china entrepreneur Voices of Experience from 40 International Business Pioneers
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"We had a couple of crazy experiences that I don’t think will end here…. Our first customer was also potentially a competitor—a Hong Kong company. In the local business context, they were thinking that, hypothetically, any entrepreneur would try to cut the middleman out and directly get the customer. So, they felt threatened that we would steal their customer away.…

They knew we hadn’t got our business license yet and that we were very poorly funded. So, they attacked us. Their intention was to try to scare me out of China, and to force my staff to join them and work as perhaps indentured servants or something. To do this, they kind of played funny with the Police Bureau … and told them we had put espionage code into the telecom system, which is a very serious offense in China. It didn’t happen. But, especially at that time, who knows whether truth is the deciding factor in these cases in China?

So, one Friday afternoon at 5.30, the police showed up at my office and started taking my employees out for questioning. It was a very dangerous situation for us because I didn’t have a business license, so I didn't have ground to stand on. I didn’t have a lawyer, as I’d never really needed a lawyer before. I tried to call in some guanxi, but it was Friday evening. They managed to lock us out of our office.… They locked our door and put a seal across it. That weekend, I thought I was going to be arrested for espionage…."

  Interviewee, China Entrepreneur  

Have you ever dreamed of launching a business venture in the world’s largest, fastest growing, and most dynamic consumer market? Many adventurous businesspeople from around the world have dreamt this dream, and more are joining them as China matures, opens, and internationalizes.

But as the anecdote above shows, launching an enterprise in China can be fraught with more perils than even the most adventurous businessperson might anticipate. (For the full story of the fake espionage case, see Case Study : In Search of (Paying) Customers in Chapter 4.)

It was the stories which foreign entrepreneurs in China shared with us of their “big China dreams”—as well as their “China nightmares”—that inspired us to embark on writing China Entrepreneur: Voices of Experience From 40 International Business Pioneers

In the year following the release of our first book, China CEO: Voices of Experience from 20 International Business Leaders (John Wiley & Sons, 2006), the reception from readers worldwide was far beyond our expectations. Within 18 months, the book had sold 25,000 copies in English and had been translated into Chinese (both traditional and simplified characters), Vietnamese, Indonesian, and Korean.

Since the book’s launch, we authors have spoken to thousands of businesspeople in Asia, Europe, and America, all of whom share an interest in doing business in China. Most satisfying have been the numerous times we have spoken with business executives working in China, who have commented: “This is exactly what I went through when I got here. I’m going to give this book to my new directors coming into China from Europe (or the US, or Australia, or India…).”

But another message we heard quite often, whether we were speaking to business associations, chambers of commerce, trade delegations, or business school students, was this: What about small business owners entering China? As one Australian businesswoman said during a book talk: “I’m not GE. I’m just me. I don’t have an army of people helping me deal with the government here. What advice do you have for me?”

So, in 2008, we again ventured into the China market with our digital recorders in hand to collect first-hand accounts of foreign (non-Chinese) businesspeople who had succeeded in launching their own businesses in the China market. Using our differing strengths in academia and business journalism, we aimed to produce a meticulously researched, yet easy-to-read guide to starting and managing a successful small business in China. As with China CEO, we sought to draw upon Dr. Juan Antonio Fernandez’s strengths as a professor of Management at the China Europe International Business School, where he has taught since 1999, and Ms. Laurie Underwood’s 15 years of business journalism expertise (before joining CEIBS as Director of External Communications and Development).

More “Blood, Sweat, and Tears”

In crafting China Entrepreneur, we began by interviewing a select profile of business pioneers—expatriates who had successfully launched a business of their own in China, rather than executives who had been sent to China with the backing of a well-established multinational corporation. Although we had originally planned to interview the founders of 20 successful startups, we ended up talking with twice that number. Each interview seemed to lead to yet another pioneer with another fascinating tale of having triumphed over the business challenges that the entrepreneur faces in China. Several weeks into the project, we knew we were gathering valuable material for a second book. As one of our draft manuscript readers, Shanghai-based entrepreneur John Van Fleet, put it: “There is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears in these interviews.”


The goal of China Entrepreneur is simply this: to help non-Chinese businesspeople who are interested in doing business in the Middle Kingdom to clearly understand the challenges, risks, and opportunities. Our focus on small businesses and startups helps to outline the challenges faced by pioneers who start their own ventures, rather than beginning in China with the backing of a global company. As one of our entrepreneurs told us, “I think people should talk to other entrepreneurs. Recently, I was involved in a young entrepreneur organization. I realized that I should have been involved in it at the very beginning, because people here tell you the real stories. You hear real stories from people who have been through it before.

The purpose of our book is to collect and share those “real stories” and real advice from real China entrepreneurs.


I think people should talk to other entrepreneurs. Recently, I was involved in a young entrepreneur organization. I realized that I should have been involved in it at the very beginning, because people here tell you the real stories. You hear real stories from people who have been through it before.

[entrepreneur quote source]

—Susan Heffernan (Australia), Founder and Managing Director of Soozar

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