right thing, if you’re building the right services or selling the right product over WeChat, then it spread like fire because of word-of-mouth because of the shared shareability of many programs over the social network. It’s a bit like if Facebook wanted to become an operating system where we could be those applications to do pretty much anything. It kind of did that in your desktop days where you might remember the Facebook apps, but it missed totally the boat of mobile.
As soon as we move our app of Facebook appeared and all these applications disappeared, and at the same time, WeChat which was of course protected in the Chinese market, is well-protected market as far as the internet, you know, is concerned. WeChat developed a mobile wallet, developed API to anymore anybody in a very open way it’s open to anybody to develop any services that it like, and it kept doing that year on year on year, improving their platform at superfast speeds. So from this site being in China, when you look at Facebook, we’re finding them pretty slow at developing the right features and the right tools to become something like WeChat. So now when we meet international clients that have to explain to them what WeChat means in China, it’s quite difficult to download the app to live in China, that’s really what you have to do to interact with people and to really understand what it means from a customer perspective, from a user perspective to use WeChat and to do things on WeChat.
Matthieu: So when talking about social commerce, is mainly basically leverage an app or social app and going through this app to sell and to use the payment system. And so that what you can much social commerce because I guess in the West when you talk about social commerce, they will think about KOL, they will think about how to drive traffic to your website, and the transaction will be on your website on the platform like Amazon whatever.
Thomas: Correct. So I think if you compare to Facebook, Amazon and other platforms, WeChat functions very differently. I don’t think… I think it’s fair to say that they haven’t been trying to be a master team media promotion platform, they’ve actually trying to preserve privacy for their users from the start, but they’ve developed a lot of functions and features that enable users to interact with offline, scanning QR codes that’s one thing we’re talking about, paying for food, restaurants, splitting the bills, collecting coupons and it could show, at the stores, but also buying directly through WeChat.
So if I go to a fancy restaurant or maybe more of a fast food restaurant for sure, today I could scan the QR codes as I arrive at the table and basically order and get either staff or maybe even a robot in some restaurants, you know, bring the food to my table and, you know, split the deal with my friends, and all these pictures over a mini program that sits on WeChat. So this is what I talk about WeChat with the portal of services that enables my life, my offline life, through a digital enhancement or digital tool that’s super powerful. And I think everybody else that’s, you know, doing social media outside of China should really be inspired by what happens in China because I think otherwise, they are risking to miss the boat, and that’s basically what as professionals we expect to see and looking forward to seeing because it’s always interesting to see newcomers coming in with new ideas, with innovations that really transform people’s behaviors and lives.
Matthieu: So as I understand, social commerce is pretty much WeChat commerce in China, and would you have some best cases, some best practice to share on how to do e-commerce through WeChat? You’ve talked about coupons, you talked about using the API of WeChat, you talked about word of mouth, so word of mouth is KOL I guess, European leaders, as far as I understand so far, it’s very difficult to use the system of WeChat advertisement to get a good ROI on it.
Matthieu: The targeting is not as great and precise as Facebook. I think Facebook may have been better on this point. And so the still the pending question for a lot of marketers, a lot of companies, how do you seven WeChat? Is it through the mini-app you produce, you create? Is it really interaction? Do you have best practices to share?
Thomas: Yes. I think our approach is really starting from innovation, starting from users, what really are the published source for users in a particular business context or in a particular life scenario, whether it’s for example shopping, whether it’s participating to events or to anything really or booking a trip to a specific place. Innovation on native apps iOS tablets, we come in and define and design those services, those interactions using our processes and tools.
And the promotion components is something we don’t worry so much about because I think in our business, we are in the business of expectation management and we focus on delivering the best experience we can so that we, you know, we make the user happy and in consuming the digital destination. And we are less focused on the marketing side, which is actually a very different way of thinking. I always used to joke to my friends from the marketing agencies that they overhype.
Matthieu: I see. So how do people… how do you… the users of the app you are creating, how do they do find out for the app? Do they go from search of WeChat or do you actually leverage the existing client base applying on your clients and you leverage then better interaction and the way you are saying, you’re including interaction of existing database of clients and at least for this specific case when you leverage existing database of clients and to interact better with them, would you have some cases to share with us about interaction which have been successful or which you see some momentum through mini apps to H5 you have developed or progressive apps as you said?
Thomas: So let me come back to the example I was explaining earlier. For example, so one of our clients, Pizza Hut, for which we delivered a whole WeChat experience, is called a super app, super WeChat app just because it’s an app that delivers all of the functionalities you would expect if you’re going to interact with Pizza Hut digitally. So you can of course order the food right to be delivered at home, you can also order a table when you’re on the way to the restaurant, find where the closest restaurants, and you can pre-order your food and be able to validate your payment as you scan that QR code on the table.
