10 questions to Rémi Mondina, the founder of Drujok Web Agency

1/ Introduce yourself, please

Hi Olivier,

My « Journey » in China started in 2007, while I was studying at « Ecole des Mines », a French engineering school. At that time I had the opportunity to do my internship in a Chinese IT company located in Nanjing to work on a computer science project. I have been literally seduced by the positive energy spread by China and its culture. For those reasons, I decided to stay in the Middle Kingdom, in Shanghai. As an expatriate, I consecutively worked as Branch Manager, ERP consultant, and Web marketing director.

End of 2013, due to lots of demands from clients and a strong willingness to invest in that project and I decided to fund DRUJOK. The initial purpose was to build e-commerce websites and provide SEO services.

2/ Could you tell us more about your company?

Drujok’s Business model relies on a « synergy » of web experts, all freelancers, highly experienced and skilled, with complementary areas of expertise.

Today, our team is composed of 14 members coming from all over the world, all carefully selected according to the following criteria: “Skills”, “Experience”, “Ease of communication” and “Reactivity”. This multi-disciplinary knowledge allows us to cover a wide range of services such as offering corporate websites, e-commerce websites, custom websites like web platforms or web portals, mobile applications, graphic designs, video production, and Online Marketing including Search engine Optimization (SEO) & Social Media Marketing.

I am in charge of coordinating all projects and personally providing SEO consulting for local and international projects.

Our motto « Our focus: You ROI », summarizes perfectly Drujok’s enterprise culture which is to maximize our client’s Return Of Investment by building and optimizing their business online presence.

3/ Why is your company different from other Web Agencies?

Drujok’s added value and benefits are the following:

  • In terms of Human resources, we act exactly like a “standard” Web agency, since we are composed of talented and experienced engineers, developers, and consultants working altogether in perfect synergy. That allows us to provide our customers with a high level of professionalism and reactivity on any type of project and as well as the possibility to quickly grow the team.
  • We are near our customers thanks to our international coverage across 8 nationalities. Our multilingual and multicultural backgrounds as well as our proximity to clients allow us to quickly adapt to big-size projects involving international scope.
  • Finally, we offer high-quality yet affordable solutions, since we are a group of freelancers involving much less operating costs than what web agencies have.
digital things China

4/ How do you find your customers?

At first, I started on my own, working alone on several projects covering e-commerce websites and SEO services. I have been tracking SEO techniques and Google’s algorithms updates for quite a long time now and have been providing SEO coaching to Small and Medium enterprises for several years.

After a few months, successful projects started generating positive word-of-mouth, attracting more and more customers.

Besides, our own websites and blogs as well as our Linkedin Group regularly drag new qualified prospects and clients.

5/ Nowadays, what are China’s booming markets? Why?

-The Luxury goods market: Simply because there are more and more wealthy people in China (around 1.5 million millionaires) and generally speaking Chinese individual income has increased through the years. In China, appearance is very important. My favorite activity here is Shopping. When I mention “Luxury goods market” I refer to watches, Jewelry, wine and spirits, perfume, cosmetics… Westerners are well represented.

– The E-commerce market’s growth is huge. Obviously, this is due to the massive usage of the Internet (around 650 million internet users) as well as the numerous new cell phone owners each year (around 150 million every year, including 110 million new 3G service subscribers).

– The Agri-Food industry: Food safety is an ongoing concern in China, especially since the numerous scandals that occurred in recent years. Chinese people, well known for being suspicious when it comes to nutrition, have greater confidence in foreign food products than in local ones.

Moreover, imported products such as milk, cheese, meat, and green products attract more and more Chinese consumers.

– Tourism: This sector is very promising in China.  Due to the emancipation of the Chinese society, the global improvement of quality of life, and more opening to the world, Chinese people are nowadays the most demanding clientele. The Chinese government also wishes to attract more and more foreign tourists to China, which will increase the potential of that market due to the huge size of the Chinese territory.

6/ What would be your advice to a young entrepreneur freshly arrived in China?

Unlike western countries, China is a country that really makes foreigners eager to start new businesses, create new things, and invest a lot of time and sometimes lots of money in building new concepts or simply in running a business.

The trap that must be avoided by a young entrepreneur is to have too many ideas and to try to realize all of them; this will definitely lead to a lack of concentration and will end in failure. Many young entrepreneurs have a tough time here because of that lack of concentration and because they don’t know China market at all.

