The startup journal X: Finding momentum as a startup evangelist

Who said that startups are meant to be rising stars? In reality, there are challenges around every corner. But that doesn’t mean you won’t get momentum. The question is: how do you keep it going?

My teammates and I found some momentum last week when we covered The Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC) in Beijing. GMIC, which was first held in Beijing in 2009, is an annual conference that attracts tens of thousands of mobile device makers, game developers, entrepreneurs and investors in the IT industry from more than 60 countries. The scope and the scale of GMIC has earned it the nickname “China’s CES”.

This is not an exaggeration. Every year, celebrity business leaders and influencers from the global tech scene make their appearance in the capital and share their messages at the conference. This year, notable names out of about 3000 speakers include David Hanson, Founder and CEO of Hanson Robotics, Lin Bin, Co-founder and President of Xiaomi, and Gary Bradski, Co-founder of Magic Leap.

For many of my teammates, it was their first time at an international tech conference. They were excited to chase big names, type up stories in conference rooms and ask questions during face-to-face interviews. The biggest challenge for us is that too many things were going on. It was impossible to grasp everything and when an urgent call arrived, we needed to respond without having enough time to prepare for it. Still, our team filed 25 interviews and news stories on site as the most productive English tech media team at the conference.

As for me, I returned to GMIC, but not as a reporter this time. Besides coordinating interview opportunities for my colleagues and overseeing the topics that we cover, I moderated two panels at GMIC. One was about VR and gaming in front of an audience of about 1000 at the Global VR Summit, another was with three French VR and AR makers for an audience of 100 investors and tech bosses.

Many said that VR is the next big thing, though AR might represent the future. Deutsche Bank forecasts that by the end of this year, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive will sell one million units each, while mobile VR will win over 18 million users by the end of 2016. VR is indeed an exciting topic to discuss.

However, anyone except pros would sweat a little when moderating in front of a large audience. What questions should I ask to get the audience hooked? Will the panel provide any takeaways? Will the speakers to be able to get their message out? Will what they say be relevant to the audience? Getting to know the speakers and preparing questions is necessary. Ultimately, it depends on the theme of the panel.

When I heard that the VR and gaming panel was only 30 minutes long, I was sort of relieved. Because there’s no way that the discussion can be in-depth in that limited time period with four speakers. I had to abandon my previous plan to ask individual speakers the most relevant questions about their products. Instead, I asked three common questions and invited all of them to comment and offer their different perspectives.

GMIC VR Summit
Wu Nan moderates the VR and Game Panel

There are some cocky people who think it’s simple to prepare for a panel. As a moderator, you should should ask whether your panelists like your questions and what they might talk about. The worst case would be if the panelists know nothing about the question, get ambushed in front of the public, and start mumbling and making fools of themselves. That would be a failure for both the panelists and moderator. Considering that most conferences use live streaming and videos, an awkward situation could easily be recorded and spread to other parts of the world.

In reality, most entrepreneurs are busy and they have very little time to respond to your request. In that case, you can talk to them before the panel starts and get everyone on the same page. Still, even though I rehearsed the panel many times in my head, panelists sometimes say provocative things to steal the topic. When that happens, the moderator should push the STOP button and guide the topic back.

Compared to the large panel, I enjoyed moderating the smaller one much more. It was much more challenging to moderate. In my case, I was told that celebrity tech bosses and influencers including Gary Bradski of Magic Leap and Sangbae Kim of MIT Biomimetics Robotics Lab would be there. You can’t drop the ball in front of the big names!

My dilemma was that the information about my panelists came at the last minute. These French VR/AR makers are not very well known, so how can I ask questions to make the talk relevant and interesting to the tech bosses and another 100 investors? Luckily, I had half an hour to talk to my panelists ahead of time and discuss my questions with them. I abandoned my previous questions because two panelists had doubts about them. But I was able to formulate new questions and find common ground with all speakers. In the end, my questions were on two topics: the debate on VR v.s. AR – which will lead the future, and the global competitiveness of VR and AR makers in today’s market.

Finally, there were good takeaways from the 15-minute panel. It was satisfying to see tech bosses smiling during the panel and investors asked a lot of questions. I had found my momentum.

I often compare my career as a writer or now as a startup entrepreneur to being a jazz musician. The ability to evolve with sudden change and to improvise and create something powerful is vital. If you believe in what you do and keep trying, you can do it.

Do not question yourself, even if the whole world throws questions at you, as long as you believe in your mission. Respond to the questions and handle them. We’re living in a world ruled by the law of action and reaction. If you continue to drive positive force against the negative, the result comes naturally.

That’s why startup entrepreneurs are startup evangelists – because they have to be like that.

I am one of them.

Read The startup journal series.

(Top photo from Baidu Images)

Wu Nan

Nan is the Founder and Editor in Chief of AllTechAsia. She is an award-winning journalist with honors from Foreign Press Association in New York and Hong Kong Journalists Association. For years she worked for top-notch media outlets including South China Morning Post and the Wall Street Journal. She co-founded the NetEase Annual Economist Conference (NAEC), a leading economic forum in China. She holds a master's degree in Journalism at U.C. Berkeley and is a 2012 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. Write to her: nan[at]

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