How I Ended Up Interviewing Derek Andersen In China

I have been preparing for this for quite some time now, but I always felt that I was not ready, that I did not have much to write about… but then things started happening.

I am super excited about this post because I like to share my thoughts and connect with other people. However, I also know it is not going to be perfect and that makes me a little scared.

Anyway…

“Screw it, let's do it” — Richard Branson

About Me

I am 24 years old, I come from a tiny village (approx. 1500 inhabitants — people always laugh at me when I mention that) located on the south of the Czech Republic. I am currently in China, pursuing a lifelong goal of mine.

Many of my friends ask me, “Why China?”. Well, there are many reasons. The most pragmatic one starts with the company I cofounded 2 years ago with a friend. Looking back (it's been 1 year already) I can say that I like China primarily because living in such completely unfamiliar environment (language, culture, etc.) has presented huge opportunities for me, challenging me to grow in many aspects of my life.

Moving to China

Getting into China was very crucial for the interview with Derek Andersen to happen. 3 principles played essential role here:

  • Never take “NO” for an answer
  • Taking action & “hustling”
  • Serendipity & luck

We have all heard about these before and I will try to illustrate how they worked for me.

I came to China in August 2014 as an exchange student to the Peking University HSBC Business School.

  1. Never take “NO” for an answer

These exchange programs are usually awarded to the best students from the class. This was not me. My grade point average was… average. And according to the official requirements I did not fall into the right category. However, I decided to try even with this obvious “handicap”.

2. Taking action & “hustling”

At first, Charles University in Prague (my alma mater in the Czech Republic) did not list China as one of the options for students to go for 1 or more exchange semesters to. That did not stop me. I started cold-emailing many different universities all over China (and Asia) to ask if they would like to host me for some time as an exchange student. Many of them ignored me or otherwise said they did not accept “freelancers”. I began to lose hope…

Then one day I got the following email from the representative of Peking University HSBC Business School:

Fortunately, it turned out that convincing the International Department of my university to sign the agreement was not a big problem (I even received a 1 year scholarship and a thankful note from the director! Apparently, they had strived to establish some kind of partnership with Peking University for a long time without any constructive response). So, here I was, getting ready for my stay in China!

3. Serendipity & luck

I still think I was extremely lucky to be selected and given a chance to spend a period of my life in Shenzhen, one of the most vibrant entrepreneurial cities in Asia (as I discovered later). Nevertheless, it would not have happened without taking action and preparing for the opportunity.

(For more on this I encourage you the check out the #AskGaryVee Show hosted by Gary Vaynerchuk. I like the way he talks about it.)

Joining Startup Grind

When I arrived in Shenzhen, I did not know anybody. I wanted to know what went on in the city, where the best places to meet people were, etc. I spent first few months going out at least twice a week and meeting new people (expats and locals). (Meetup.com is an awesome platform that helped me a lot in the beginning!)

I started visiting Startup Grind events (even though they were in Chinese) because I knew I would meet some amazing entrepreneurs from the local startup community. It did not take long to meet Yan (Director of Shenzhen Startup Grind chapter). We stayed in touch, I showed up to some of the events he (co)organized and helped promote them in my circles, etc. I really liked what they were doing.

Then about 3 months ago, one of the co-Directors of Startup Grind Shenzhen had to leave China. An opportunity opened up. Me and Yan talked again; he knew what I was doing and that I had always been around, trying to help. He offered me to take over the co-Director position that was now unoccupied. You guessed it, I said YES!

A few months later, Derek Andersen (founder of Startup Grind) was planning his trip to China to visit local chapters, do interviews and speak at events all over China. Of course, he also scheduled a stop in Shenzhen… and somebody had to interview him, so I volunteered.

It was all about the opportunity and (a lot of!) luck. But again, the first step is very important — taking action and giving before you take! The right people will see it and appreciate it in the future no matter the location, age or background.

Interview with Derek

The interview was planned for Wednesday 11/28/15, lunch time. However, we did not have high expectations since it was not the best time. There was no other option as Derek had to go to Hong Kong later that afternoon. We decided to go for it anyway.

Venue

We found an amazing co-working space in the Shenzhen technology area called 思微 Simply Work, a place full of enthusiastic people working late hours to get things done. That is exactly the atmosphere we wanted.

Simply Work

Preparation

We worked very hard to make sure that no matter how big the event, it would have the right vibe and atmosphere. We literally invited people one by one and “spammed” every single entrepreneurship related online community we could find and had access to.

Day D & Hour H

To our surprise (especially mine) we managed to squeeze around 120 people in the room!

People mingling and getting seated
“Full house” before Derek's arrival

It felt great, but extremely humbling at the same time. So many people skipped the lunch and took their time to visit our event. I did not want to mess it up.

Meeting Derek

Derek is the real deal. An extremely charismatic guy with a lot of experience, he is willing to share his ideas with everybody. This attitude, together with his constantly present smile, is contagious.

What I truly appreciate about Derek is the fact he is fully dedicated to the (Startup Grind) community. I sent him an email right after the event and got reply within few hours, despite his event-packed schedule. BIG LIKE!

Lessons learned

  1. Having traction (users / customers) and a great product gives you leverage. Think about it before you start chasing VCs.
  2. Never give up. Taking a break and helping other people to build companies is not a failure. Keep going, educate yourself, grow and the right time will come sooner or later.
  3. One customer at a time. That is how you scale your business from a “small garage” to the globally recognized one while sustaining high quality of the service / product.

There is much more to be learned from this interview and that is why I am also including a full-length, high quality recording (see below!).

Interview

Mentioned books

The Four Steps To The Epiphany
How Will You Measure Your Life?
The Innovator's Dilemma
The Hard Thing About The Hard Things
Traction

Questions

Unfortunately, I did not have a chance to ask all the questions I had prepared. Here is the list, feel free to use it as a guideline or inspiration for your next interview (do not forget to share the outcome with us!).


1. You have spent approx. one week (or more) traveling in China, visiting and talking to local entrepreneurs. How would you describe Chinese startup scene compared to the one in the US / EU / (Norway)?

2. What is your take on “Do not take the VC’s money; hustle and build an awesome product first” approach? What is the mindset of current startup founders? When should startups seek the venture capital investment?

3. What is THE one generally accepted “true fact” in the startup industry that you do not agree with or you have a different opinion about? — Peter Thiel (Zero to One)

4. How do you maintain high quality content when you scale events from one local chapter to many chapters all over the world? What makes an SG chapter successful? — David Bellisario (founder of hardwarestatup.io, London)

5. Could you share with us some “real-life” examples that illustrate how powerful this global Startup Grind community is?

6. If the audience should take away 3 pieces of advice from this interview, what would you emphasize the most? What are the 3 most “game-changing” lessons you learned (from SG, startups, VC’s, etc.) along the way?

7. Where do you see Startup Grind in the next 5 / 10 years and what can we do to help you accomplish this vision?

8. Who is the first person that comes to mind when I say the word “successful”? Why? And what do you most appreciate / admire about him or her? — Inspiration from The Tim Ferriss Show

9. Who do you have the most fun interviewing? And who is somebody you want to get in a Startup Grind event but have not yet?

10. What books would you recommend for those interested in becoming a (better) startup founder?


If you enjoyed the article, spread the word and share it with your friends! And, if you plan to be in San Francisco on February 23–24 (2016), make sure to check out the Startup Grind Global Conference. I hope to see you there!

Derek and I after the interview