Everyone has their own version of the “seven year itch”. Mine resulted in me quitting my beloved job as a journalist to found a startup, AllChinaTech.com.
I’m lucky that I started an exciting journey to build a unique new media platform to provide foreign audiences interested in learning about or investing in the Chinese IT industry with the most insightful, exclusive information and the most appealing stories.
Despite the current economic downturn and the turbulence in the Chinese stock market, the momentum of the Chinese IT industry remains. This sector is the driving force of the country’s economy, backed by a robust market. An e-commerce and digital services market worth about two trillion yuan served over 600 million Chinese Internet users in 2014, shows official data. The Zhongguancun technology hub in Beijing has been hailed as the new ‘Silicon Valley,’ with one industrial survey showing that as many as 9000 new startups appeared during the second half in 2014.
But the reality is that there’s not a single publication in English that can cover the full scope and reveal the true depth of the Chinese IT industry. Most foreign newspapers and agencies in Beijing only have a few tech writers to cover their beat and they are mostly focused on chasing big companies like BAT, Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent. There’s simply too much news for just a few reporters to follow. What about the new, emerging Chinese startups, smaller IT companies and the personalities behind the scenes? That’s a gap that we aim to fill, chiefly to empower investors and entrepreneurs with timely news and analysis on the Chinese IT industry. Our second aim is to create a website for stakeholders across the world to exchange ideas about innovative technology, industry trends and investment opportunities in China.
We want to make this our new mission, but first, we had to give up things that were essential to our lives. Long quit his position at the largest Chinese internet service portal, Tencent, where he spent almost a decade building up his career.
As for me, I left the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the largest and oldest English newspaper based in Hong Kong. My reporting work there got me a prize for excellency in feature writing from the Hong Kong Foreign Press Association shortly after I joined the newspaper in 2013. After that, I continued to find writing for the paper fulfilling work. I hopped on a plane every now and then for a field trip to write about some of the most influential people in China – a women’s rights activist or a controversial businessman. I’m used to the heat of going after the biggest stories – a nationwide kindergarten drug scandal and talking to the family members of the people onboard MH370. Giving those vulnerable people a voice to tell their stories, calling on society to respond, and having this lead to new opportunities for victims is the core of journalism and the most powerful motivation for a journalist. I had no regrets.
But I started to feel tired. Constantly chasing scandals and crises is mentally and physically exhausting. Inside the newsroom, the debate about how to transform an old newspaper to the web 2.0 era also affected journalists like me. I’m a true believer of new media based on my studies at the graduate school of Journalism at U.C. Berkeley. When my class graduated in May 2008, the financial crisis had greatly shaken the news industry. Not many U.S. newspapers were hiring. Instead, they laid off many experienced reporters. Berkeley’s J-school had prepped its students for the transition by training us in multimedia skills. The ones who were equipped with the most advanced multimedia skills were the winners who landed jobs with the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and even the New York Times. This is because all major newspapers were moving toward online.
The change in the news industry began later in China, though at a much more rapid speed. Thanks to Wechat and Weibo engaging millions of Chinese and the fact that two thirds of the Chinese population are using smartphones, mainstream Chinese media have all crafted their websites and launched their apps in the past five years. Meanwhile, a handful of new media focused on Chinese IT news are rising. Jiemian, Zhihu and 36Kr all provide appealing and insightful reporting on the Chinese IT industry. Interestingly, some of the new media founders are also former journalists. Six months ago when I started to cover the IT sector for SCMP, it was mind blowing for me. The inspiration I got from the startup founders and the power that technology has to change people’s lives got me hooked.
When I decided to quit my job and establish AllChinaTech, I was confident that with the right talents we will create a successful platform. I just needed to find the right soldiers to work with us. I want to offer the best of what we have to our teammates to build the best new media platform on the Chinese IT sector. The dream belongs to every one of us.
Sure, we also see risks. We are afraid of failure, too. But so far we’ve got very capable team members on board. One chose us over a top foreign news agency. Another left an established new media platform to join us, seeing our potential. Every day we are motivated by our teammates and delighted to see all of us making progress.
I feel like I’ve been reborn. After shaking off the boredom of the “seven year itch” at my former role, every day I’m filled with hope as our startup journey continues.