Apr 03

Shanghai Spring Break Trip

Last week my Facebook feed became clogged with “last spring break EVER!” posts from all across the globe.  In the meantime, I was in a class – in Shanghai – as a part of Columbia Business School’s Global Immersion Program.  We visited multinational financial institutes, manufacturing and production companies, real estate and mining firms, the ecommerce giant Alibaba, etc.; we also met with local alumni and admitted students, went to an acrobatics show, sang karaoke, and ate lots of dim sum.  It was an incredible learning experience, and the InSITE network made it even better!


eCommerce: Alibaba’s dashboards (monitoring its B2B and B2C marketplaces, loans business, paypal-equivalent, and web-services – just to name a few…). Real commerce: China Ting is a vertically integrated garment manufacturer.  Who would have thought that “debugging threads” could have a physical meaning?


Our hectic meetings schedule for the week included one free afternoon to work on our own research projects.  I naturally teamed up with fellow InSITE fellows Zack Schwarzman and Marianna Zaslavsky to deep-dive into the Chinese entrepreneurial ecosystem and better understand how startups funding and operations work in the second largest economy in the world as it transitions from an investment-based growth economy to consumption-based growth.

Through InSITE sponsor Investor Growth Capital (IGC) we were able to schedule meetings with two very different startups in Shanghai: the first was with the COO of FClub, a flash sales website focusing on fashion; the second was with the CEO of 800TeleServices, a business process outsourcing provider focusing on call center services. 


 Both executives hosted us magnificently and spoke very candidly about their companies and their growth approaches, management philosophies, financing opportunities, competition, etc.

It was fascinating to learn about the challenges we heard about all week long (during the company visits) from the point of view of a startup: dealing with the high attrition rates after the Chinese New Year, building an “IPO-ready” company off-shore while navigating relationships with the local government, focusing on a stable management team as the key for thriving in the ever-changing competitive environment, etc.

It was mind-blowing to realize how the sheer size of China affects their decisions and frameworks; “we are very lean, we’re less than 500 employees now” or “we were too small for a VC investment, we had only 100 employees” aren’t comments we’re used to hearing in the Silicon Alley.

It was humbling to hear their perspectives on the role of institutional and strategic investors, or on the validity of the hub-and-spoke model in a country of the size of China. They think differently about the world – because of the culture, because of the size, because of the market fragmentation, because of the role of the government (“this is a free economy, besides one of the competitors is the government”).


At FClub, visiting the photoshoot before new products are uploaded online.

InSITE has been an integral component of my real-world learning during my MBA; it was quite awesome to also be able to leverage this network to get so much more out of my Shanghai class!

This post was written by Maya Mandel, Columbia MBA Class of 2013