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Chapter13 – Interlude – Remember, China’s Different!

On the other side of the Pacific, Stone Daw, MaoPortal’s precious angel, was getting some worrying indirect vibes on the situation with his investment in Shanghai. China was not his forte. He’d bought into MaoPortal on a whim almost, and felt very unsure about how he should proceed.

He needed some objective advice on the situation there, so he called up a firm he had recommended to him – RedChina Friendly Consultants (corporate motto: We know, you know), and an American-Chinese business consultant named Lester Su paid him a visit.

Lester was a middle-aged man, slightly balding on top, much given to sports jackets. His face and his smile were soft and benign. Born in China, he had emigrated to the States in the late 1970s, and had many years experience in Beijing working as a go-between, a facilitator for US companies and Chinese enterprises.

“Hmmm,” thought Stone. “A boy named Su.”

“Hmmm,” thought Lester. “A stone Daw.”

“Mr Su,” said Daw. “I’m looking for some advice on this investment I have in China, MaoPortal. You read the briefing papers I sent over? Good. Basically, I’m not sure how to handle them over in Shanghai. It feels to me like the MaoPortal management is not handling the development of the company properly, and I want some clear answers to some hard questions. What do you think?”

“Mr Daw,” replied Lester with a humble smile. “MaoPortal is becoming quite well known. I don’t know the financial details of the company, or of your investment. But I would think it is looks like a good bet … in the long term.” He emphasised those last four words. “China is such a big market – 1.3 billion people.” He threw his arms wide and shook his head. “The potential is huge. But investing in China is something that takes time and patience. I always tell my clients that you may not make money immediately, but don’t worry, the Chinese people always remember your contribution.”

Daw shifted uneasily. “That’s great, aX-Mozilla-Status: 0009people will have many pleasant thoughts about me. But I also need some answers to my questions.”

“The important thing,” said Lester, “is not to embarrass the Chinese side. Don’t make them lose face. So I would be very careful how you did that, how you phrased it. You know, the United States is a very black and white place, but China is more grey. Confrontation is not positive. It’s important to keep in mind the face issue for the people on the other side of the table.”

“Face, huh?”

“Yes. Have you ever read Sun Zi’s Art of War? There are some very useful ideas in there on how to handle issues indirectly, rather than through direct confrontation,” said Lester. “Always remember, the Chinese want win-win situations.”

“I don’t know,” said Daw, hesitating. “I’m feeling like I should just get out of it.”

“My advice is: take the medium point of view,” Lester replied. “See the trees as well as the wood. May I suggest you read William Overholt’s ‘China – the next superpower’? I think it’s definitely the best book on China.”

Jackal was gone but marketing went on. Jefferson seized the opportunity to play a bigger role in determining strategy, while the search for a replacement continued.

He now had the budget, he had a concept and website, and he had a market that looked like it would boom for some time to come.

MaoPortal’s initial marketing plan had been implemented pretty much as Jackal had laid it out, and name recognition was pretty high, especially in Beijing and Shanghai. But he felt he needed something to push MaoPortal up to a new level.

He also experimented with new kinds of Mao badges, which were sort of like jigsaw puzzles. Half of the badge was given away on the street by young girls dressed as red guards – to get the other half, you had to go online to MaoPortal and register.

He got one of Lao Zhang’s old friends, a man who had actually known Mao back in the old days, to write a calligraphic inscription – “In Industry learn from Daqing, on the Internet learn from MaoPortal”, which they then pumped into all the advertising and marketing campaigns they were doing.

Then one day, watching MTV, he had an idea which he immediately implemented – he ordered the creation of a MaoPortal-sponsored band, an all-female group to be called the Rice Girls. They appeared at all MaoPortal events, and their very first tune, The Great Helmsman Will Be Coming Down the Mountain When He Comes was a big hit. It was more titanic than the Titanic had been a few years before.

But it did nothing for the revenue, and Jefferson had a sinking feeling, which he certainly wouldn’t admit to anyone, that the Titanic might end up being not such a bad theme tune for MaoPortal.

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