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.
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
The evolution of the site
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.
We all know outstanding Chinese movies from the 80’s and 90s like Ju Dou (Chinese: 菊豆) and Raise the Red Lantern (simplified Chinese: 大红灯笼高高挂), Red Sorghum (simplified Chinese: 红高粱) from director Zhang Yimou.
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 called Still 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.
While traveling, I visited China (trip through memory lane), Korea (slept in traditional house) and Spain (Catalan wedding) so not that much traveling. This year was mostly about working hard, living frugal, meeting family (sister had a son) and meeting friends.
Achieved almost all my new year resolutions, but this years list seems shorter than last, although i’m reloaded to finalise my ideas for the next.
Happy new year and I wish you the best for 2014!
Popular blog posts in 2013:
By visits, total:
- Learn to read and pronounce Korean Hangul in 2 days
- Multibooting OSX Lion & Ubuntu Linux on Macbook 4,1 without CD
- Finding an Apartment in Shanghai: How to pay what the locals are paying
By visits, 2013:
At the Catalan wedding, the bride threw her bouquet in the air.
We left our house in the early morning (4:30 am!) to travel to Tarragona today, visiting the wedding of two dear friends of us. An international Japanese/Spanish couple that live in Shanghai. They host a party in Spain for the family of the groom. Nevertheless, a small delegation of Japanese did fly over.
At was a great party; Great food and I was amazed with the dancing. The elderly danced the waltz, the younger ones enjoyed salsa and the Japanese seemed keen to do horse-dancing on Gangnam Style. The Catalan received their Japanese, Korean and Dutch guests like family.
Over the last few years, Sanoma thew some huge parties for christmas. However, considering the large downscaling the company went through in 2013, a huge party didn’t seem in order. However, there was room for a small party with a DJ. Nevertheless it was a great (and jam-packed) evening! I managed to borrow a google glass v2 from a nu.nl journalist for a while, the first time wearing glass was very interesting. Drank way to much at the party but had great fun.
I was invited to be a panelist at the Korea Symposium at the Hogeschool of Amsterdam. Since there were mostly students in the auditorium, curious about doing an intern in South Korea, I’ve elaborated a little bit about my time there, even though it’s almost four years ago already.
At the time we were studying in Sweden, we were offered to pick an exchange study in another country. For me that was a chance to experience the culture of my wife, Suna. When we flew to Korea in the spring of 2008, I was excited to start studying at the Korean Development Institute (KDI). This university is known for both business and political studies. I still wonder if KDI expected two blonde Scandinavians or if they were okay with us flying over.
After the study, I was fortunate enough to extend my stay with an internship at ING Korea before I had to go back to Sweden.
Finding a job or internship
Some students showed some interest in finding a intern or job in the country. When walking around in Seoul a lot of people will inquire if you are a English teacher, as most foreigners are. If you really want to work there, don’t be picky. But frankly, if you have a skill which can work for big companies you have a bigger chance. It also helps to speak the language, although this is less of an issue in international companies. Be aware that you have to work longer hours and have less days off compared to Europe.
It’s recommended to study some Korean as there aren’t many company that would hire a non fluent speaker. There is a small chance at an international company but studying a little bit will help you tremendously. There is a school in Amsterdam which has a class every saturday where you can learn, visit their website for more information.
During my internship at ING I experienced a lot of interesting events. In a company of 500 locals, I was one of 10 foreigners. Unfortunately, this also caused some friction with some. One particular colleague wasn’t shy of showing discontent, all until we ended up talking friendly over soju (Korean liquor). He then spoke friendly to me about his feelings and we became great colleagues afterwards. I learned there and then that solving problems are easier in a beer-hof opposed to the work-floor. (A theory that I wasn’t able to bring to China afterwards)
I was really sad ending the internship at the time and threw a party for my dear colleagues.
Once established, my wife shook hands with a former president of Korea, I met the Dutch minister of foreign affairs at the time.
We made it a habit to network and visit business and political events. This also helped me find a job. For one, we joined the Dutch business club in Korea and joined them on many occasions. Since there weren’t a lot of Dutch people at the time (likely about 200), it was easy becoming close with most of them. We joined the club to the BA cigarette factory and to the DHL hub. They also organize a Dutch Orange ball event every year. There are many business groups these days, including the Amcham Korea.
Watch the full video here
Ran the ‘Bruggenloop’ in Rotterdam together with my dad and Gijs. The fifteen kilometers went smooth and I finished five minutes faster compared to last year. Apperantly there aren’t a lot of vibram shoes yet as people like this photographer insisted of taking a photo of only my shoes. There was one real barefoot runner, kind of risky because there was glass on the court. Anyway, Gijs thought it was funny how my shoes got attention and snapped a picture of the scene, right in front of stadium ‘de kuip’ in Rotterdam:
The map above shows the climate around Asia in a real time map.
See the map for yourself at: http://aqicn.org/map/
It reminds of the NASA imagery from 2010 with a similar view.. Not only air quality needs to be considered, Isabel Hilton talked about the soil problems China is facing with on Sinica podcast last week (18 minutes into the show).
Pictures from Shanghai
Last week, friends from China have been posting some sad pictures of the foggy/smoggy city. Business insider gave four possible reasons for the recent peak. One factor might be the upcoming christmas season. Ofcourse car usage increased but the problem isn’t one of China’s, it’s due to China being the factory of the world, it might be a problem for the world.
Hope these problems will get less, I’ve been tracking PM2.5 levels in China ever since 2010. Initially through the numbers put out by the US embassy. They seemed to go down at the time, but perhaps only due to the Shanghai Expo at the time.
Ran a 15 km round from Culemborg to Everdingen, with Suna following on her new bike. A great start of the Sunday. Even though it’s generally quite dark this time of year, today it was bright and very nice outside.
i’ve left dailymile for runkeeper. my account is here.