Go East, Young Entrepreneur!


Rebecca Fannin < Rebecca Fannin, Contributor

Mid-career U.S. and European professionals in their 30s and 40s are making it in China and can’t get enough of the place.

Qunar founder Fritz Demopoulos at Silicon Dragon Beijing 2011 >
Fritz Demopoulos, 43, a Southern Californian and MBA grad from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management hasn’t mastered Mandarin, but has scored two Chinese Internet successes over the past decade. In June 2011, Baidu invested $306 million in the travel search engine Qunar he formed in 2005 and he stepped down as CEO, turning management over to Chinese staff. Demopoulos, who was born in the U.S. to a Greek dad and Austrian mother, got his start in China as business development manager for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., working alongside Wendi Deng in the late 1990s in Hong Kong and mainland China, and running information technology portal Chinabyte.com. He next joined NASDAQ-listed Chinese portal and gaming company Netease and worked closely with the CEO on a two-year turnaround. In 2001, his first China startup, sports portal Shawei, was bought by Hong Kong-based Tom Group for $15 million.

With his credentials, Demopoulos could write his ticket. He’s exploring opportunities to start another business or become an active investor, and plans to continue working in either Hong Kong or Beijing. “I don’t think I will be based at the debtor to China, ie the U.S.,” he says.

Richard Robinson, 43, hails from Boston and still drops the “r’s” with his accent though he’s long ago broken through the language and cultural barrier on a whirlwind tech startup career in China. His journey has led from helping to jumpstart the original Rupert Murdoch-funded Renren to a VP at wireless and entertainment player Linktone to spearheading seven startups in wireless technologies – and even running his Beijinger wife’s venture, Kooky Panda, a mini-Zynga mobile social gaming business, on a miniscule $40,000 budget before Infinity Ventures funded it. “In China, you can live on a penny and a big dream,” notes Robinson, who points out that burn rates or monthly costs to ramp up a business in China are about one-tenth of those in Silicon Valley.

The latest gig for the hyperkinetic Robinson is heading up international for Beijing startup Youlu, a mobile phone address book that leverages social network connections. Youlu’s CEO is rock star Zany Zeng, the former chief technology officer at China’s Facebook-plus site, Oak Pacific Interactive . “I really feel we have lightning in a bottle with this one,” he says.

Spurred on by seeing his friends and colleagues venture over to China and succeed, Silicon Valley tech executive Elliott Ng found he could not resist the lure to go eastward. In early 2011, the overachiever ‒ Harvard MBA grad, ex- Microsoft product manager, McKinsey associate, co-founder or director of four tech startups, and angel investor – joined Google to lead product management for Greater China. He’d lived in the Bay Area for 14 years, his wife had a full-time job as a pediatrician, and their three young boys were pretty happy where they were.

But in July, he and his family relocated to Beijing. “Silicon Valley is still the best, most open startup/tech ecosystem in the world,” says Ng. “Beijing is the center of Chinese culture, government and information technology.” The one drawback? Polluted Beijing air.

Family reasons have kept social media goddess and Taiwanese native Christine Lu from making the break herself. The 35-year-old single mother has her support network in Los Angeles for her six-year-old son, and she’s managing to stay very involved as an entrepreneur at the intersection connecting China and the U.S.

Her latest adventure is Affinity China, a private network that provides members access to unique luxury, lifestyle and travel experiences – an area that matches her interests well as a shareholder in two swanky Shanghai cocktail bars, CVRVE and M1NT.  She’s had some grass-roots experience in China as well, designing and launching two clothing lines for her family’s apparel business in the Mainland, launching an e-commerce site for women during the dotcom days, and working in Shanghai for five years from 1999 to 2004 as head of marketing for TV Shopping Network.

Her conversational Mandarin is a plus and quarterly trips to Shanghai keep her plugged into what’s happening. “If it wasn’t for my parents forcing me to visit China for the first time in 1995 as a freshman in college, I would be late to the China game today playing catch up. That trip changed everything. The entire city was under construction. There was no skyline in Pudong. There was no expressway to the airport,” recalls Lu. “But there was an energy, a feeling that in ten years, things were going to be much different . . . and I wanted to be part of it.”

Since moving to China in 1997 to study Chinese at Shanghai’s East China Normal University and marrying a Chinese woman he’d met on campus, suave Parisian native Bruno Bensaid, 39, has not looked in the rear view mirror. After working in finance for Cisco Systems from Singapore, he moved back to Shanghai and managed a tech accelerator that launched several venture-backed mobile startups from France in China, then joined French venture firm Ventech to do China deals, and in 2008, started his financial advisory group ShanghaiVest in 2008.

