Is it Still Possible for Foreigners to Win in the China Tech Industry? (one hilarious story tells us how!)

Not only has China come back online, but many of its tech giants have actually been fuelled by the Coronavirus as people have gotten more used to using online services during lockdown. Alibaba, whose B2C E-commerce Platform Taobao was essentially born out of the 2003 SARS epidemic, hasn’t done as well as tech companies that are more digitalized like Tencent (for gaming and WeChat) or Bytedance (Douyin & TikTok short video apps) during COVID, but regardless has found ways to survive. Sales grew 22% in the three months to 31 March, despite virus-related restrictions, and sales in the firm’s cloud computing division jumped 58%.

Certainly Alibaba has been hit hard by COVID in other business areas, particularly those dependent on the physical rather than digital economy, but now that business is back in China, on the longer-term trajectory this matters little. In Alibaba’s quarterly earning press release, Daniel Zhang, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Alibaba Group, says, “Alibaba achieved the historic milestone of US$1 trillion in GMV across our digital economy this fiscal year. Our overall business continued to experience strong growth, with a total annual active consumer base of 960 million globally, despite concluding the fiscal year with a quarter impacted by the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.” The company also predicted that sales for its next fiscal year could increase more than 25% from 2020.

Alibaba is aggressively pushing to expand right now, with their strategic goals for the next five years, consistent with their mission “to make it easy to do business anywhere”:

  • Continue to expand our globalization efforts
  • Serve more than 1 billion Chinese consumers
  • Facilitate more than RMB10 trillion of consumption on our platforms

These five-year goals are guide posts that will help Alibaba achieve its vision for 2036 to:

  • Serve 2 billion global consumers
  • Enable 10 million businesses to be profitable
  • Create 100 million jobs

The Alibaba e-commerce ecosystem in China is rivalled by no other, and as China builds out its Belt and Road Initiative connecting Europe and Asia as well as Africa together, Alibaba will likely be playing a significant role in the flow of goods. Those interested in leveraging the Chinese E-commerce boom as it goes global can get a head start by finding ways to integrate into the post-COVID Chinese E-commerce Ecosystem. For an example of a company that has created it’s own niche in the highly competitive Chinese E-commerce Market — meet Baopals.

Episode 1: Baopals Creating a Niche Among Chinese E-Commerce Giants

In this episode, I visit Baopals to talk to the founders, Jay ThornhillTyler McNew and Charlie Erickson, who have taken on the task of creating a Taobao for foreigners. With over 50,000 expats registered, over 3 million products sold with a value of 170 million RMB and over 1 billion products available, they have done what nobody thought could be done, this episode is by far the funniest I’ve interviewed so far, enjoy! (Click here to watch/listen)

“We had no guanxi or connections, no permission, no relationship and no money so essentially we just had to build and we kind of gambled on the fact that what we were building would not only be a good platform but also that Alibaba, arguably the most powerful company in China, one of the most powerful companies in the world, would be ok with it, which eventually we found out that they are, and that was really cool, that was a big relief.” — Jay Thornhill, Baopals


I’ve been interviewing “China Hands” on their personal stories to learn how they have managed to play their hands right in the China market. I have chosen ten of those interviews for this article which are relevant to supporting you in this COVID context. You can click on the images below to find a link to the interview on Youtube, or for those in China on Bilibilithe Chinese video platform, as well as a link to podcast if you prefer audio. Welcome to Season 2 of the Your China Dream Video Interview Series – enjoy!

If you liked the article remember to follow me on LinkedIn and if you liked the interviews remember to subscribe on Youtube or Bilibili.


Now is the perfect time to do coaching, because this crisis, if it hasn’t already, is going to challenge you in ways you have never been challenged. Personally, I’ve gone from having one coach and a therapist last year to currently having 4 coaches and 2 therapists to support me in different areas so I can operate at my potential in this challenging period. Coaching is a proven effective way to support a leader to develop to deal with the challenges that present themselves.

These days I focus on coaching entrepreneurs and their leadership teams, or executives who are looking to strike out on their own and become entrepreneurs. In rare cases when there is a strong value fit, I do consulting or play an advisory role for organizations to support them deal with adapting to the complexity of the modern world by leveraging the China market, digitizing their offerings or finding new ways of operating. As one of my clients says about working with me, “he’ll not only bring out your best, he makes your best better.”

Reach out to me on LinkedIn to discuss or add me on WeChat: fionnwright

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