Taken for a ride

14 January 2010
I came across an article this week in the Daily Telegraph on the attempts of 28-year-old “Chris” to set up a business making scooters in China and importing them to Britain. There’s a certain degree of schadenfreude in hearing about his lamentable attempts to get his venture off the ground. The paper quotes Chris, who says: “Initially I went back to the UK while they were making the prototype. Victor [the Chinese sales manager] sent me email updates with pictures of the bike and when it looked like it was finished I returned to China,” says Chris. “What I found when I got to the factory was no prototype, just a wooden frame with an engine in the middle.” And when the reporter asked what happened during the making of the prototype Victor freely confessed to having lied to Chris. “During all those months, I did nothing. Nothing at all. He asked what was happening, so I emailed him to say everything was fine and sent him photographs from a friend's factory,” he says. And the article continues that when Chris asked for the prototype to be made in black, he received one in bright pink. Furthermore, the workers managed to scratch a large number of the bikes and had not ordered enough spare parts to replace the damaged panels. It also paints a picture of the deputy head of the factory – or “big potato”: Outside, two workers buff his Mercedes S-Class sedan. “The big boss is the second most corrupt man in Wuxi!" Victor says proudly. But frankly I don’t have much sympathy for “Chris”. As the article puts it, he arrived in the country “without any experience of business in China, or any language skills”. It’s much like the people you see on Channel 4 programmes who decide that after 25 years in accountancy they want to open a Michelin-starred bistro in a country they have never visited and do not speak the language. If you are setting up your own business, or branching out on your own, optimism is vital to help you achieve your goal but it’s no substitute for research and experience.
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