These weekly Korean lessons in Amsterdam are taking a large part of my weekends, so when non curriculum events occur I usually get on my way. However, last week, they organised a calligraphy workshop.
Since my father-in-law considers calligraphy more then a hobby, I felt obliged to partake. Whilst I didn’t expect it, calligraphy is quite fun. There is also something tranquil about putting hangeul or a hanja character on paper. Together with an official stamp, our first attempts looked like the real deal.
Jönköping business school (JIBS) asked me to share some experiences I had regarding the Fashion startup I cofounded in China. I shared some basics about moving to China, and also how to validate your riskiest assumptions, with the startup as a business case.
Validation forces you to think about all aspects of your company, and then identify the riskiest assumption you make about your customer. Because, you don’t know your customer. You might not even have met your customer.
So what you do is that you take your assumption and create a Minimal Viable Product (MVP) and test the response of people. Dropbox did this by creating a video of how the service could work, to see the reaction. Techcrunch post here: How Dropbox Started with a minimum viable product. Probably they were able to distill a lot of information from the reactions of the people.
Don’t just ask them, would you use this? I did this for one startup and most people said they would buy product X. When the product was out, they didn’t open their wallets. Get them to do something for you: Pay money, share on twitter, at least some confirmation that they are really engaged.
I love the video’s of the mapgeek CGP Grey. He did a great video about the complexities of the UK naming, and the differences between the Dutch, Holland and The Netherlands. (which I sent to all people who get confused) While watching the Hong Kong/Macau video above, I was mildly interested but the best part is that he used one of my Flickr photo’s at 2:15. Glad I have contributed in some way to his video’s, long live creative common :-)
Shall we watch a movie this weekend? Yes sure, but which one?
Watcha.net is a movie recommendation engine from Korea. I’ve just subscribed and had to vote on 50 movies that I liked. Now it’s already throwing some good recommendations to me. Building the profile is quite addictive, browsing around the old movies you watched in the past.
There are similar websites like this, but this Korean one seems really good. I’m really curious how this profiling works; is it capturing my movie taste though meta data of the various movies I clicked, or just throwing similar genre’s of previously selected movies? Better vote for a few more movies to be sure…
I like the GUI, link with IMDB top movies, festivals, filmhouse, and little trailers that can give you a snapshot. And better yet, you can recommend movies to your friends too! The Android app is here, the iPhone app is hopefully in the making.
Started the month with a business trip to Helsinki at the Sanoma headquarters. Even though I met a lot of colleagues that are working there, it’s was great to see the office for myself and see a bit more of company I work for. Sanoma became big by the newspaper ‘Helsingin Sanomat’ in Finland and is now a leading company in news, tv and learning in ten countries, but predominantly Finland and The Netherlands. Full history of the company in a neat slideshow here.
Train depot in Simpelveld
I’ve also visited Limburg with Suna and her high school friends who were visiting. My personal highlight was a tour at the miljoenenlijn. Actually, just drove the car to an industrial building besides the track. No people around, until we made our way into the depot. Just look at these magnificent locomotives. They are authentic and old. Still used during the summer on the track for tourists, money is raised to refurbish them further during the winter. We got an improvised and enthusiastic tour by one of the engineers who has been working on one of the trains for over 9 years. He told the stories of taking the train from London to Istanbul in 1924; The girls were surprisingly intrigued, the people dressed nicely, lot’s of leg-space and good food seemed to fill their appetite to get an idea of the romantics of train travel during the time.
Maastricht with Suna
Besides trains we also explored Maastricht, Brussel and Brugge. Of which Maastricht seemed most interesting to them, didn’t do much more then walking around and visiting monuments; The city has a better appeal to foreigners compared to the touristification of cities like Amsterdam and Brussels. Also Brugge is still quite authentic. My Belgium highlight was to bring some beers home as a souvenir.
It seems like unitedstyles.com is down. Looking at that 404, is this the end of the startup that I cofounded? I never did put my thoughts about those years on this blog.
It started with an idea; The webshop was inspired by the look-book generation of online shoppers, who follow bloggers online for their inspiration.
Together with three european entrepreneurs, I co-founded UnitedStyles in 2011. Whilst others could focus on the fashion and marketing aspects, I was in charge of building the website from scratch and building the IT team from our office in Shanghai. We started in Shanghai as the city offers both expertise in fashion creation and IT development.
Our office in Shanghai wasn’t in the city center, but it offered lots of space
We started with a small team, expanded to about 20
We launched in October 2011, at Techcrunch Disrupt Beijing and became finalists, meaning we could present the company to the techcrunch audience (300k people) twice! Still one of my proudest moments to date, here’s the article they wrote about us. It really kicked things off; Shortly after, we were chosen by FastCompany as one of the top 10 most innovative global fashion companies. In the wake of all this attention, we managed to hit the national press several times in all the markets we were operating; The Netherlands (nu.nl, telegraaf a.o.), Japan, Russia, Singapore and China (cbn weekly (first time to see myself in Chinese magazine)). This led to sales directly, and also to return customers.
Here’s a youtube video my wife receiving her first unitedstyles dress. The process of co-creating and delivering fashion at doorsteps worldwide was a thrilling experience. Every dress had it’s own story. At one point we had about twenty people working in our office. From fashion designers to stitchers to software developers. It was really fun seeing the (mostly Chinese) IT people talking about features, and the (mostly western) fashion designers about feelings.
In terms of technology, I think the web application was quite revolutionary. In the wake of HTML5 and increasing tablet usage, offered a design engine in SVG, which worked well in all the browsers at the time. Furthermore, designers could upload with Adobe Illustrator and we then allowed customers to generate 3D previews of their dress, skirt or coat on our webshop directly.
