#45 Mike Michelini – The tech startup that’s riding China’s social media wave
Mike is an American social media & e-commerce specialist based out of Shenzhen. He came to China in late 2007 to source products for his e-commerce business. in 2012 he founded SocialAgent.me to help Western companies sell in the Chinese market through Social media. Late last year his startup was acquired by an app company Unchained Apps and is now the VP of marketing and Business Development of a portfolio of apps such as WrittenChinese.com, TaskLabels, and of course Social Agent.
You have to push yourself to the limit and go places others haven’t.
How he got to China
While in NYC late at night after working on Wall Street, Mike found himself chatting to factory sales reps trying to figure out how to buy from China. Intrigued by the possibilities of coming to China on his own to do a bit of research, he quit Deutsche Bank to be a full time entrepreneur and moved to China! That was 2007… and he’s still going strong!
His current project
In early 2012 he had been helping more and more companies with their Chinese social media, and wanted to scale it as an online product. Attending a Lean Startup Machine weekend in Shanghai that summer, Mike and a small team started as “Weibo Agent” there and had a blast. After meeting the guys from Chinaccelerator, they applied for their batch 3 starting that fall. In the program they re-branded to Social Agent and went through a big pivot from social media analytics to lead generation. Now, they are totally out of Weibo integration and Social Agent is a platform where companies list their businesses and agents interested to be a rep apply and send leads to this company. Approved agents then send leads and referrals to the business for fees and commissions via the Social Agent mobile app. At the end of last year Mike’s startup merged with Unchained Apps – an app company for WrittenChinese.com Chinese dictionary app and a whole ton of other game and productivity apps so he’s excited to combine Unchained Apps’ development skills with their marketing skills and make things rock even more.
Don’t build on another platform, or at least have a backup plan. Mike and his SocialAgent.me team started on Sina Weibo and it was a big project getting API access. Once they got it, there were so many multiple levels of access, and their project of course needed the full search – which needed massive “guanxi” to access. They spent a ton of time getting access to the Weibo API, and by the time they finally did, the platform was losing massively to Wechat. Mike has talked to Wechat and they wouldn’t allow their system to exist like it is. Mike is quick to advise that, “While leveraging someone else’s user base or data is a great way to quickly start and grow, you need a backup plan.”
Overcoming China-specific problems
Mike has taken up mediation every day as a way to stay centered and when he’s facing a challenging China moment he finds himself reciting, “TIC, TIC, TIC” (This Is China) to remind him he’s not in Kansas anymore. Additionally, he has learned to do a lot of offline work – and separate online work from offline work – which actually is really helpful for productivity anyway as it controls your social media consumption and other distracting things.
Advice for would-be entrepreneurs
- Utilize focus groups to improve your product
- Consider your time in China as a long-term commitment from the start; you’ll need to be here for a while if you want to succeed in building a business. You’ll probably looking at 2-3 years to figure out where you fit in the market.
- Be intentional about differentiating yourself on something other than price.
- Ask yourself, “Will Chinese customers trust you and your product?”
- You can’t force things to happen so keep an open mind for other opportunities.
Mike is excited to be a part of the Unchained Apps family and he’s learning tons! Armed with the Written Chinese dictionary app that he’s promoting, he’s definitely dedicated to learning more Chinese in the coming year (he’s aiming to outpace his 8 month-old-son in that regard).
- Kaiser Kuo’s responses on Quora
- Mr. China, by Tim Clissold
- StartupNoodle.com by Shlomo Freund in Beijing
- Startup Grind – Shenzhen | Guangzhou | Shanghai | Beijing
- Drink Entrepreneurs – Shenzhen | Beijing | Shanghai
- Startup Weekend
- Lean Startup Machine in Beijing
- Gmail Offline
- Getting More, by Stuart Diamond
Connect to Mike
Mike is a twitter guy if you can get over the firewall, he loves chatting there – @michelini or check out his podcast at globalfromasia.com.