Bo Ji on how Australian startups should approach doing business in China

- February 9, 2018 3 MIN READ

Bo Ji is the Assistant Dean of the Cheung Kung Graduate School of Business. He is an inspiring speaker and entrepreneur well versed in the economics of China’s market and how to expand in the startup game. He has a strong background in international business and education, leading divisions at Fortune 500 companies including Pfizer, Wrigley, and Mars, and has taught at some of the world’s top business schools, including NYU, MIT and HKUST.

What influenced you to a pursue a career that has included working for Fortune 500 companies including Monsanto and Wrigley?    

I was born and raised in Shanghai. I left China for America for graduate school in 1994, and was fortunate to work at some of the world’s leading companies in their respected sectors. This experience shaped me tremendously in developing a global view.

In your current role at CKGSB you assist businesses to understand China in view of successfully doing business there. What are the main obstacles for Western companies entering the market?

The top three obstacles I see are culture, policy, and partnerships.

What are the most common mistakes companies make in trying to get a foothold in China?

The top four mistakes are failure to localise, failure to compete with local brands, picking the wrong partner, and not playing nice with the government.

What are the first things companies looking to enter China should do?

They should join our China Start program, which is a parachuting approach of reaching the market. They could also consider joining one of the incubators or accelerators with local help. They should assemble a small but capable local team, which will help them tremendously to understand culture, business systems, regulations, customers, and avoid many possible mistakes.

What sort of time frame should they give themselves to gain ground?

It depends, obviously, but three months is a reasonable time frame.

How eager is China to work with Australian companies, compared to those in the US and Europe?

Things coming from Australia are generally regarded as good; I see no difference in businesses from USA or Europe.  

What areas of business hold the most growth in China for Australian companies?

China is eager to work with Australia in many areas such as wine, iron, farming, dairy, tourism, technology, and more. For instance, I have a friend with a large dairy company who recently ‘immigrated’ 5,000 cows from Australia to China. The happy cows are now eating the best grasses brought from California, and Chinese consumers drink the milk from these Australia cows living in China! This is quite funny but real! Maybe soon, we will have more Australian cows than Australians in China.

What are your predictions for future areas of growth in China for companies trying to do business there?

AI, fintech, blockchain, healthcare, medical devices, pharmaceutical, human nutrition, agriculture, food, consumer products, fashion, personal electronics, clean tech, energy, and more. 

You created the China Start program to bring global startups to China. You’ve promoted it in Europe, is Australia on the agenda?

Of course, definitely! That’s why I am here right before the Chinese New Year (February 16). Last September, with the support of SSE, three incredible Australian companies [Sonder Design, MySpringday, FarmPay] joined our China Start program. They had a great experience in China and I hope more Australian startups will join us in our June 4-8, 2018 China Start program.

How is the startup culture growing in China?

I must say it is very exciting. The Chinese are very entrepreneurial and risk taking and the Chinese government is doing its best ever to encourage and support startups, in the framework of funding and policy, and more.

We now have nearly 5,000 incubators, more than 15,000 investment funds (PE, VC, Angel). Also, more and more western startups and growth companies are seeking to expand here. Our school alumni are mostly first generation successful entrepreneurs, and their business makes up one fifth of the country’s GDP. They are looking for ambitious startups and projects to invest from the West.

What areas of innovation are you most excited about now globally?

Blockchain technology: I think it will really change how data is recorded and used. It will solve the trust issue and apply to many industries. I am upbeat about the electric car, cleantech, and health industries; those technologies will create a better living for us in the years to come.  

However, I am worried about AI technology.  Some of the AI development is good; it can improve efficiency and make things more convenient for us. But some other AI development is troublesome, and I think it will lead to major disasters in the world and create disharmony in our human society.  

Bo Ji will be speaking at the Sydney School of Entrepreneurship in Ultimo, at the Macquarie University Incubator, and at the University of Newcastle in Newcastle next week about how companies can benefit from a rising China and strategies to succeed in China.

Image: Bo Ji. Source: Supplied.