Thoughts From a Louisiana CEO Doing Business in China – Part 1

Yellow JacketI’m a little more than halfway on a 14.5-hour flight back from my second trip to China in 3 months and I’m writing this article on an iPad wedged in between two other people. But I’m happy.  Happy to be headed back home to what I know as “comfortable” and also happy to have experienced and accomplished so much on my 10 day trip along with my co-founder, Seth. When SBN asked me to write a “diary” style post about my experience abroad I thought it would be a great way to share my experiences and business dealings with others from the Louisiana startup scene. Firstly, I could help others learn without having to deal with 14 hour fights and taxi drives who don’t speak with English (even though this is something you have to experience for yourself at some point to get the whole effect), and second, well, it gives me something to do on this flight because I just finished a 440 page book and 2 movies and I’m feeling restless. I like to simplify things so let’s stick with 2 takeaways (for now) from my most recent China trip, which spanned 6 different cities and every form of transportation known to man.

1) Striking similarities and still some differences: Life in modern China isn’t as different as you think it would be. From the modern and intelligently designed metro systems that we took almost everywhere to the skyscrapers that stretched as far as the eye could see to the Porsches and BMWs in abundance to the mass abundance of smartphones and laptops things look strikingly similar to our life here in America…I was wondering if we are the ones that are living the humble life. These days, the middle class in China is making more money and spending more like we do best here in the US. Largely because of technology, these people communicate, work, entertain and relax the exact same way we do. Now this doesn’t mean their lifestyle is exactly the same because its not. From nasty bathrooms, to cramped public and private spaces, to class and gender inequality things are still different and make me very grateful for my lifestyle back home.

2) The government still runs the show…for the most part. While you can’t really see it, there is an overarching feeling that the government is involved in almost everything. There are so many skyscrapers, industrial parks, bridges, and high speed rails going up that its overwhelming the first time you see it and then you just start getting used to it. There is just no way that private Chinese companies are making these investments and reaping the benefits. From talking to locals and reading independent news media I have begun to find out that almost all of this infrastructure is state financed, owned and run or some combination of the above.  Many of these “new” buildings lie completely dormant, the industrial parks are labels that are primarily there to incentivize more American manufacturing and the transportation connects all of this government-inflated infrastructure. By the way, there is no Facebook, YouTube or Twitter; the government blocked it and paved the way for some Chinese entrepreneur to just duplicate these technologies and slap a different name on them. These are just some of the small ways that you can see the government’s hand involved in daily life.