The launch of Entrepreneur Commons China Chapter yesterday at Xindanwei has given us, the Xindanwei team, a great learning opportunity to mobilize a house full of entrepreneurs to achieve peer-to-peer learning. This is truly unforgettable experience; I personally have learned some major differences between an open discussion with no direct requirement for concrete outcomes (which I have organized regularly before) and a real action-learning event. Because it is the first time, we have allowed us to make mistakes and didn’t set the standard too high for p-2-p learning outcomes. The sunny sides of the first attempt are: 1. we have gathered more than 35 entrepreneurs and some good sharing topics; 2. The event has generated some really good dialogues for further development of entrepreneur p-2-p learning.
This event is over subscribed in terms of number of participants despite of our filtering effort. In order to keep the discussion more intensive and interactive, we divided the participants into three subgroups three days before the event and tried to get an entrepreneur with their specific topics (questions) to host a subgroup.
After my introduction of Entrepreneur Commons, the host of each subgroup presented their subject in public, and then continued the discussion in separate room for 40 minutes with the interested participants. At the end of the event, the summaries of the subgroup discussion are shared in public. The topics of these three subgroups are:
Topic 1: (by John Pasden and Song Shen of All Set Learning)
1. How do you decide when to hire full-time employees? Are there any tips for dealing with Chinese labor law?
2. How do you develop a small business's IT department? (in-house vs. outsourced, etc.)
3. What does a realistic plan for offering key players equity look like? Are there any viable alternatives to equity for small businesses?
Topic 2:(by Wu Yuanjing of Warmfund.org)
How an after-work social entrepreneurial venture should set up its own team structure. First of all, do we really need a full-time member?
Topic 3: (by Mark Evans of Social Innovation China socialinnovationchina.org)
Social Innovation China is an unstructured and open event bringing together the local and international community of: social entrepreneurs and changemakers, innovators, artists and geeks who use technology and creativity for good people interested in social responsibility and making a difference. This event is a platform to network, exchange ideas, explore collaboration and Get Things Done. The first event of Social Innovation China was held on April 24, 2010. What are going to happen next? How can we change the format to make it a more successful event?
The outcome of the discussions are:
Topic 1: (Notes provided by Elsie, third question was not covered due to the time limit)
1. As regards full-time employees, a majority of them would like to hire Part-time employees.
The pros of part-time: save money; the company can get the fresh idea all the time; the part-time co-workers can finish the work in time and also keep good quality of work; without the trouble of complicated Chinese labor law(invoice, cash, contract and so on.).
They expressed that if they want to hire full-time employees, it depends on the level of enterprise’s development. Contract is an important thing, not only the content on surface it represents, but also the safe feeling to the staff. And making a home feeling of the company is the entrepreneur wants to, no matter what the labor law is (Foreign law or Chinese law). Sometimes, people’s emotion and feeling can make sense.
2. As regards a small business’s IT dept. (in house vs. outsourced, etc.), a majority of them would like to choose outsourcing IT support. Nowadays, the new technology skill is pretty important. More and more small business entrepreneur pay much attention to IT aspect.
The reason for choosing outsourcing is as follows:
1) Control the deadline and economize the cost
2) Ensure the quality, much more professional
3) Effective work (In-house workers may delay the item and have many excuses for mistakes. If you want to hire an in-house and professional worker, it needs a huge amount of money.)
YY: If we hire a full-time member, he will work 20 hours per week and focus on liaison and coordination to improve the overall work efficiency of the team. When did you hire the first employee?
Chen Xu: Xindanwei was established in July 2009 with three full-time members. More than six months later, we hired our first full-time employee. My view is that for the long-term development of the enterprise, it’s necessary to hire full-time employees.
Danny Chang: I think when a company’s cash flow is stable, there should be one person to do the job. The problem is if currently your cash flow is stable. You need to do a financial analysis.
YY: So in the early stage the team structure depends on the long-term goal and how many people are needed to achieve this goal.
Alan Lee: Being an entrepreneur, you must firstly make it clear what your first priority is. The members of YY’s team are currently all doing part-time, so what’s the priority, your full-time job or your own business? To build the human resources, you must firstly think what you want.
Betty Zhang: Our company was founded in 2006, currently one of the biggest problems is money.
Alan Lee: what can we do if we have ideas but no funds? Look for the help from entrepreneurs! Look for entrepreneurs engaged in NGO related industry. We need to expand the scope and channels. Entrepreneurs will have the will to do something meaningful, such as common good, when they develop to a certain stage
Summary: an entrepreneur team should make clear their own ideas and priorities. The building of the team’s human resources depends on the company’s long-term development goals.
Topic 3: (note taken by myself)
1. There was a question from participant in regards to the definition of social entrepreneur, i.e. who are the target audiences of Social Innovation China? Richard Brubaker has explained his spectrum about social entrepreneur and social venture, the outline can be found at http://collectiveresponsibility.org/en/plotting-chinas-social-entrepreneurs
2. Another question is about the objective of the Social Innovation China event and the tool of measuring the success. The objectives should be more specific in order to help evaluate if the event has been organized in the expected way and created the expected impact.
3. Suggestion about integrating next Social Innovation China in the Social Innovation Carnival(august-september) organized by YouChange foundation in Shanghai is considered. This should bring a good starting point of collaboration between SI China and local foundation to get more local public and social entrepreneurs involved.
At the end of the event, we have had an open discussion on how to improve entreco meetup of next time, there are a few concrete suggestions from the participants:
1. Shorten the introduction time. People tend to spend too much time on introducing themselves and “advertise” their company or project. And because of the language issue, everything need to be said twice.
2. The sharing should be more intensive and more productive.
Firstly, it took a long time for the participants to really figure out what the question really is.
Secondly, Some hosts lacked experiences and preparation in dealing with peer-to-peer learning and open discussion, the formulation of the “problem” was not clear enough, the discussion got easily distracted and wasn’t always focusing on the questions itself, and the task of summarizing discussion was not completed fully.
Thirdly, commented by Elsie, one of the coordinators: “when people meet with each other for the first time, they may not really want to say some deep things of their company with others. Everyone is an entrepreneur, the biggest reason they come here is to develop their own business. So some communications just like a chat, not a technical discuss. Maybe somebody prepared well and had good presentation about their company’s information, but what the audience really learnt was the surface thing. What the audience really got was just in an promotional way from another entrepreneur.” She suggested further “as one point for the long-term development of “Entrepreneur Commons” to be considered, what is the core point to attract and hold these entrepreneurs together for a long time shall be considered.”
What can be done better?
a. Provide a concrete format of introduction, just name, organization, no more than three words about your expectation for the event.
b. The subject needs to be sent out to the participants before the event takes place so participants will have chance to prepare.
c. Choose the host and subject more carefully (maybe an online forum to let everyone vote?), there should be a clearer communication in advance with the host about how to brief the problem to your peers, provide them basic tools to host a discussion and the self evaluation for improvement.
d. Assign someone in advance to take note for the discussion
e. use some playful way and tools to build trust and intimacy with each other before starting to share.
f. Establish a direct link among the participants via social media tools to allow regular communication beyond the monthly meet-up.