#51 Brent Deverman – ShenzhenParty.com, a pillar of expat life for over a decade
Brent came to China after studying Chinese and graduating from Michigan State University. He ended up founding and running ShenzhenParty.com and for the last 14 years he has built it into a pillar of expat life in Shenzhen. Last year over 600,000 people visited the site and through it they found apartments, jobs, language tutors and more. China has given Brent the opportunity to learn things he never would have thought to learn back in the USA such Online Marketing, Human Resources, and negotiation skills and we’re going to talk about some of those things today.
[On incentivizing] Money talks – you just need to find the right commission structure and bonus structure that fits with the products you’re selling.
How he got to China
Brent studied Mandarin at Michigan State University and studied abroad in Tsinghua University. He looked for his first job after graduation in Shenzhen, China and found it in Shenzhen at a French watch manufacturer doing e-commerce. Back then Shenzhen was a completely different place with no subway. Hardly anyone spoke English and there was only a couple bars that he and his young coworkers thought worth going to. Brent a couple buddies turned their hobby of finding and posting new places to check out into a cool business idea. What started just for fun grew through word of mouth over the years.
His current project
ShenzhenParty.com started just organizing events for Brent and his friends, and then it turned into event marketing. Now they provide information on almost aspect of life in Shenzhen following their users from when they first arrive to when they fall in love, have kids and eventually repatriate back to their home country.
Brent is a tech guy. He’s always trying to find a way to automated systems. This led him intro trouble when it came to selling his site to advertisers. He realized early on that he would need a talented, motivated, and incentivized sales team on the ground to work with clients. Having a great team on board increased the growth of his website and revenue.
Lessons learned along the way
- Find the right people and figure out how to monitor their work and properly incentivize them.
- Expect staff turn over as you tune this process and tighten the company rules.
- The work attitudes and expectations are changing quickly in China and when you are a small startup you might only be able to afford recent graduates. This has its pros and cons. Recent grads are blank slates that you can train but, as the first employer, you don’t have the luxury of working with previously vetted talent.
- Make sure you can recognize when you’re business is moving into another level and adjust each process accordingly.
- Shenzhen is super easy to connect and build community so dive right in.
How Brent stays motivated
Brent has an advantage in this arena because he’s putting out content that he himself wants to know about. Another layer of motivation is when he hears from the community how people’s lives are being impacted by his site.
Recently, Brent teamed up with long-time China residents, authors Ted and Karen Rule, who wrote an in depth book about Shenzhen, brimming with historical facts and interesting things to do in the city. Brent and his team are now learning how to publish and promote their e-book called, “Shenzhen: The Book”.
- Shenzhen: The Book
- Shenzhen Wine & Cheese Club
- Getting Things Done, by David Allen
- Emyth Books
- The Productivity Show by Asian Efficiency
- Traction Book
- Global From Asia
- Omnifocus and other Omnigroup Apps – Capture and prioritize everything
- Google (Docs, Search, Analytics) helped him grow analyze and systematize his business
- Audible.com – Access important business books from abroad
- BBEdit for Editing Writing and Code
- Six Sigma