Tips for Thriving in China, Part II
Written by Caroline Zhou, Principal Consultant of the Institute of Executive Coaching China
Caroline Zhou, Principal Consultant of the Institute of Executive Coaching China has worked with more than 300 coaching counterparts at the director and executive levels. She has partnered with senior management teams across Asia Pacific to help executives develop an effective leadership capable of steering companies through necessary change. Caroline’s multicultural and corporate background adds value and diversity to her executive coaching practice www.iecoaching.com
4. Understand “face”
By definition no one anywhere likes to be embarrassed, but Chinese society turns more than most on giving “face” and, more importantly, not causing anyone to lose it. Face is a feeling. You want to make your contacts feel good and you don’t want to make them look bad in front of anyone. The frankness with which you speak to a Chinese person about a problem at their end might, for instance, be different when you are in private from when you are with their subordinates.
If you cause an important contact to lose face, you won’t be told but you might find your emails are no longer returned and that he is always in a meeting when you try to call. This happens all the time to westerners starting to do business in China. It can be fixed by giving your contact back their face, which will need to be with an audience, preferably the same one in front of which they lost face in the first place.
Much is made of “face” as a foreign concept to westerners but it’s not really that complicated. We all know how it feels to be made to look good or bad by someone else. It isn’t hard, therefore, to use that empathy to work out how to make ourselves understood without embarrassing or belittling anyone. And that’s a great skill to have in any culture!
Face can also work very much in the favour of overseas brands because of “face consumption”, buying products because owning them increases a person’s prestige. This is one reason, for instance, that younger Chinese love overseas brands.
5. Immerse yourself in your industry
You need to invest time in understanding the dynamics of your industry in China. As well as new competition you might encounter a company you know from doing business in Australia. Don’t assume, however, that it’s enough to know them from home. A company that’s a small player in Australia might be much bigger force in China and vice versa.
Things change fast in China and you will need to be across which companies are the rising stars and which are in decline.
Professional organisations are open to foreign businesses and are good places to learn, as is the local media where you can see who is getting the most exposure.
6. The importance of courage
Australian companies are often more conservative than, say, American companies when it comes to moving into China. Some will visit China many times over a period of years but keep postponing a decision to invest. Succeeding in China takes commitment and energy. Those who have that energy and are willing to take the occasional risk will make it happen. Those who invest but are too timid will struggle.
Growth in any new market takes courage but the potential rewards of the Chinese market could make it very much worthwhile to take the great leap.
About The Institute of Executive Coaching
The Institute of Executive Coaching works with organisations to provide innovative leadership and coaching support to improve the performance of individuals, teams and organisations. Since 1999 the Institute has trained more than 2,500 coaches and become known as one of the region’s most respected executive coaching, coach training and leadership development organisations. All of the Institute’s services are designed on the key principles of the Institute’s mission to empower people to fulfil their potential and develop the leaders of tomorrow. http://www.iecoaching.com/
C-suite spotight: Melanie Perkins, CEO, Canva
Who is Melanie Perkins?
She’s the co-founder and CEO of Australian unicorn online design platform Canva, who ultimately became one of tech’s youngest female CEOs, at just 30, and recently became a billionaire aged 35, making her one of Australia’s richest and youngest.
Why is she in the spotlight right now?
Because less than a year after securing a US$6bn valuation during the pandemic, which provided a big boost to business, Canva has recently more than doubled its valuation, securing a $15bn valuation, which makes Perkins a billionaire, according to Forbes. The valuation comes in the wake of a new funding round in the first week of April 2021 led by T. Rowe Price and Dragoneer and raising $71m. At the same time, Canva announced its business has passed $500m in annualised revenue, up 130% from the year before.
What is Canva and why is it so successful?
Launched in 2013 by co-founders Melanie Perkins (CEO), Cliff Obrecht (COO) and Cameron Adams (Chief Product Officer), Sydney-headquartered Canva is a free-to-use online graphic design product that allows users to create everything from social media graphics to presentations and other visual content, as well as offering paid subscriptions like Canva Pro and Canva for Enterprise, with 3 million of its now 55 million users taking paid subscriptions.
Accruing 750,000 users in its first year, following a number of rounds of investment including from Mary Meeker’s Bond Capital in 2019 and this month’s massive funding round, Canva now boasts 55 million users across 190 countries, with offices in Sydney, Beijing, Manila, and most recently Austin, Texas, and is valued at $3.2 billion.
And while the company was originally most popular with SMEs, helping them draft and design print and digital assets, it’s since grown to become a real-time collaboration suite that’s being used by big firms including McKinsey, Salesforce and American Airlines. In fact, Canva claims that 85% of Fortune 500 companies use the platform’s services. They continue to add new features and during the pandemic, added presenter video recording tools.
How did Perkins get there?
The idea of Canva came to Perkins when she was at the university of Perth, where to earn money on the side she taught students design programmes. Many of her students found platforms like Adobe complicated and frustrating, and the ideas came to her to simplify and democratise design, to make it more approachable and accessible, more collaborative, and ultimately to empower all in design. So, she and university peer Cliff Obrecht, who became Canva co-founder and Perkins’ husband, created an online school yearbook design business, Fusion Yearbooks, to test it out. Operating from her mum’s living room, the yearbook design business was a massive success, expanding to New Zealand and France, and remains the largest yearbook publisher in Australia.
However, Perkins did not give up on her dream to create a one-stop-shop design site and at one point spent three months living with her brother in San Francisco where she pitched to more than 100 venture capitalists, all of whom rejected Canva. It was following a chance encounter at a conference in Perth with Silicon Valley venture capitalist Bill Tai, Perkins was winning over major investors including Hollywood celebrities Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson and building out Canva’s design platform with a fast-growing team of tech engineers and a high-profile tech advisor, Lars Rasmussen who co-founded Google Maps.
It was in 2012 when things really kicked off however when Perkins and Obrecht found a tech co-founder in Cameron Adams. The same year, they closed their first funding round, which was oversubscribed and raised $1.5m, with Canva going live in 2013. In 2019, an $85m funding round led by Silicon Valley investor Mary Meeker’s Bond Capital gave the company a valuation of $3.2bn, before the most recent funding around in April 2021 leading to a valuation of $15bn.
In her own words…
"I think it's pretty important to know that every single person is going through their own trials and tribulations. Knowing that it's tricky for everyone, that any adventure will be filled with rejections and littered with obstacles – somehow makes the adventure a little less lonely. And it's most important for people who feel like they are on the outside to know this."