However, after the impressive launch, the startup company seemed to hit a wall. As we wanted to grow, we needed investment money but it turned out to be hard to find VC’s in China willing to invest in a company run by foreigners. Slowly, the expansion opportunities seemed to dry up and things got rather difficult.
The frustrating aspect of this was that sales where still coming in. And besides that, aspiring fashion designers seemed to have found our site interesting to practice designing with, leading to high returning traffic. Well, it seems to be down at the moment.
I want to thank my former team, family and friends for putting up with me while we were working on this company six days a week, deep into the nights! The demise of a startup isn’t fun. But I guess, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, and even though nothing tangible remains, I did learn a lot from the experience!
* Don’t focus too much on the technology, get a cashcow. I focussed way to much on enabling 3D and the latter. We could have ‘faked’ a few steps and increased turnover with a star product to wow our potential investors in the future.
* Stay small while you can. We dreamed big and put our stakes high from the start. If I would do it again, I would take it slowly
Sinica interviewed movie critic Raymond Zhou and produced an episode filled with movie references. Since I was listening to this episode on the go, I decided to listen back once more and lookup all the movies they were talking about. Since I went though that trouble, I figured I might as well publish them over here.
Thirty years ago, all movie production was owned by the government. It didn’t matter if your movie was successful, you were given a task by the government to create that movie. In 1990′s the Chinese film industry went down with a nosedive. The 30 billion attendance rates from the late 70s were reduced to less then 1% of that. Then Hollywood movies came in on revenue sharing basis and revived the business. At that point, the only Chinese filmmaker who contributed was Feng Xiaogang who put out many ‘shallow comedies’ which appealed to the audience. And then China came back in 2002 with the Zhang Yimou film Hero, putting in a lot of famous actors in one movie, which nobody liked. However, there are good Chinese movies in the past decade:
David Moser mentions a Hong Kong movie called Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons (Chinese: 西遊·降魔篇) where a lot of weird stuff was happening at the end of the movie. It’s a new kind of art form, not imitating Hollywood humor. Pure fun. It fools you at every single step of the way, where you think you know what will happen but violates your expectations every time. Some violent scenes though.
Keep Cool(simplified Chinese: 有话好好说) a low budget, hand held camera filmed is a very funny film. Beijing, earthy slightly macho northern Chinese humor. It’s a lot like a sitcom in terms of structure.
Lost in Thailand (Chinese: 人再囧途之泰囧) One Chinese blue collar worker and white collar worker who keep on bumping in to each other on a journey in Thailand, the story tells something about current situations in China. People compare it to hangover II, it’s slightly similar. It was a commercial successtory, just below Avatar.
The Sun Also Rises (Chinese: 太阳照常升起) recommended by Raymond Zhou to see Chinese history from the past century. This is a commerical flop becuase it’s so difficult to understand. However, if you try to feel it, you will get a lot of things. They then talk about about Let the Bullets Fly (simplified Chinese: 让子弹飞) which to me seems like a Chinese copy of the famous Korean movie The Good, the Bad, the Wierd.
Jeremy Goldkorn mentions a movie called In the Heat of the Sun (simplified Chinese: 阳光灿烂的日子) and they regard it is still the best movie made in China. In that movie, people can pick the political intonation. Some say that the director is a great admirer of Mao Zedong.
Devils on the Doorstep (simplified Chinese: 鬼子来了) is banned in China. It’s surprising that these movies get produced in China, they get so far to get the movie in the can but then SARFT only approved it for international film festivals. To be later banned completely. They then discuss that banning a movie in China is one of the most effective ways to promote it, reducing the commercial capabilities completely. They also mention ’The price from europe is a curse’ – Movies that do well in Europa generally don’t do well in China as they are thought to be boring.
Kaiser Kuo recommends A Girl from Hunan(Chinese: 湘女萧萧) is showcased in a lot of film classes. It’s about a beautiful young woman in her teens who is married to a toddler. She ends up having an afair and all the evils of the superticios society emerce. Brutal beautiful film according to Kaiser Kuo. He also mentions Peacock(Chinese: 孔雀).
Raymond recommends a movie calledStill Life (Chinese: 三峡好人) showing the migration of 2 million people for the Three Gorges Dam. It shows miraculously what happens on the human level when people are forced out of their home town.
He also recommends Back to 1942 (Chinese: 一九四二) which is currently running for the best foreign movie at the Oscars. About the Henan famine where 3 million starved to death in 1942 in the eve of Japanese invasion. It’s also to hint to other episodes in China which cannot be told otherwise.
The past year I was able to focus on work but managed to travel a little bit as well.
At Sanoma Performance Based I was involved with the launch of a new site called leef.nl, an online medical store which supports prescriptions for hundreds of pharmacies throughout the Netherlands. Immediately after launch we found that the site wasn’t performing so well, so using technologies like CDN and Redis, we managed to turn this project into a well performing website. During the summer we started a project called Kieskeurig.nl international. In which we took the famous Dutch product comparison concept, rebuild a lot of the architecture and the first international versions, the Polish (Expertcen.pl) and French (expertprix.fr) were launched in the fall. Next to internationalisation, we also released a mobile friendly version of kieskeurig.nl. I’ve been promoted to an IT manager, a challenging position in a fast growing cluster. At the company, we had a lot of fun activities like go-cart racing and dinners together.
Besides work I did have some time to keep on studying Korean. My goal to talk with my mother in law was achieved, as I was able to have (small) conversations with her in Korean. I still have a long way to go though but the Korean classes are helping.
I’ve ran the 10km run during the Rotterdam marathon and the bruggenloop in Rotterdam.