Mike Michelini quit his Wall Street job in 2007 to find his luck in China. He found a lot of that, in the product sourcing and ecommerce and as a well-known blogger and podcaster on China business topics. He also founded the Shadstone consultancy firm that became a stepping stone for business in China. Club China talked business with the American-born serial entrepreneur. “Whatever your business in China is, you can’t do it the same as you do in your home country.”
When Mike Michelini was working for Wall Street bank in 2007, he was serious about his job. But what he really enjoyed was his side business of selling online via eBay and his own websites. He was buying directly from Chinese factories via remote discussions on chat and email. “But I wanted to move faster. I went to China and visited trade shows and factories; I felt that to learn and grow my knowledge I had to spend more time in China.”
Mike Michelini quit his job and moved to Shenzhen to set up his own sourcing operations and grow his ecommerce business. Soon, he also moved into online and ecommerce marketing. He also found he had an interest in and a talent for podcasting and blogging. Mike became the co-host of China Business Cast and later started his own podcast and blog channel about business in China and other parts of Asia: GlobalFromAsia.com.
“So many people were asking me to share about how to run an Asia-based business for their trading and ecommerce businesses. Mikesblog.com is the personal blog I started almost immediately as I quit my job on Wall Street. My co-workers were amazed and wanted to follow my journey from quitting my job to doing my own business in China full time. It was also a great way to keep my family and friends up to date on my journey in entrepreneurship and of course, moving to and living in China.”
Building on his own experiences in sourcing and ecommerce from China, he started his consulting firm Shadstone. “As I already had my own ecommerce business and brands running, I felt the opportunity to create a service company for sourcing from China and B2B back office operations. It stands for the Shadow and the Stone - the Shadow a company outsources to, and the Stone they can rely on. Shadstone creates content for ecommerce companies. We are the engine for the content for the products and the blogs and the podcasts of businesses we are working with. As we prefer to be a boutique agency, we are selective on who we work with and normally have strategic alliances setup for long term win-win collaboration.”
What are the hardships of doing business in China that newbies tend to underestimate?
“First: you can’t do business the same as you do in your home country - sure, Chinese people respect the Western way of thinking and doing business, but if you do not adapt to the Chinese way, you will lose.”
“Second, inefficiencies to you may just be the way they need to be. When I first came to China I felt that things were ineffective and I could optimize them. But what I learned was, this is there for a reason and we are Westerners cannot always think we will “Fix China”.”
“Three: always show your value - in China business, you need to always show you are adding value to the business deal. As soon as you look like an excess part of the business links, you will have people working to cut you out. Contract or no contract, it is about keeping the supply chain as direct as possible. Keep this in mind and make sure the business you build has keeping your value shown and clear in the business model for the long term. This means your brand, your network, your trust built up in an industry - as examples.”
The big difference between 2008 and now is that China is not an only a good place to source products from. It is a hugely interesting market!
“True! Cheap China left since 2008 and now it is about selling in the domestic market. I wish it was an easier project to encourage people to do, yet I would say if you are serious about selling into the Chinese market - similar to what I had mentioned in the mistakes above - point 3 - make sure you have something that positions you in the business model for the long term. You need to have an already established brand on Amazon FBA or in the Western world than picking a no-name brand to sell into China. Chinese are smart and do their research, they want the same quality products Westerners around the world are buying. If you are looking to sell in China, hot industries for foreigners are food and beverage, consumables, and anything in education.”
How do you manage to find new customers every time?
“Through my blog and podcast. People have gotten to know me over the years. Because of my long-time experience on the ground in Asia combined with my extensive library of free and paid content online, those who are ready to do business with me already know what they want. As I said, I am not building this for quantity of clients, but instead working with a handful of long-term strategic alliances where it is a win-win relationship.”