I left a startup delusion in Shanghai

An experience in a very small sample of the foreign startup community in China

I started as a worker, with no skills, no money, no networks, and in a France that was way tougher for people we call diverse today. I educated myself the hard way, got some good success in business. I still consider myself a craftsman today despite all my diplomas, degrees, certifications, and books.

I hate co-working spaces in Tokyo as in any other place I know around the planet. I found way more peace, interest, warmth in working in a coffee shop.

At least in China ico-working spaces were not as expensive as in Tokyo, sort of1

I can’t figure out the hype around co-working spaces. These, to me, are the most disheartening places to work in. It has the disadvantages of chicken housing. It does not allow for more communication with “like-minded people” in a “welcoming” and “diverse” “community” of “startuppers”.

However, I found the Chinese-managed co-working space way more advanced, modern, welcoming than the foreign-managed ones. Living and working among the Chinese have made me more open socially. I like being among them. It suits me more than trying to interact with foreign nationals from the developed world. But I get along very well with the rest of the foreign communities… those whose first language is neither French nor English, which means most of the world.

I found myself stunned in retrospect by a psychological fact I did not notice for a long time: among Chinese I feel more as an extravert easygoing easily joking individual and among foreign (En+Fr speaking) communities I behave more like an Asperger type.

What I loved in my experience of attempting to build a startup2 in China is that the startup communities I met, live in delusion and posturing, inherited from the nice, cozy, we-are-all-brothers-and-sisters, we-all-are-pioneers-and-heroes image that came from the Bay Area.

I was not a lucky Shanghai baby. For a 60+ years old startupper, serial entrepreneur, having lived among different cultures and countries, been there done that, calling bullshit is like second nature.

At first, I was excited to be among (young) entrepreneurs and starting my new tech startup project. That seemed sexy but I felt short of excitement:

  • after experiencing a co-working space that stinks piss (known co-working space managed by foreigners),

  • listening to startup mentors preaching startup vocabulary as used in Bay minus the experience, the track records, and the same meaning with those big words thrown at the unsuspecting new founders,

  • experiencing a dummy environment, not that welcoming as people would try to convince themselves desperately,

  • experiencing “we need to be cool” mentality, etc.

I was however better welcome and served by the Chinese community in very modern spaces, with great internet speed, video room, and lifting desk plus subsidies support.

At least among Chinese, I was not regarded as a potential terrorist because of my brown skin, although I’m white. But it's another story for another time.

In summary, co-working spaces are not sexy, I did not believe a second that WeWork was an actionable business model, I feel like working in the worst a company environment can bring: cubicles only reimagined, fake sense of community, a false sense of belonging.

No building a startup is not fun, it’s hard work, disheartening at times, and it does not provide any sense of entitlement in any way.

1

My experience of working in a co-working space in China and even trying to make relations and friends in the foreign entrepreneurs’ community in Shanghai was disastrous. First, a co-working that smelled piss managed by needy foreigners made me regret being so naive about the real behaviors of the foreign community. Communication started like honey and sugar just for me to sign in and then the complete disinterest ensues once the money was sent. I must say that being found suspicious and questioned about my ethnic origin was not innocent and I felt uncomfortable very quickly. We should not, boomers, trying to mix with inexperienced youth that beliefs building a business (yeah, call it a startup if you want) is the sexiest thing to do on earth. Entrepreneurship is tough, painful, suffering. It can attract rogue investors, unpleasant staff. Fights can emerge any day on any type of tactical focused discussion with our team. We should understand early enough that behind the glamourous curtain only depicted by tech journalists there is no such a CEO that is All in All almighty God and visionary but an individual that makes mistakes, that is controlled by the taxes, the employee union, the department head barons, while constantly making financial acrobatic moves to survive one more month or week. Anyway, I am repeating myself here.

2

I already built a company there, for a more traditional industry.