We just had coffee with CEO who, after a couple years in Hong Kong, made the interesting decision to base his tech startup in Beijing.Here’s what we learned about startup life in China’s biggest city:
- Pollution is horrible. A very bad day of smog in New York will see “particulates per million” reach maybe 80 on a 1 to 500 scale. Every day, the US embassy tweets the particulates per million in Beijing, and this CEO said it’s normal for the number to be around 200 and sometimes pass 500.
- labour costs are cheap, but increasing rapidly. When this CEO moved his company to Beijing two years ago, the base, all-in cost for an engineer was $600 a month. Now it’s twice that.
- Engineers are order-takers, not innovators. This CEO said that it is very easy to find engineers to hire in Beijing. There is a very wide talent “puddle” – which is not a “pool” because its too shallow. The problem is that even the most competent engineers are not comfortable doing much besides taking orders. They’re not good at taking apart each others’ code, catching bugs, and innovating on their own, he said.
- Censorship costs about 45 minutes a day in productivity. Because his startup is taking on the American market, this CEO uses a lot of American consumer Web services. The firewall is always getting in the way. Having to get on a VPN slows down Google, Gmail, Facebook, and Twitter.
Here’s some general stuff we learned about life in China:
- Consumerism is booming. This CEO said all his people own at least one Apple product, and sometimes too.
- There is no homelessness on the streets. There is a huge disparity between the middle class and the poor, but you have to leave the city to see it.
- Contrary to what you hear, there is popular angst about Web censorship. Normal Chinese people do get angry that the government filters what they can learn about on the Internet and through the media. But they only care when it comes to domestic issues. For example, they were furious that the government only allowed two “journalists” to investigate a recent horrific train crash. They don’t care if the government is blocking access to search results on “Tienanmen Square.”