I constantly heard both expats and Chinese complaining about how café in China, including Starbucks, overcharge their coffee in China. In a country which is traditionally a stronghold of various teas including green, black, jasmine, oolong, Pu-erh and where people initially started drinking tea since thousands of years ago, coffee is far from prevails. According to a statistic, Chinese people consumed 30,000 to 35,000 tons of coffee last year, equal to about 3 cups per head per year, nowhere near the global average of 240 cups per head per year. It seems there’s plenty of room for expansion.
However, that’s not the reason why 32-year-old Su Di founded Garage Café, a café slash open office space for Chinese startups and entrepreneurs. The Beijing-based café has been on track to attract an army of people ranging from entrepreneurs, investment guys from venture capitals, angel investors to internet business craftsmen such as product managers, developers and so on.
And they don’t go there for coffee or leisurely afternoon hangout. Situated at Zhongguancun area, covering a floor area of nearly 800 square kilometers with an accommodation for about 150 people, Garage Café is now home to Chinese techies. Not far away from its premise, you can find a handful of giant internet companies, to name a few, Innovation Works founded by former Google head Kaifu Lee, Nasdaq listed SINA Corp., one of the largest and long-stand portal site in China which is now revitalized for its microblog offering Weibo, Microsoft China, Tencent, Youku, Qunar and so on, let alone innumerable startups scattered around Zhongguancun, the so-called Chinese Silicon Valley.
Founded less than 3 months ago, with an array of remarkable figures in the internet business came to celebrate at its debut; Garage Café is set to be unique of its kind.
For a sign of how the technology boom is progressing and how abundant venture capitals are flowing into China, a growing number of executives from internet companies choose to start their own business, for example, Xu Zhaojun, former Renren head and president of GameABC, the board and card games vertical by Shanda, founded light-blogging service Diandian and landed a 10 million worth of series A. Chinese entrepreneurship has been making great strides.
Garage Café is positioned to bridge the gap between venture capitals and startups.
Along with the booming in startup business, for venture capitalists, it is the best of times, since there’re abundant choices of promising projects, and also it is the worst of times, because you need to single out the real promising ones from a whole lot of not-so-good. Su Di, who used to be an investment manager, said that:”It’s common that investment manager need to see couple teams in a day, meeting with entrepreneurs for four pitches in the same day would be exhausted and you wasted plenty of time in the traffic jam, that’s why I come up with the idea of set up a place for investors and entrepreneurs to network. After talking to other Chinese angel investors whom unanimously agree on this, we started planning for the café since last year, searching and renovating the place, opened for business in this April eventually. “
During the venue hunting, Su brought up certain requirements for the prospective premise, firstly, it should be large enough to accommodate lots of people, and secondly, it shouldn’t be along the street, since “we want this to be a place for startups and entrepreneurs rather than regular café customers”.
Also, Su mentioned that Garage Café is the first of its kind in China. After its founding, Su found out similar ideas in Finland and the U.S., which is exciting for him since it signals that this is a viable and proven model.
Except for coffee, of course, and snacks, Garage Café also provides its customers with office facilities including copier, projector, whiteboards, meeting rooms, and a fully-filled bookshelf with IT books, magazines such as Wired. It’s more of an open office space according to Su. Entrepreneurs who pay 20 yuan for a cup of coffee can stay here for a whole day and are eligible to have access to all those facilities, for free.
Photo credit: Techweb
What Starbucks and other Café Can Never Offer, Is the Startup Ecosystem
Two months after its opening, there have been over 30 venture capitals and angels came here in hopes of finding promising projects, including some of the top-notch ones such as Matrix China, WI Harper, Shanda Capital and so on. And 4 teams have succeeded in landing a sum here. Su realised his dream, which is to set up a place to bridge the gap between investors and startups, saving the hassles involving giving out money or getting money.
According to Su, some startup teams chose to work here, since that’s how Garage imagined, you quit your job to start a business and light up your passion, again, you come to Garage with your team to perfect your crafts, you run across an investment manager here and eventually secure a term sheet. That’s all Garage is up for.
Open Office Space and More
“We’re considering turning 80% of the seating here into fixed office place, with the remaining 20% for casual clients.” Su disclosed. It seems Garage is determined to be the open office space for startups. It’s good for startup teams to work here, you get to know investors, you can brainstorm with your peers – as long as you guys are not doing the similar ideas – to bring out something you haven’t thought of before, and you’re given the opportunity to tap into the Chinese startup ecosystem, which could be proven to be very helpful in the days to come in your startup life.
Except for open office space, Garage Café has also been served as a decent venue for salons, workshops and events related to internet business. Technology media have organised events here to expand their readership, venture capitals have already hosted meetups here in search of auspicious projects, staffs from big name internet companies have set up workshops for the purpose of sharing and networking.
And there are decidedly more to expect from Garage Café in its practice of serving Chinese VCs and entrepreneurs.