The success of Orange Community: short pitches and trusted referrals

In a large second-tier city like Chengdu, where can one find a good law firm that specializes in labor law? A Spanish-speaking Chinese interpreter? A food and beverage importer to do business with? A local designer who can deliver cool designs for a t-shirt brand? ‘The Orange Community’ has become the answer. With international and Chinese members, this fast-growing referral network has become a big hit in less than two years. 

The Orange Community offers more than most business network initiatives that one can find in almost every Chinese city. Thanks to its practical setup and some extremely effective formats for presentation and referral, the community has become the premier way in Chengdu to get the right business contacts. The community was initiated by the Dutch business community in Chengdu, with the NBSO organization, Maxxelli Consulting and About Asia as its founding members.  

“At first, it was mainly focused on Dutch businesses, but based on the success, we soon decided to widen the circle”, Ronnie Kuppens, Managing Partner of Maxxelli Consulting in Chengdu insists. Today, Orange Community is the fastest-growing business network of Chengdu, with over 200 – both international as well as Chinese – members and regular visitors. About Asia founder Michiel Roosjen, who leads the sessions with his colleague Ivo Schalkwijk: “It the quickest, the most practical and effective and the most fun way to build your business here in Chengdu”.  

Breakfast at Kempinski 

The Orange Community works like this. Almost every week, a group of 30 to 40 entrepreneurs have breakfast in Chengdu’s Kempinski Hotel. Instead of having a leisurely chat, they sit down and get down to work right away. At high pace, a long series of one-minute business pitches get delivered, often followed by a question about the need to find business partners or suppliers or an introduction in an industry or to a specific company. Before the breakfast session is over, the best pitch is rewarded with a prize. 

Michiel Roosjen: “This is a great way to get to know people in a very short time.” Ronnie Kuppens: “And a lot more effective than walking around at a network party and mostly chatting to people you already know.” The early morning sessions, starting at 730 AM, also offer five- and ten-minute contributions by speakers. Before the hour is over, dozens of real referrals have been made.  

Roosjen: “If you happen to know a law firm that someone is looking for, or a Spanish speaking translator that someone else wants, or a local t-shirt designer that was mentioned in another pitch, you put your name and info on a card and we’ll make sure it gets to the right person. Every meeting, dozens of these referral cards are being exchanged. After the meeting, people make notes and make WeChat connections. After a fruitful meeting, everybody gets back to business.” At next week’s breakfast, members share their testimonials about how successful referrals have turned out and the whole procedure with pitches is repeated. 

Efficiently build network 

The Orange Community has proven its value. Ronnie Kuppens: “A growing number of businesspeople find this the best way to efficiently build their network and get practical answers to their needs. Finding a specialist like – for example – a photographer in Chengdu is not necessarily difficult. But finding a photographer that delivers good results and that another entrepreneur has done business with? That is the kind of referral one can find at the Orange Community.” 

Business in second-tier cities 

Doing business in a second-tier city like Chengdu can be tough, says Michiel Roosjen. In settling and managing his About Asia business here he experienced less competition here than he would have in a large city like Shanghai. “On the other hand: the Chengdu business environment is less sophisticated. It can be hard to get things organized and to get the right people to do business with. I have experienced that it is fairly easy to open doors in a city like Chengdu, and that it can be hard to make next steps and build your business. For that, you often need the support of fellow entrepreneurs who have traveled the same path or know other people that can help.”  

Kuppens agrees wholeheartedly. “In the past two years, I have seen hundreds of great connections being made by people that otherwise would probably never have met. I see people attending for the first time and leaving after breakfast with a big smile on their faces, eager to follow up on the referrals they received.” As Michiel Roosjen adds: “Trusted referrals, as trust in the Chinese business arena is a very important aspect of doing business. The Orange Community has proven to be a rich source of this type of valuable information and contacts.”

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