In such a configuration, the risk is to keep on going towards several goals, going around in circles, getting tired, and coming back down from his cloud. Many come to China thinking it’s still an Eldorado and soon understand it is very far from being the case.

My advice are the following:

  1. Investing in the Chinese market, whatever the sector and domain, requires lots of time before understanding the local trends and customs. Nowadays, to succeed in China, entrepreneurs need to bring either a new concept or a highly valuable service.
  1. Once a valuable idea is found, it comes the time to constantly grow your professional network, also called “Guangxi”. This part is fundamental for expanding business opportunities. Basically, that means entrepreneurs should regularly attend business meals, after works events, and networking events that will help grow their “Guanxi”. Many contracts are finalized only after spending a huge amount of time at business dinners occurring during non-working hours and on weekends. This time-consuming process is a necessity here and must be well accepted by foreign entrepreneurs; otherwise, it is more reasonable not to start any business in China.
  1. Finally, learning the Chinese language and Chinese culture is a very important step that helps to be at ease and effective in a Chinese environment and to avoid as much as possible any kind of misunderstanding while dealing with Chinese customers, local partners, and your local team. Indeed, a lack of awareness in those areas can easily make you think that everything goes smoothly, that every member of your team works perfectly, that your production runs without any obstacles, and that all your local partners have a great opinion about you.

Unfortunately, it seldom happens that way. Unlike the western way of thinking, Chinese culture is strongly influenced by a state ideology of “Social Harmony” which dates back to ancient China, to the time of Confucius.

In conclusion, being patient and carefully making sure that all messages spread during meetings are well understood by attendees, including you.

7/ What are the reasons that made you start your own business?

I was initially planning to follow a career as a computer science engineer but I soon realized that I wanted to develop my own business while doing what I am passionate about. The numerous demands from existing clients and new prospects definitely helped me make that decision.

8/ What is your development plan for year 3 and year 5?

It is a bit too early to think about that now since Drujok was born 1 year ago, but my idea would be to offer Social Media Marketing and Search Engine Optimization training as well as more technical training around e-commerce and web technologies.

Besides, some projects of web platforms might be brought to market within a couple of years.

9/ According to your experience, what is the best strategy for a Web Agency?

First of all, I think the best « strategy » is to carefully understand the business of each customer in order to offer the best solution for each project. The project team should be composed of a few passionate and talented people who are always eager to learn more and to share their individual knowledge with other members. Once the team is enthusiastic and once the first customers are truly satisfied, it is just needed to follow that “strategy” while keeping a great work atmosphere.

10/ In Shanghai, what mistakes should be avoided by a young entrepreneur?

  1. Arriving as in « Conquer land »: Shanghai isn’t an « ELDORADO » anymore. There is a high level of competition here. That is essential to carefully analyze the targeted market before fully committing. It is needed to know if a concept or an offer is unique or can bring a real added value that local customers will easily embrace. There are lots of Chinese companies that perfectly know the local market and many foreign businesses that settled down for a long time. Thus, it is obvious that an entrepreneur freshly arrived in Shanghai will face difficulty competing for a while.
  1. Arriving without anything in your pockets: Starting up a new business in Shanghai costs actually a lot. Administration fees, capital costs, operating costs… the bill may sometimes be very high in particular for the opening of a WOFE. The needed working capital requirements may be very high according to the type of targeted business.
  1. Believing that in Shanghai it is easy and fast to succeed or in China, generally speaking. It requires lots of time before understanding the local market, finding out how to match the local demand, building up a good team, and developing one business. It generally takes several years before obtaining the Return on Investment.
  1. Imposing his own culture: Respecting and understanding the Chinese culture and how to manage a local team is crucial. A western manager cannot apply the same management techniques used in his country. It often ends with really unexpected results. If you were a very talented manager in your country, unfortunately here you will be re-starting from scratch. You will need to adapt and learn all the basics that must be applied to management in China.

In Shanghai, the Turnover rate is very high. It is not easy to keep the same employees for more than 2 years, especially if the team is not well managed.

  1. Ignoring the Chinese language: Speaking English is not enough if you want to be efficient and make your business a success. Chinese people are not supposed to speak English, but you should rather speak Chinese.
  1. Go it alone: In China, it’s essential to be surrounded by a good local team, and local partners. Acting in isolation doesn’t lead to good results. That’s a key point to avoid bad surprises. Here, it doesn’t work the same way as in Western countries.

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Thank you Rémi, do you have a question too? If yes 😉 feel free to post a comment.

Olivier VEROT

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