Becoming A First-Time Founder In China. Four Questions With SJ Chen (Founder, EXUNIQ)
I’m fascinated by the wholesale change taking place in China’s economy. I’ve heard this shift characterised many times as a country transforming itself from a population of shippers (exporters) to shoppers (consumers). An interesting by-product of this move is the rise in Chinese entrepreneurship.
I recently had a chance to ask my friend and colleague SJ Chen about his experience as a first-time founder in Guangzhou, China. I first met SJ when he visited Australia on a fact-finding tour as he contemplated new markets to enter. SJ reset his career in corporate marketing at Shell to capitalise on a significant niche market; helping companies entering China’s vast economy to become ‘China-Ready’ using digital marketing. His venture EXUNIQ (open this link in Chrome for auto-translated version) has a unique vantage point to ensure new market entrants are optimising for culturally and politically sensitive product marketing and distribution. I caught up with SJ recently to understand more about his entrepreneurial journey in China.
1. So you’ve spend a large portion of your career working in a multinational. What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
During my 18 years as a marketer, I spent 13 years at Shell working from a graduate trainee in the sales team to a global marketing manager in the lubricants category. I am very thankful for all the experience and opportunities that Shell presented. It was a great period of professional growth for me.
I was inspired to start up my own business because I gradually learned that I was operating in a relatively protected environment and I was wanted to embark on a new adventure and test all my learning and experience in the “real world”.
2. Much is written about founders and new ventures around the world but there’s a disproportionately low amount of insight about entrepreneurs in China. What are the top challenges for founders in China?
Being a founder has reminded me that I am still a “beginner” in many things. I’m constantly learning and when it comes to the main challenges for founders in China, I think they include:
- Staying informed about the rapidly changing social and business dynamics in China. This can affect the strategic decision making of clients and their local business partners.
- Dealing with various government departments to ensure all relative permits are granted and regulations are adhered to
- Identifying, hiring and retaining the right talent
3. EXUNIQ is an interesting idea. What inspired you to bring it to life?
Internet technologies can solve a large range of traditional marketing pain-points that I encountered prior to founding EXUNIQ. The vision for our clients is to enjoy the benefits of pragmatic innovation across all of their marketing priorities from strategic brand leadership to integrated digital marketing. Our venture started with a small team and has grown as we’ve proved our value. It’s a very satisfying way to live life.
4. What advice would you give to founders wanting to do business in China?
- Identify your weakest link and find local partners who excel in those areas to help you achieve your vision.
- Be ready to fail multiple times and be prepared to keep fine-tuning your business model and products.
- Hold on to what you believe. Vision and values in business have never been so important.
If you’re interested in contacting SJ to continue the conversation please email him directly here and reference this post.