The startup journal XIII: Catch your rhythm

When your teammates struggle, a team leader knows. The last few weeks have been challenging for all of us and I’m quite aware of it.

The challenge started when we asked new writers in our team to start their own beat. They have to follow news on the subjects they are assigned on the sharing economy, gadgets, apps, VR and AI. They need to be familiar with companies who are key players in the market: tech giants including Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent, rising unicorns like Didi, Xiaomi, and Luckin Coffee, or unique startups. They need to react when there’s breaking news, and communicate with companies to conduct interviews and get answers.

There are people who are born to be go-getters who are able to ask questions fearlessly. These have the right DNA to be reporters. For those who are naturally shy, they need the courage to open their mouths. But you can train someone to have the guts they need for reporting.

I keep on telling my new colleagues who, for the most part, have never been reporters before, to focus on the outcome and forget who they are. It doesn’t matter that they are just starting. Every veteran reporter was a baby reporter before. What’s important is how to grow from there.

For every single task, you simply have to think about how to get the answers out. In an interview, an interviewer and an interviewee are supposed to be equal. The minute an interviewee agrees to an interview, he/she is obligated to answer questions. No matter if it’s a Nobel prize winner, Jack Ma or a seller on Tmall, they are all equal as interviewees. Never feel bad about asking questions, even bad questions. It is the nature of the job. One can improve over time to ask just the right question, and to ask sharp ones. But it takes time. Give yourself time and learn from each interview. But don’t repeat the same mistakes.

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War urged one to know the person they are negotiating with well. It works well with interviews, too. Knowing enough about the interviewee can help frame questions better. Most interviewees are willing to explain or address things they’ve said before. It’s almost flattering that what they said before is remembered and can keep on driving new conversation as they are being interviewed. Even if an interviewer can’t find enough information about the person, it can’t go wrong to ask basic questions about the company.

Tactics can change depending on the role and personality of the interviewees, though. There are startup founders who are storytellers. In that case, go get your anecdote. For others who are geeks and engineers, make your questions technical. There are people who like to face challenges and won’t avoid controversy – be direct with them. The toughest are the ones who are full of empty talk and only want to make advertisements. I usually call that bad PR. Because from a writer’s perspective, an interview like that can’t provide sufficient material for writing. Don’t feel bad that you only have 20 words to say about them. Dare to ask, dare to write – that’s the key.

And lastly, you need to find your own rhythm. Everyone has things they’re good at. Define your interests, follow the subject, keep practicing and getting better. Even if you’ve mastered something, that doesn’t mean you won’t meet challenges. Even if you are interested in something, you may still know very little about it. Break out of your comfort zone and start learning now. Channel your passion from a hobby into work.

Take myself for example. I love jazz because I love the liberty and creativity in the music. A song can never be played the same way twice, whether by the same person or different artists. There’s always change, new definitions, layers of things that can be added into the song. That liberty and creativity can be used in writing stories. Things are changing, and you are chasing them. By talking to different people, you are adding new things to the story, new explanations, gradually getting at the truth. It’s like peeling an onion, waiting to see its core.

A friend recently showed me a song called “The Wild One”, written by a girl who has won a national singing competition, Good Singers in China. In the MV, the 23-year-old from southern China stood onstage with her white shirt, a schoolgirl skirt and a knitted hat, almost looking like a clown. But when she sang, her lyrics about pursuing dreams, the struggle and the courage were so real. Her voice was like waves from the ocean. Her singing gave me goosebumps. No one can ignore that power, when a true story is being told from the heart.

(Top photo from

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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