Mr. Graylin has over 20 years of business management experience in the technology industry, including 15 years in Greater China. He founded mInfo (www.minfo.com) in early 2005 guiding it to its market leader position in mobile search and advertising solutions in China. mInfo is a strategic partner to all three Chinese mobile carriers for mobile search, and was the official mobile search provider for the 2008 Olympics. It also serves numerous leading brands on mobile marketing solutions and thousands of SMEs throughout China. In late 2012, mInfo spun-out a new location-based social networking platform called Guanxi (www.guanxi.me) funded by Singapore Telecom and DFJ. In 2013, Mr. Graylin co-founded MODEL+ (www.modelplus.cn), China’s only cross agency search and booking platform for professional models.
Mr. Graylin speaks at numerous international conferences around the world, has been featured on the BBC, ABC, CCTV and regularly writes for leading publications on the topic of mobile technology, marketing and entrepreneurship. Prior to mInfo, he was the CEO of two other venture-backed technology start-ups in the US, and held P&L roles at public companies such as Intel, Trend Micro, and WatchGuard technologies. Mr. Graylin was born in China and educated in the US. He received his BS in electrical engineering at the University of Washington, MS in computer science from MIT and MBA from MIT’s Sloan of Management. Mr. Graylin is fluent in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese. He enjoys golf, tennis, boxing, swimming, poker, chess, travel and reading.
The Asian Entrepreneur invites Mr. Graylin for a conversation about his startup and his experiences as a seasoned entrepreneur.
What exactly is GuanXi?
Guanxi is a mobile social networking platform that helps users make personal and professional connections with relevant people near them based on their requirements. It works as an App on IOS and Android platforms, but also as a mini-app inside the WeChat platform. The term Guanxi is the Chinese word for relationships, and the method for making and growing personal connections in the Chinese culture.
How did you come up with the idea of GuanXi?
The concept of the Guanxi app was inspired during a visit to Sweden for an LBS conference. After thinking about mobile social networking for some time and seeing some of the leading edge technology in the location space, I came up with the concept and developed the details of it over the next 1-2 months after returning to Shanghai.
Could you walk us through the process of starting up GuanXi?
Guanxi actually grew up as an incubated project within mInfo, my other company which has been delivering mobile marketing and mobile search solutions since 2005. We developed the initial IOS prototype and server solution with a small team at mInfo and also got the help of an outside vendor for the Android app beta. After the beta, we started raising some outside angel funding which we closed about 6 months later and spun Guanxi out from mInfo as a separate VIE entity. About a year after the initial concept, we received VC funding and ramped the team and technology on a faster track.
How has it been like managing the business since?
I’ve always enjoyed starting and growing tech startups, so it’s been a blast but a lot of hard work managing it through its growth stage.
Did you find anything particularly difficult during the startup?
There are many difficult things that come up during the startup process, too many to list. A constant challenge for any startup in China is finding quality and loyal talent to join the team. Rock stars prefer to start their own companies or work for larger firms. Given that we only want top talent, growing the team takes much longer than expected. Especially in top management positions. Especially when competitors or even customers will try to steal good staff from you when they mature. And we still have new challenges everyday as we face the market and competition in trying to deliver a product people find useful while keeping the team motivated and effective. I can’t say that we’ve fully overcome these challenges yet, but we are all trying very hard as a team to come up with solutions and adjustments everyday.
How was the initial reaction from the consumers?
Initial user feedback was mixed, but over the last year, the product has become more refined and optimized to user tastes and needs. The new Wechat lite-app version is getting very good traction as is the new 4.0 App version which incorporates many new user features.
What is your strategy against your competition?
There are many companies in the mobile social space in China, but very few in our space of mobile discovery and people matching. We have been focused on using deep user understanding and strong analytics to help match the right people up and giving them a chance to meet face to face. We look to expand in 2014 into better leveraging Wechat and other platforms to deliver our services to users and gaining an even larger market share.
How have you managed to stay relevant in this industry?
I’ve been working in tech and mobile the last 20 years and I often attend and speak at industry conferences, meet with industry leaders regularly, and read many reports and articles related to the industry to keep up to date on trends and technology.
What are your future plans for GuanXi?
We really can’t talk details about our future strategies, but we definitely look forward to growing users rapidly in the near future and taking our platform outside China to reach an even larger audience.
If you could start all over again, would you change anything about your approach?
Yes, likely focus on an even more narrow vertical user segment and grow quickly with a targeted point solution. This helps to make the product simpler and the marketing message more clear. But the key is picking the right vertical.
What do you think about startups in Asia?
Asia is a big place. I’m more familiar with the Chinese market and it seems China has some of the biggest tech companies in the world now. The startup culture and ecosystem is still not as mature as the US, but growing fast. In the next 10 years, China will definitely be a powerhouse of innovation in the tech space.
What are some personal principles or personal values that guide you and your career?
Work hard, work smart, find great people to work with, work on a space you enjoy, pay attention to details on key issues, create value for your customers, stay balanced, stay fit, keep learning, be happy and give back when you can!
What is your definition of success?
Success is when you have the choice to do what you want to when you want to, not because you have to and have the ability or resources to give back and provide a positive influence on causes you care about. I’m still working hard to try to get there.
Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
I’ve always been self-driven and enjoy taking the lead. I tried working in a large firm and also in startups, and enjoy the culture and control of startups much more. Less time wasted on politics and you get to do what you enjoy. You work very hard, but because it’s what you want you don’t feel tired.
What do you think are the most important things entrepreneurs should keep in mind?
Surround yourself with a great team! Start companies in an industry you know well and have an advantage in. Be tenacious…don’t give up. Spend your time on the things ONLY YOU can do, and delegate work to others they can do. Raise more money than you think you need. Be very positive because you will have many more downs than ups… Hire slowly, fire quickly! Find some good mentors/advisors you really trust and are on your side.
In your opinion, what are the keys to entrepreneurial success?
Entrepreneurial success is a combination of all the things in 17 and 20, plus a lot of LUCK! Doing all those things won’t guarantee success…but it will certainly increase your chances. Getting a good break on a crucial deal or picking the right product at the right time can be more of a determinant than years of hard work!
Any parting words of wisdom for entrepreneurs out there?
No matter what happens, be happy and stay calm. Life is never as good or bad as it seems. Spend your cash sparingly…give yourself time to fight another day. Make your decision to start a company with careful consideration but once you decide. Stick to it! Go make a difference!
Twitter – https://twitter.com/AGraylin
Linkedin – cn.linkedin.com/pub/alvin-wang-graylin/0/15/185