And the pre-ordering system as well as on a table or any system is just, you know, really convenience. It makes people save time; it helps also share and view what my friends may be ordered as they can also the table… A QR code on the table, sorry, and it also helps to redeem coupons so I can click purchase which is huge business for Pizza Hut, it’s really transforming the way Pizza Hut interacts as well with customers and do business with them. And I even get to split the bill at the end and decide which, you know, how much somebody to spend on to this amount.
Other apps that are very public e-commerce I’ve seen in WeChat for example, one’s called Pinduoduo, very fast growing marketplace within any program that itself sits within WeChat, right, if you follow me, leveraging not only an enormous catalog of products, we featured products pretty much every day, limited edition products that people care about and may buy, but also a lot of very user-friendly and unified functionalities. To find the volume is active a day, I get a little free cash that I can spend on buying product, so it makes… it builds enough stickiness into it, or if I share a specific product to friends who buy this product, right, then I will get rewards, I will get points or some free cash as well.
And so that kind of social commerce activities that are not just about posting on social media product, but really believes name social communities to buy together or to interact together around products and services and content and games even are WeChat have managed to achieve to do. Very interesting, very, very complex, very rich, very sophisticated and I think the rest of the world is probably 10 years behind where China is today.
Matthieu: Talking about Pinduoduo, it’s independent of WeChat, right?
Thomas: Yes and no. It is an independent company and service to WeChat, it was actually an app and the mini-program, and today we believe that from the numbers we see that the most of that growth comes from there WeChat mini program by far and that’s because the service is thriving and developing through the social network and on assured unity features and also supported by the fact that Chinese people spend their life on WeChat.
Recent numbers show that WeChat represent 34% of the mobile Internet data network in China and I feel if we compare for example what Facebook means in Europe or in the US or in other parts of the world in Southeast Asia, Facebook is nowhere near half of that. So Facebook is very important, it’s really already impressive what Facebook does manage to do and what Facebook is elsewhere, but it’s really a media where WeChat is a portal of services and new operating system to build social services.
Matthieu: The name of the company Mobile Now group and you created a company in 2009. I think the iPhone was created in 2007, right?
Matthieu: So you were very early in naming your mobile company in China ‘mobile’ when I guess it was pretty early when people thought that everything will go through mobile. Could you talk about it, about how you saw it quite early actually that you would call your company Mobile Now with this direction on mobile?
Thomas: Yeah. I mean, I… I mean, my personal stories after leaving a school and university both in France and in the UK, I landed somehow in Japan as I mentioned earlier, Tokyo of all cities, just a fabulous city to be in; still today, but it was a family city to be in the 90s just because of many things including mobile technologies. And I guess as I was looking for what to do in my life is just hit me on the face.
And I’ve again, been a mobile specialist in China and mobile innovation professional for 17 years, working for large agencies, communication, and innovation agencies around the world, first helping evaluators then helping handset manufacturers or banks or FMCG start to look into it. And then today, we basically see uses for pretty much anything. And digital has become mobile, or mobile has become digital. When I start to Mobile Now, it was really hard still to envision that people would use websites less, that they would be using mobile phones more, but it’s really Apple and Android that made us believe that that was possible back there.
And it’s true; I started a mobile company in China super early just when iPhones were not really selling officially yet. I remember there were about 1 million iPhones in a country of 1.X billion people so it was a very low penetration rate and China Mobile was not ready yet to officially sell the iPhone. And we’ve been very lucky because of year on year iPhone and Androids… Apple and Android developed amazing products and technologies, China became number one market in the world in no time, they sold phones like pretty much like shortbread, and Chinese people started to learn to use their phones and develop services that made sense for themselves.
And probably got faster because the leap forward merely from somewhere and, yeah, so I think that’s the way and I see how things, the mobile trends in China, you know, looking back have developed and I guess in a way unlucky, but in another way, we saw it coming, and so that’s what we call a company Mobile Now.
Matthieu: In such an industry where things are changing fast, I guess when in 2009 you still had a lot of BlackBerry, you may have tried to work with Windows as well, and then you had Android and iOS taking over. And think actually fast, you talk about Pinduoduo, you talk about WeChat, WeChat is about, I guess 6 years old, I mean, the momentum is about 5 years something like this, even it may be older actually the creation of WeChat.
