Last Tuesday, as Shanghai’s air started to cool and trees lost their summer leaves, I hurried to the office of Chinaccelerator at 7AM. The big day had arrived – NewCo’s first time in Asia. 120 attendees, 20 company visits, in one day.
NewCo is the brainchild of John Battelle, the founding editor of Wired and who programmed the Web 2.0 Summit, the annual conference launched in 2004 in San Francisco as the tech world recovered from the dot-com crash. Instead of putting companies on stage at an expensive conference with rows of attendees engrossed in Instagram (in China’s case, WeChat), NewCo brings the participants into the companies’ native habitats, face-to-face with founders or senior leaders to learn what makes their companies successful.
“There was nothing like this in China before, where you get an inside look at the hottest internet companies, right inside their home offices,” said William Bao Bean, Managing Director of Chinaccelerator, the organizer of NewCo Shanghai. A company can be big in China without anybody in the West knowing its name, as Battelle remarked: “China has a plethora of innovation, with new kinds of companies taking on both local and global problems. We look forward to the opportunity for our international audience to get an in-depth look at business on a mission in China.”
For six weeks, the Chinaccelerator team was busy preparing for the city-wide startup tour. We were both unsettled and excited – no one had tried it in China before, and it could be either terrible or terrific. By design, NewCo feels much like a music festival. Companies share their stories in their offices in overlapping sessions, and attendees choose which companies they want to see. All NewCos in the 17 cities across the world follow the same basic format, but cities may implement the program differently. For Shanghai, we had organized NewCo around five “tracks” on five buses to manage transportation in a city of 24 million people sprawled across 6,300 square kilometers. Not to mention the program starts at rush hour.
When I talked to people about NewCo in the early promotion phase, the responses I got were mixed. Some were dubious of what a “visit” can deliver, others were excited to get out of the conference room. While some thought the “music festival” angle of NewCo was enough to get them psyched. If NewCo is modeled after a music festival, Track A was probably the headliner for NewCo Shanghai, with “BigCos” like Weibo and Qiniu Cloud, and rising “NewCos” like Zhoumo Qunar, Tezign, and Teambition. Twenty-five seats were sold out in just a few days. The other tracks also filled up quickly later.
After breakfast at Element Fresh, 120 attendees hopped onto five buses and hit the road running. Each of the Chinaccelerator teammates was assigned to be the “guide” for one track. I was with A, and the two dozens of us squeezed into a small, minimalist meeting room at our first stop, Zhoumo Qunar. In Feburary this year, the weekend getaway startup had raised tens of millions USD in series B round from Momo, and had recently landed a partnership with Disneyland Shanghai.
Founder and CEO Xiao Peng, in his black polo and jeans, leaned against a desk in the front of the packed room. With no PPT, he began, like speaking to a gang of friends he hadn’t seen in a while. In the audience were senior leaders from Fortune 500 companies, MBAs, VCs, and startup leaders. For the next 60 minutes, I did not see anyone dozing off. Some were busy taking notes, others were in contemplation. During the Q&A, people piped up: How do you keep your marketing cost low? What’s your main source of revenue? Do you have plans to expand internationally? I was sorry to have to end it, as we had to sprint for the next company.
“I actually signed up for Track A because of Weibo and never heard of Zhoumo Qunar. But it turns out to be such an interesting company, especially the founder Xiao Peng – he really opened himself up to the attendees, sharing his secrets to success.” Fei Wang, manager of Hello Haigui, a community for Chinese returnees from overseas, told me after the session.
Marketing at zero cost, sucking up your fans value, building a company on collaboration, studying cloud with real client cases, the on-demand economy of creative force… These are the five lessons Track A attendees learned on that day. The Track A bus took 25 curious and passioante attendees across 45 kilometers of land, gourmet chicken salad eaten on the bus, not to waste a single minute.
“I’m not sure what could have made it better. The visits were so well-organized. The participants were open and friendly. The speakers were very interesting,” said Scott Goldman, a senior leader at Duke Fuqua School of Business. And when we were stuck in traffic, a startup might have been born. Yibin, who just quit his job in San Francisco to try out his startup idea in China, had an engaging discussion with his neighbor on the bus. “My startup-to-be is pretty… technical. But [my neighbor] happened to be a techy guy and understood me. He has just reinsured my belief, my vision.”
Registration at the Chinaccelerator Office
When I finally had time to check my phone at the end of the day, my WeChat was filled with praises of NewCo, amidst slight complaints that we tired them out – but hey, we want to make every minute of your NewCo day count. Until next time!
Thanks from the Chinaccelerator family to all the host companies, sponsors, volunteers and attendees that made NewCo the 1st NewCo event in Asia, and special thanks to our partners Publicis Media, Caohejing, Verb, Pillar Legal, WeWork, Element Fresh, and many more who have supported us throughout the six weeks of preparation.