China appeals to many businesses as a treasure chest of opportunity.
The world’s second largest economy and most populous country presents an irresistible market for businesses.
Among the many people banking on the potential the country holds are three young Malaysian entrepreneurs who are chasing their dreams in Beijing with three different businesses.
A thirst to understand the Chinese market brought Cheah Zibin, 32, from Norway to the Chinese capital in 2010 under an in-house transfer programme at software company Opera.
He served as the chief standards officer of Opera China, helping to grow the team from 30 to 300.
In February last year, he quit to establish his own gaming-focused company.
“I toyed with the idea for over a year before I made the decision. I convinced myself that I could start all over again if the venture fails,” Cheah said.
In a rented apartment, Wozlla Game Maker was born.
Its product, a cross platform game editor, makes porting of games easy.
“When a game is developed, the cost of converting (“port”) it to run on different platforms – Android phones, Windows phones, personal computer or PlayStation — is high as it requires a team each to develop programming language for different platforms.
“But with our product, the games only have to be developed once. Our product can take care of the rest,” Cheah, a Taiping-born Multimedia University graduate, explained.
Wozlla also develops games. Its latest addition, 3Cakes, was ranked among the top 20 puzzle games for the iPhone in Norway.
The free-to-play games, which survive on in-app purchase, are promoted through social media and word-of-mouth.
“One of the advantages of developing games is that their life cycles are short.
“While it takes probably seven or eight years to monetise a social media site, a developer will find out the success or failure of a game within a year of its launch.
“But of course the market is very competitive as there are many game developers. Out of 1,000 games, 80% fade out. It is very challenging,” he said.
On choosing China to start his company, the recipient of the European Union’s Eramus Mundus scholarship said the IT industry in China is vast and fast-paced.
“While the best and the original ideas come from the US, the Chinese have the advantage of being hard workers.
“The enormous sales volume on Alibaba’s Taobao, an e-commerce platform, during its annual Nov 11 sale illustrates the huge potential of the IT industry in China,” he said.
Last October, Cheah set up another office in Nanjing.
From just four people, Wozlla now employs a team of 20, including artists, programmers and designers from Malaysia, China, France and Mexico.
Business-to-business partnerships currently takes up 30% of Wozlla’s business, while the remaining 70% comes from the distribution rights for its games.
Cheah’s goal right now is to build a stronger team. Talent, he said, is the most valuable asset.
Looking forward, Cheah hopes to set up an office in Malaysia and recruit local talent.
Tan Chuan Jin is the owner of the Raya Malaysian Restaurant in Beijing.
“Raya conjures up a sense of happiness and festivity. It also refers to our national flower,” he said of the name of the restaurant.
The 31-year-old left Johor Baru for Australia when he was 16 to further his studies.
After graduated with a degree in urban planning design from Melbourne University, he returned to work in Kuala Lumpur for a year before relocating to the United Kingdom.
Armed with experiences of working part-time in fast food restaurants, cafés and bars, he opened a café in Liverpool, where he worked as an architect.
His ventures later brought him to London, and eventually, Beijing.
“I befriended the locals by initiating specific interest groups, such as ping pong and badminton, and gained an understanding of the local culture through them,” Tan said.
After a year of preparation, which included scouting for the perfect location and negotiating with the management, Raya opened its doors last winter in a commercial area at Chaoyang district at the cost of 1mil yuan (RM519,000).
Tan revealed that the capital for his businesses came from property investment.
He still maintains his full-time job as an architect now and devotes all his after-work time to running the restaurant, overseeing every task from procurement to staff training.
With a Malaysian head chef, Raya’s extensive menu consists of many Malaysian favourites, such as salted egg yolk sotong, sambal ladies fingers, crab in spicy chilli sauce and pan fried fish in sambal sauce.
Wayang kulit puppets adorn the wall of the restaurant, providing a glimpse into the culture of Malaysia.
“My current focus is to maintain the quality of the food. I will consider expansion later.
“We have started to break even in May,” he said.
Tan noted that the difference between establishing an eatery in Britain and China is that a proprietor can handle various applications all by himself in the UK, but in China, agents are usually hired to handle business registration, licence application and others.
His advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to never give up even under immense pressure.
“We must learn how to pick ourselves up,” he said.
Raya’s clientele is a mix of locals and expats. Tan said some Malaysians and Singaporeans also favoured Raya for gatherings and social networking events.
“I am driven by these happy moments at Raya,” Tan said.
AND Inc calls itself the first and only 3D printing café in Beijing.
Clarence Chia, 34, aspired to create a space for designers of various disciplines to exchange ideas, and spark innovation and creativity through their interactions.
“As architects, we are designers too. We cannot just let our ideas sit in our brains, or let the designs exist only in computers. We need to realise them into physical forms,” he said.
Chia, who hails from Johor Baru, obtained a Degree in Architecture in National University of Singapore and then a Masters in Engineering at Tokyo Institute of Technology.
He also attended an exchange programme at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich under a scholarship.
In 2009, the Singaporean firm he was working for posted him to the Beijing office as senior architect.
He registered AND Inc in March of last year and opened the café in September.
The logo of AND resembles an ampersand, and Chia revealed that it is a clever arrangement of the letters A and D.
“A stands for architecture while D, designer.
“Architecture is about designing a logic system. It is not just about constructing a building, but to create a system for a building to work,” he explained.
AND Inc is equipped with 3D printer for designers to bring their ideas into being within just a couple of hours.
“With our printer, there is no need for them to liaise with factories to produce the designs. In fact, factories would find it too expensive and time consuming to accept orders from individual designers.
“Here, they are charged by the gramme for the printing material, which is a type of plastic called ABS,” Chia said.
Designers can also work from the café by renting their own desk space from AND Inc.
AND Inc, which opens every day, also organises talks regularly for designers to share their experiences.
While Chia is at work, his wife manages the café.
Chia said designers are excited to know that AND Inc is equipped with 3D printers, because such machines are rare in China.
“In Tokyo, materials and tools are easily found. There are also shops that offer 3D printing and laser cutting.
“The city is friendly to designers, but it is a different story in Beijing. As designers, we enjoy seeing products of our work,” Chia said.
AND Inc does not only attracts designers, but also coffee lovers who enjoy the bright space.
Chia ensures that the ingredients used in his café are imported and carefully selected as food safety is a major concern in China.
Besides coffee, it also serves pancakes and homemade baguettes.