So how do you keep being up-to-date? How do you keep knowing what is good to develop? You said that now you don’t develop the local estimating app, you develop more many programs and also progressive websites and apps. Is it the clients who are actually coming with questions and then you actually react? Is it yourself, you’ll do your own research, and you investigate? How does it work? Maybe it’s both of them. Could you explain it to me how do you manage this constant change?
Thomas: Yes, sure. From my perspective, of course, clients and every stakeholder bring their inputs into your spectrum of things, but it’s really when you look at users, and when you are user-centric that you’re able to catch those, I would say those threads of opportunities and innovate on top of that very early stage. It’s pretty easy, and as an innovation agency, we always have to represent the users, our clients, customers when we meet our clients and let them realize really what is innovation meaning for their customers or their users.
So this user-centric enables us to catch for example things like when WeChat explodes in terms of usage and opens up services to be able to catch them then and then develop the right strategies or the right destinations and the technologies and the platforms that come behind that. Of course, that’s one of the other aspects is to be very agile from a technology perspective. So we have a very strong focus on technology and restaurant team that when you see people using certain technologies, they are super curious, they go in there, they check the frameworks, check what can be done to keep it simple. And that’s how we can then enable our designers and employees, so they were also so.
So it starts really from users from the user perspective. Clients are of course initiating these projects, and they themselves have to deliver a mandate first, they have to have a strategy that says, “I want to be doing something great on mobile,” or, “I want to do a fantastic platform to solve my clients or my customers problems,” so that used to come from them. But they are not really coming up with those strategies early stage, that generally happens when they have been convinced somehow that, “Yeah, oh, something is going on there, let’s get on board.” We act earlier than that, we, you know, follow the trends much earlier. And I think it’s pretty typical of an innovation agency, yeah.
Matthieu: Following what you are saying about the team that learning new ways of actually developing, you have offices in Changsha, Hangzhou, could you elaborate a bit more? I think you’re one of the only agencies I know that have offices in Changsha.
Thomas: Yes. The reason why we want to spread this across various cities in China, and it’s, you know, very modestly is just 3 cities, we’re not really spreading across the zillion of cities and opportunities that are to tap into fantastic talent in China. But the reason why we are doing it is to… there are 2 reasons really. The first one is to access talents that are not always available in one city, and there are many different skill sets that are needed to deliver the kind of work that we do.
And the second one is to ensure that we stay relevant to a large market like China. So a Chinese person from Shanghai and the Chinese person from Beijing on Hangzhou, Dali, and Changsha, think very differently actually differently and live very differently and it’s very important for us to stay in touch with the different type of City, Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3 you have in the market. So talent access and relevance to the market are one of the key reasons. The reasons why we need specifically Hangzhou and Changsha are pretty much led by our teams.
So the way it’s happening outside is we have a developer based in Shanghai wants to go back home in Changsha and we, this was years ago, 8 years ago trusted him to build a team around him back home. And that team is grown over 8 years to be extremely skilled and bigger and stronger and delivers amazing work to us. Hangzhou is a slightly similar situation; there’s actually absorption that happens, so we absorb the team, we acquire the team in Hangzhou that has also amazingly specific interesting skill sets on agile development and backing full-time technicians. So don’t want to bore you with very technical things but those are the things we need to perform for our clients and those are the real reasons why we operate in those specific cities, yeah.
Matthieu: How is it to work with 3 offices? I mean, you are 48, so it’s not like 100 people, how do you work with… how is it to work remotely and with different offices? I guess it is adding complexity, but it’s adding so some better life/work balance at the same time, how does it work?
Thomas: So we… yes, we… I think we can move in many ways because we work in mobile technologies in China and we work in design so actually the work we do scales very fast. So we do not need to grow our teams members to be 100, 200, 500 people, and actually to me, this is a good thing because it makes my life a lot easier in terms of managing the human side of things, managing teams and ensuring they are happy thriving for the kind of work that they do at Mobile Now. You were talking about work/life balance I think it’s my biggest learning as an entrepreneur in China and a leader to my team that work-life balance is an essential thanks for retention for keeping people in my company.
Perhaps because of the type of people we hire smart skilled and senior and they themselves appreciate immensely being able to evolve and develop their after the skills or their science, you know, in a place that helps them do that but also where they can live their life and have a personal life and great work/life balance. So I think this is something that we appreciate and that we get our clients to appreciate as well and, you know, it’s basically where we will get it. So it’s a lot fewer growth prospects for us from a number of people perspective so that we can keep the right growth balance and ensure that we do things right and quite important in our trade.
