The author (right) attends an event in Tianjin on December 29, 2019 (COURTESY PHOTO)
When I was a high school student, an association of entrepreneurs teamed up with the University of Aveiro, in Aveiro, Portugal, to start courses that would give students specific skills to deal with foreign markets and negotiate with people from different cultures.
Different languages were taught as well and I signed up for Chinese. That shaped my career and unlocked resources that I am still using today.
In 2005, our Chinese teacher organized a trip and we spent three weeks exploring Shanghai, Xi'an and Beijing. I was fascinated by the culture and wanted to know more about it. So later after graduation, my old Chinese teacher, with whom I had stayed in touch, suggested that I should apply for a scholarship to study on the Chinese mainland.
I managed to get a two-year scholarship to study at the Beijing Language and Culture University and liked Beijing so much that when the two years were up, I didn't want to go back home.
So I looked around for jobs, and after being a tester for Nokia landed one with a Chinese e-commerce company that sold a wide range of things online, from wedding dresses to small gadgets and smartphones. My work included analyzing customer behavior and using my language skills, from Portuguese to French and English.
From there, I expanded to event management, planning cultural and entertainment events with hotels and embassies, bringing together Chinese and foreign artistes and brands. I had been introduced to WeChat's Moments, the function that helps you upload text and photos and share them with your acquaintances, and found it a fantastic marketing tool.
For example, during a popular annual electronic music festival, I sold a large number of tickets through my WeChat Moments. People followed it to get useful information as well, like where to stay and what to eat. I have also been using it to bring foreign brands to China, from jewelry to diets and exercises. I think one reason they like to work with me is that I don't promote things indiscriminately. I learn about a product by trying it out myself and work with it only if I feel comfortable with it. So I think you get some authenticity.
One of the best parts of my entrepreneurial experience in China has been networking, especially with women. I am part of a business association and in the pre-COVID-19 era, we met regularly for women members to expand their business and acquaintance circle. You could meet investors at these meetings, discuss business and how people with different skills could help each other.
For example, a musician could cooperate with a fashion designer and they could get together with someone who designed venues and you would then have a concrete venture that benefited everyone involved. We also discussed the problems we might face when we started a new venture and how to deal with them. You receive help from others and feel motivated to start your own business.
This experience has brought out the entrepreneur in me. Now I have my own online cooking channel on WeChat, verainthekitchen, where I share recipes, like how to make queijadinhas, a custard tart with milk, eggs and other ingredients like cinnamon and orange peels. I am also creating a rural tourism project.
The sad thing is that as COVID-19 spread last year, many foreigners who had gone home couldn't come back. I am one of them. However, the positive thing is that in today's interconnected world, thanks to technology, you may not be in China physically but you can still be there in spirit.
I am now working as a trainer with a well known company and got a promotion recently. So I will expand to the European market. When you embrace collaboration, the world truly becomes your oyster.
The author is a Portuguese entrepreneur shuttling between China and Portugal
(Print Edition Title: The Power of Collaboration)
Copyedited by Sudeshna Sarkar
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