On my way to Shanghai. I find myself seated in the miraculously comfortable chair at the airport, my tablet on my knees, answering my emails. Just the important ones. I am naturally disciplined at delegating tasks. If I postpone any of these, I would drown really soon.
Having too many emails for me is a sign that we are good at what we do, we are on companies’ business radars. I can remember a Skype call with an industry colleague who lives on the other side of the planet. “We have been watching and analysing you from day one!” he said. He implied the detailed analysis was positive and that we could take the next step in our business relationship.
I look over the edge of the screen. Another friend, whom I know from my childhood when we were scouts, and later coworkers in logistics - and I was also his Ph. D. thesis mentor - has entered the lobby. He, also, has found himself on the business side of our common field. We do not need to talk about why exchanging glances say it all. I watch him as he walks away. You can recognise a businessman by the way he optimises his luggage. Travel light! If possible, put everything in your personal luggage. No check-in, no waiting in line after landing, and, most importantly - no lost luggage.
Time for me to get on board. I step onto the plane among the last. You need to optimise time everywhere you go, and this is no exception. I use the time to reply some short messages.
Even before the taxi driver talks to me in Mandarin, my phone helps me translate the name of my destination. This will be the most important tool for surviving my trip. I had booked a hotel in a part of town where nobody speaks English, as I found out later. Ni hao (good day), píjiŭ pinda pinda (very cold beer) is all the words I have learned in my travels to China.
I watch this city of 24 million souls as I ride the streets towards my destination. I have been to China more than ten times, and Shanghai was always on my itinerary. Not without a reason. It is the commercial and financial center of China. Double-digit population growth for the past twenty years. More than 800 financial institutions reside here, and approximately 200 are foreign-invested. The Shanghai Stock Exchange is the world’s third-largest by volume, and sixth by the capitalization of listed companies, but first by trading volume of rubber, copper, zinc, and some other commodities. They attract the highest volumes of direct foreign financial sector investment in the Asia Pacific region, as reported by The Banker.
I’ve been looking forward to visiting the Transport Logistic China 2018 fair for weeks. The free ticket was purchased a long time ago, but still, I need to wait more than an hour to pick it up for the entrance. I use the time to browse information about the event, locate companies, and rethink my presentation strategies.
Once I’m in, I meet my Chinese partners who will help me sweep through the 40+ thousand square meters of the fair. We will need to optimize our time to meet as many companies as possible from the world of logistics and shipping. We have pre-arranged some meetings, and we will squeeze some more into our timetables. As many as possible.
The day ends very much as it started. While waiting, my Chinese partners explain to me something I have been observing for quite some time now - the WeChat platform. We who live in Europe only know WeChat as a chat platform, but it has many more features in China. Actually, the chat feature is the least interesting one! In China, it acts as an advertising and marketing platform and, what was the most interesting to me - as a payment platform as well! I was one of the few foreigners still using “old” credit cards or “ancient” paper money, while the Chinese are so advanced in this field - they only pay with mobile phones through the WeChat platform! The debate is dynamic and an hour and a half pass like a breeze, while we wait for the metro … Time sure passes differently here.
The third day at the fair. Dozens of meetings! God knows how many miles I’ve walked, but I wasn’t feeling tired. It is great to meet the greatest companies knowing that you are showing them something completely new and that your product is the first of its kind on the market. Their reactions are great, they let us know we are on the right path. Everybody knows about blockchain! What is more - they are all aware that process digitalization is unavoidable for shipping. Those who do not digitalize will soon be buried in the past.
When heading home I stop by at the local Starbucks Reserve Roastery at No.789 Nanjing West Road. What a sight! The first coffee roasting cafe in the world in a spacious 30,000-square-foot area! Again, there is a long line to enter. Sure, I’ll get used to it. But when I enter, all my doubts disperse. This is Starbucks 3.0. Coffee from all around the world is roasted, packed, and prepared here. The building smells delicious. The Sumatran kind is dark, strong, and bitter. The Kongo kind is brown, smooth, and feels lighter to the taste buds. The space, where they prepare the coffee, looks like a laboratory. Top design and excellent marketing, with extremely pleasurable services, make this look like a factory for making money.
The hotel lobby is again a homely place to sit down in the forced posture with a laptop in my lap, just like every other evening. Emails, conference calls, emails… At 1 in the morning, I notice the hotel noise is gone and I am all alone there. Another lesson learned - do not mix coffee from Sumatra and Kongo.
The last evening. I sit down with my associates from the past days at a rooftop bar. We watch the city stretch below us. A debrief after the logistic fair. Excellent! The amount of business cards is measured in centimeters, the meetings are not counted anymore, neither are emails that need replies. But today we rest! I deserve it, too …
I talk to a friend of a friend, who works in the IT industry. A Chinese national who is fluent in English, with a New Zealand accent. When I explain our blockchain solution, he gloriously lifts his hands and proclaims us “Kings of the World”. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Words followed and beer was the topic. In China, the craft beer production center resides in the former German colony of Qingdao (Tsingtao). I remembered the Beijing summer Olympics in 2008, when my friend and comrade from the national sailing team Vasilij Žbogar won the silver medal. While debating Chinese craft beer, I receive a short message from a friend - I am missing the craft gin fair in Portorož, where I live.
On the airplane to Europe, there is not much to do. There are emails, as always, documents to go through, notes to write, information to disseminate, action plans to forge. Yet, rarely, there is also a luxury that I indulge in - watching an interesting TED talk. This time it was by Bill Gross about the single biggest reason why startups succeed! He is a smart guy who started Idealab 20 years ago, and they have started over 100 companies since. Bill loves startups and he puts a lot of faith in them. They can, in his opinion, unlock the human potential for the future. So he analyzed companies he had worked for, and also some others - altogether 200 of them. Among these Flooz, YouTube, Uber, Pets.com, Instagram, AirBNB, Kozmo, LinkedIn, Friendster, and more. And he found out what factors account for startup success.
Funding - 14%. Well-funded companies only accounted for a 14% success ratio.
Business model - 24%. Bill emphasized that some companies can start without a business model and define it later. YouTube was one of them!
Ideas - 28%. That is how much the ideas accounted for the success ratio among his review sample.
Team - 32%. This was, as Bill found out, not the most important factor for a success story.
Timing - 42%. Ta-da! This was the most important single factor for success in business. All great companies have great timing when beginning their business.
Timing - this is exactly what we have in our hand, I thought. The shipping industry, and the whole field of logistics and even wider, supply chain management, is digitalizing, and networks are used to transfer information, improve production, to speed up trade opportunities. But we are also in great shape in terms of funding, ideas, our team, and business model!
I remember, in retrospect, the ride towards the airport, on my way back home, when I put together the whole picture. The decentralization of China started with beer when the craft breweries decentralized the large beer companies and brought freshness and interesting details into the world of beer. And then it happened to gin, also. And now we, CargoX, are decentralizing the internet - with blockchain!