Matthieu: Only 2 managers are Street offices and your being in Shanghai, are you have you read the thing? Have you there are a lot of books talking about working with different, different places remotely when you have your team spread over the world, I think about a book called we ‘Remote’ actually. Have you read things or it has been quite normal for you to manage this way?
Thomas: I think it comes with its challenges for sure but somehow with the union, we’ve built the process, the tools and I think people build a different skill set to communicate. So face-to-face communication and mobility being able to meet as in when face-to-face and travel from one place to another helps example a lot. I think this is very often, you know, something that people forget; it’s very important to do that.
And I think that the world is moving, I personally have to believe, it’s a personal condition that the world is moving towards more and more mobility and remote work. I would love to be able to work from the beach, you know, and just send emails and do video calls like here, I’ll give you a fantastic background, you know, and being able to be maybe smiling even more and be happier and anything bad work. So we’re not quite there yet but I think that’s a great goal, it’s a great goal to go for, right, to be able to offer this kind of work environments to your team, yeah.
Matthieu: To continue on your team, on your profile link, it says you’re a co-founder of this mobile company in China, but I’m not seeing the other co-founders, how many of you are you and how did you find your co-founders? How do you work together?
Thomas: Yes. I think one of the most important things for foreign businesses in China is to select partners and work with partners that can help you grow and can help you basically deliver on your vision and you’re your dream, and I’ve been very lucky on that perspective. So I’ve met my partner, my business partner through work actually in one of those large agencies we used to work with. So I think we met in Singapore back in the day and he just like me had spent even a few more years of Asia and me, about 20 plus years and I spent know about 17 years myself here, and we have the same outlook on life and on what the great agency should be.
So what made us really click is by being fortunate to meet and interacts in the previous business where we found each other and could work very well together, we decided that further down the line, we decided just to start a business together and that was just an amazing adventure to be able to do that with him. And I think… I don’t know what advice to give actually to find the right partners, I think it’s a matter of our feeling it, it’s a matter of trusting, it’s a matter as well of complementarity of skill set, so there’s a rational side to it. But I want to say. First, it’s about trust and being able to see eye to eye and have empathy for each other because that needs to last a very long time. Building a business is not easy and being able to yeah and, you know, rely on each other and trust each other is essential.
Matthieu: How long have you known each other before partnering?
Thomas: I think about probably 8 years, 8 years before starting in the mobile industry in China with Mobile Now group, yeah.
Matthieu: Okay, oh 8 years you have known each other, okay, I see. I think your partner is called Liam, right?
Thomas: Yes, it’s Liam Winston, yeah.
Matthieu: Yeah, and I saw him on your profile, he joined you 1 year after you started.
Thomas: That’s correct.
So when I started a mobile company in China, it was a 15 people agency, it was much, much humbler, it was me plus 1 plus 1. And actually, I have another business partner I started with originally called Jerry who was more focused on games. And we when we started our business, we’re having this dual business model, which is not necessarily the best thing to do but it worked very well for us. So we built our own IP and mobile games very early on. We had some amazing successes from a download and usage perspective, and we started to work with brands as well and delivered fantastic work for the likes of KFC and Coca-Cola and so on gaming and mobile game platforms. And when the market started to shift a little bit more towards transactional and e-commerce type of activities or service based activities, this was less of the liking of my business partner, so he… my other business partner, so he decided to take his own and focus on what his vision is.
And you have to expect that, you know, that’s part of this trust and empathy I was talking about. You know, as partners are not really locked to each other, I think that concept is completely crazy, it would be a really sad situation if it’s the case. I think you’ve got to be your own man and keep your own dreams, and when they’re alive, then it’s fantastic, you can keep on going for a very long time. So perhaps the last advice to give on finding your partner would be to make sure that there’s really a complete fit of goal and that you’re ready to do the same thing together for a very long time, not just for the first few years.
Matthieu: And how easy is it? Because you said you changed, so Jerry turned into the beginning and change then left, how easy is it to manage those changes? I feel as an entrepreneur in China as well that it is very difficult to have to choose to partner with someone then to un-partner with someone, how do, you know, a value? How do you sell the share? Do you give up on the share because you say you do not come, you are investing? What advice would you give to set up good like a shoulder agreement or agreement with as in a very early stage?