He’s well rooted in the tech community as a founder of the Shanghai chapter of industry networking group MobileMonday and an angel investor with Shanghai’s tuned-in AngelVest. “I’m very involved in business development with the startups I invest in,” says Bensaid, who’s recently backed a luxury travel network, a mobile apps engine for kids and a social marketing company with an all-star team.

Robert Strawbridge, 42, grew up on Long Island’s North Shore and spent summers in Newport, Rhode Island and Maine, later moving to San Francisco in time to ride the dotcom boom as IPOs were soaring. In 2008, he left behind his Cape Cod style home overlooking the Bay and rented an apartment in Beijing to catch the next big trend. A Hambrecht & Quist alum from the mid-1990s who later co-founded a sportswear manufacturer and worked as a VP at a Zurich investment bank, Strawbridge launched Beijing-anchored Sea Cliff Capital International in 2008.

The boutique merchant banking firm specializes in cross-border transactions with a focus on assisting clean tech and energy-related companies expand into China and raise capital. Strawbridge, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps for five years and was a combat diver, likens his China experience to “deployment” and says he’s in Beijing for the long haul.

As excerpted from Startup Asia (Wiley, Oct. 2011) by Rebecca A. Fannin

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PAS will close Genting casino if it takes over Pahang


PAS stands by its plan should Pakatan take over Pahang in next election

By ROSLINA MOHAMAD and NIK NAIZI HUSIN newsdesk@thestar.com.my

GentingFATE UNKNOWN: The casino in Resorts World may take its last bets if the Opposition wins at the polls — Pic: 1Malaysia Travel Blog

KUANTAN: PAS is pushing ahead with its plans to shut down the casino in Genting Highlands if it takes over Pahang in the next general election.

Pahang PAS Youth chief Sharil Azman Abdul Halim said the only thing the party would allow the Genting Highlands resort to run was the theme park and other parts except the casino and gambling-related facilities.

“PAS has no intention of closing the whole place down as the highland resort is a major tourist attraction,” he said, reiterating the party’s stand on the matter.

Sharil Azman is the third person to state the party’s stand after two PAS assemblymen, Syed Hamid Syed Mohamad (Kuala Semantan) and Syed Mohammed Tuan Lonnik (Beserah), stated recently that the party could not tolerate gambling and would close the casino if the Opposition took over the state.

Sharil Azman said this in response to allegations in the state assembly that PAS intended to close down the resort if the Pakatan Rakyat coalition captures the state at the next polls.

Backbenchers Datuk Chuah Boon Seong (BN–Mentakab) and Datuk Pang Tsu Ming (BN–Semambu) had raised this matter on Wednesday.

Syed Mohammed had clarified to the two Barisan Nasional reps that only the gambling facilities would cease operations while other tourism-related activities would continue.

Shahril Azman said it was the PAS Youth wing that had come out with the proposal to shut the gambling business.

Meanwhile, when met on the sidelines of the assembly sitting, Syed Mohammed said he stood by the Islamic teaching that gambling is a sin.

“The party’s stand on gambling is also clear,” he said, adding that the country did not need to include in its coffers revenue from gambling.

He said it would be up to the Pakatan leaders to reach an amicable decision on Genting Highlands and its gambling activities should the Opposition alliance rule the state.

He said non-Muslims were free to drink and gamble and Islam did not prevent them from doing so, such as at their homes and other places of their own.

Chua: Casino closure plan shows hudud will affect non-Muslims

PUTRAJAYA: PAS is contradicting itself when it claims the implementation of hudud is not likely to affect non-Muslims.

MCA Young Professionals Bureau chairman Datuk Chua Tee Yong said its intention to close the Genting Highlands casino would surely affect some of the 15,000 people working there.

He said the tourism industry would be severely affected if Pakatan Rakyat went ahead with its decision as the resort received some 20 million visitors yearly.

“How can PAS claim the implementation of the law would not affect non-Muslims?

“What would happen to the people working there? Wouldn’t they become jobless?” he asked yesterday.

Chua said the country would also lose about RM1bil in tax revenue if the casino was closed.

He hoped the rakyat would scrutinise PAS’ claim on the matter as the party was fond of changing its stand to suit the situation.

“DAP should state its stand now and not say the matter would be discussed if Pakatan Rakyat took over the state,” he said.

PAS’ intention to close down the casino was disclosed by a government backbencher at the Pahang state assembly sitting on Wednesday.

Mentakab assemblyman Datuk Chuah Boon Seong asked whether PAS had considered the fate of the resort’s workers should it implement the move.

Related post:

How Malaysia’s politics stay true while reinventing?

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