By Philip Webster
Conducting customer discovery for a product aimed at the Chinese market while you’re actually in China is an eye opening experience. After weeks of refining our business plan in the U.S., the chance to talk directly to potential customers has been invaluable. Yesterday Justin and I were fortunate enough to pitch an abbreviated version of our business plan to a delegation of business and educational leaders in the city of Bengbu. Afterwards we received a lot of feedback from students who attended the presentation.
One student, Vivian, came right up to me afterwards and told me exactly why our business wouldn’t work in China. When I defended our plan she continued to elaborate on exactly why it wouldn’t work and she convinced me that we did indeed have a few holes in our pricing scheme and our bring to market strategy. Luckily, Vivian is a marketing major and had a ton of great ideas on how to fix the product and market to young people in China. I’m hoping she’ll be the first unpaid intern for our company! (Vivian was also instrumental in encouraging our table at dinner to drink a concoction that I referred to as Dragon’s Blood, that began a series of hilarious and bizarre events that Justin blogged about yesterday.)
A huge lesson we’ve learned from pitching this idea in Bengbu and doing a brief ‘elevator pitch’ for so many strangers is how important it is to clarify the actual problem you are solving. I think the version of the pitch that we’ll present at the competition on Friday will be very clear in that regard, but I’ve definitely had the experience of explaining the business to people and they respond with a resounding “So what?”. If you don’t make it clear what the customer pain points are and how you’re product or service addresses them, then you just have a cool idea and not a business.
In the middle of writing this entry we arrived at our hotel in Beijing, the Beijing Marriott, and it is pretty spectacular. The Smith School is traveling in style in China.
Back to customer discovery.
We’ve had some really good conversations with other people we’ve met in Shanghai and Bengbu about how they learned English. (Our pitch is for a company that helps Chinese students improve their English language skills.) They’ve definitely given us some great insights on how English is studied here and the methods people use to improve outside of school. We’re incorporating a lot of these insights into the pitch and hope to squeeze in a few more interviews here in Beijing before the competition on Friday. I will say the language barrier has made customer discovery a bit more challenging. There are nuances and subtleties that are sometimes difficult to ascertain.
Earlier today we toured Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. It’s easily the coolest thing I’ve seen in China this week. I definitely have to come back here as a tourist soon so I can spend the whole day exploring.
Okay, blog time is done for tonight…I’ve got a pitch to work on!
Phillip Webster is a 1st year MBA student at the Smith School focusing on entrepreneurship. Originally trained as an actor and musician, he received a BFA from Northern Kentucky University and an MA from Aberystwyth University (Wales). After working onstage and behind the scenes in the arts for many years, Phillip enlisted in the U.S. Air Force to become an Arabic translator. He graduated from the Arabic program at the prestigious Defense Language Institute and served four years before returning to civilian life. Phillip is currently pursuing entrepreneurial ventures in the arts, language and education sectors.