Thomas: Yes, I think a good agreement template early stage is necessary. So, you know, and the principles are pretty much established in the markets, the standard practices of course. So an active partner is rewarded in certain ways, and if a partner decides to spit out, that often comes up with a bunch of conversations and discussions. But I think it happened pretty well in our case since perhaps, again, in lucky there, but I think my business partner was very lucky in his other professional ventures as well, and I think perhaps that helped. And he respected also… again, back to trust and respect, he respected what I wanted to do, I respected what he wanted to do, and that helped us to move forward. I think sometimes new entrepreneurs in China get a bit scared, a bit too scared about that. I think, again, if you choose partners that have empathy and also the rights business sense, you can function in ways that are smart and that works for both sides, yeah. Perhaps also change is a good thing, right? It’s not always a bad thing to see change. So as an innovation agency, a mobile company in China, we embrace change, and as an individual living in China which is super fast changing, I almost have no choice than to love change or else, I don’t know, I should do something else.
Matthieu: One question about you, you know, your story before you started your mobile company in China you are not a tech person.
I saw on your profile you went to business school, when you are not a tech person, how do you start and how do you get enough knowledge without being a developer to start basically a mobile agency in China which is based on tech and development? How do you feel about that? I feel there’s a lot of changing concerns, questions that peoplfearlye want to go into tech but we don’t have this background, do you partner with someone with some who’s from tech? Do you hire people? And then how do you hire good tech people when you don’t even know how to check if they’re good? I mean, do you have this challenge?
Thomas: Of course, you know, I think it looks through learnings and making mistakes to be able to then do the right thing and surround ourselves with the right people with complementary skill sets. There are processes to do that, and those processes get developed over time.
So in the beginning when you start a business in China, things are super chaotic, you know, oh you managed to get the first temporary, you convinced one person to join and share your dream and get maybe underpaid for actually help you in doing that, and then a second one and then the third one. And things are really imperfect, but as the team continues to grow and as people by themselves decides to stay or go and develop the skillsets to work together, then things eventually work out really well. I think the luck that we’ve had is to be trusted by my clients that give us a chance. And I think the reason why that happened is they didn’t have many options to work with agencies like us in China back and then and still today.
I think that finding this type of skill sets and is not easy and also today it’s a very different story actually than when we started the business because we’ve got so much experience and learnings and libraries of codes and not so much design and design research and not so much about users and mobility that we are like, you know, quite, you know, what we do and we know our trade but, yeah. No, it is very hard to start, and I have to admit there’s been a lot of very hard nights this means blood, tears and amazing times. So it’s a life worth living because its intense in the right sense of the term.
Matthieu: Talking about the future of the mobile industry in China and I think that will end the China podcast soon, how do you see the next devices and next… the next platforms? We have talked about VR and AR in China, and then now not many people are talking about it. We’re talking about AI now, what will be the next platform you get ready for as you were ready for mobile in 2009?
Thomas: I think all the technologies you’ve mentioned are still in the early stage actually in terms of maturity and what it can do for people and when they can… and tools they can deliver for us. I’m not saying that AR isn’t cool today, but I think it’s going to get even cooler and it will feel the be and serve different purposes in the future than it does today, similarly with Al and with VR and with so many other technologies with mobile phones that keep on getting better.
But I think in general the concept of mobility, it’s a very long-term and forward-looking concepts in a sense that’s and we’re talking about devices, in the sense of think devices are going to get even closer to us, to our bodies, and she may be using, you know, glasses of course, implants things that get into my skin. I am absolutely not scared about any of these things because I believe they’ll help me live actually a better life, provided of course that the data and data privacy is managed properly.
But I’m an optimist; I think this world is very often doing the right things in those cases.
So mobility, to me means how an individual who’s mobile was basically urban or not urban actually living their life, and I think the personal and personality aspect of mobility is very strong. For me, mobility also means now instantly, it also means, you know, services that are super enabling and perhaps we talked about some of it philosophical, but I have no issue with the concept of a company’s name and being focused on mobility and mobile, whether it’s for apps or WeChat or mobile internet or another type of data-driven and service driven stuff in the future.
Matthieu: It’s very early, and we are still pretty much into mobile currently and on the phone.
Thomas: I think so too. I think China’s mobile industry is bound to continue to surprise us year on year. I read a lot about this and I, of course, experiment a lot about what can be done, and I just see the power of mobility as being just going beyond what could be done with books or with TV or with another type of media or concepts. And I think mobility is the style of living, it’s not just a mobile phone, and that’s what I meant. I meant that more and more technologies and devices would help us and we talk a lot about IOT in China, but, you know, we’ve also seen some successful, some less successful glasses based technologies and often meets people that already have implants and tell me about the functionalities that are brought to them and this just amazes me. And I know that so much more will happen and what’s currently happening.
Matthieu: Thanks so much for your time.
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.