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Made In China
Special> Made In China
UPDATED: December 10, 2006 NO.46 NOV.16, 2006
Dotcom Venturer
Fritz Demopoulos has proven an American can have dotcom success in China once. Can he do it again?

Every foreigner in Beijing either knows what qu na'r means or must think it strange that only taxi drivers seem to substitute this greeting for ni hao. But to Fritz Demopoulos, its literal meaning, "Where are you going?" had far greater significance than a simple taxi driver's information solicitation.

Now founder of Qunar.com, an aptly-named Beijing-based travel search engine, the 37-year-old American has gone a long way in the Chinese media, Internet and wireless industries since he first arrived in China in 1997.

Ironically at that time, the eventual founder of Qunar didn't know where the heck he was going.

"My [old] company sent me to China," Demopoulos said. "They gave me the chance to come out to Asia. But at that time, I didn't know about China. I was lucky, super lucky!"

Arriving in China only by chance, Demopoulos quickly recognized there was a lot more where that came from.

"Opportunities are everywhere," Demopoulos said. "I remember that the former Minister of Information Industry of China Wu Jichuan said, in some way, China is the most open market in the world."

And it's true, he said.

Demopoulos' career path proves that.

What's more, Demopoulos proves that a foreigner doesn't need billion dollar company perks or a slick embassy aura to live out the American Dream in China. Actually, he shows one can be more successful without them-and maybe just by "showing up."

Showing up

When Demopoulos talks, he exudes a bit of California cool, putting our Beijing Review staff at ease right away.

He's the kind of guy who ends most sentences with "right?" and just makes you want to respond, "Right on, man!"

Indeed, Demopoulos was born in Los Angeles and went to college there.

But his father was from Greece and mother from Austria, immigrating to the United States in the 1960s.

That, in addition to his parents' business success, gave Demopoulos a bit of a bug to do something other than surf.

"Back in the 1960s when my parents immigrated to the States, what was the American Dream?" Demopoulos asked rhetorically. "You had three kids, a couple cars, a house and a business. That's what my parents did [even] as immigrants, right?"

Right Fritz, but what about your own dream, our staff wondered. And why do you stay in China?

"My dad's an entrepreneur," Demopou-los said. "That's why I wanted to become an entrepreneur too, eventually."

As for China, Demopoulos had a strange yet poignant answer.

"Sometimes here, you can do well just by showing up," he said. Showing up, we wondered, without language skills? Without knowing the culture?

"In China, a lot of people don't have all the experiences and reference points that I have," Demopoulos said. "In the States my experiences and reference points are the same as everywhere else. In China there are these natural advantages. Part of the trick is we have to understand what we think we can do well and understand the limitations."

Rejecting corporate office space

While Demopoulos doesn't understand Chinese culture as well as locals, his resume boasts a stellar corporate pedigree, which enabled him to come here.

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