Biggerplate & XMind in China!
Nothing better sums up the glamour of an entrepreneur's life than sitting alone in a Shanghai airport hotel on a Saturday night with a live band providing entertainment that could quite easily be mistaken for hen-party karaoke, and indeed, was. "Shouty and occasionally in-tune" is probably not the review these young local performers were hoping for, but I suspect that will be the abiding memory for myself and the assembled throng of 4 other transient beings trying to enjoy a beer in peace before rising for offensively timed flights home in the morning. Welcome to my life.
It's a surreal end to a remarkable week here in China, where I have been fortunate enough to be involved in some amazing projects, meet and learn from some fascinating people, and also spend time with one of the world's leading mind mapping software companies!
As a highly "interpretive" opening of John Lennon's Imagine shatters the momentary serenity between songs, I thought I would share a few thoughts after my fantastic time with Stephen Zhu and the XMind team in Shenzhen!
Hong Kong History
I first met XMind Co-Founder Stephen Zhu in Hong Kong back in early 2015, where we discussed opportunities for further collaboration between XMind and Biggerplate (among many other topics)! That was actually our first ever meeting in person, despite the fact that XMind and Biggerplate had been successfully working together for several years previously - a fantastic testament to the power of the internet and the global nature of the mind mapping community.
It was a huge pleasure to meet Stephen back then and learn about the past, present and future of XMind in greater detail. I was struck by Stephen's humour, humility, and ambition for XMind, and went away from that 2015 meeting hugely inspired and energised about the possibilities that lay ahead. The meeting in fact served as a fantastic catalyst for huge progress between Biggerplate and XMind over the last two years, with the most tangible outcome being the share button within XMind that enables you to upload mind maps directly to Biggerplate.com from within the software! Looks easy... but it took quite a lot of work on both sides, and XMind was in fact the very first software developer to take advantage of our (then) new API in this way!
A Shenzhen Success Story
With all the great progress since that meeting back in 2015, I was delighted to have an opportunity to visit Stephen (below right) and CMO Owen (below left) at XMind HQ in the tech city of Shenzhen this week, to review our progress, and outline the next era of collaboration!
The XMind office is in the heart of Shenzhen; a city widely recognised as the tech capital of China, and home to a number of global tech leaders including ZTE, Huawei and Tencent among others. The city is the ideal place for a forward-looking software company to be based, and XMind has attracted talented young staff from around the country, and now boasts an impressive team of 40 people! It's a fantastic achievement for an organisation that celebrated its 10th birthday in 2016!
On the day of my visit, the office is an amazing hive of activity, with Stephen's team celebrating their new 'Lighten' mind mapping app being featured on the front page of the Apple APP Store that very day, resulting in a nice spike in downloads, and a great validation of the quality work produced by this team!
I can only apologise to the XMind staff for my inability to speak Chinese... but it was a pleasure to meet so many great people, and as you can see by the picture above, these guys and girls are mind mappers to the core, with hand-drawn maps on every one of the walls, alongside important messages like "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish", which obviously resonates with the constantly eating and inherently foolish Biggerplate team...
Sadly much of the exciting detail discussed that day will have to remain private (for now), but suffice to say users of Biggerplate and XMind have a lot to look forward to over the next period of our work together, and we are really excited to further build on the long-term partnership that was established back in 2011 when XMind the 3rd mind mapping software format to be added to Biggerplate.com!
From my perspective, it was invaluable to get some insights from Stephen and Owen about the Chinese market for mind mapping, considering that visits to Biggerplate.com from China increased by over 300% in 2016 compared to the previous year. XMind are incredibly strong in their home market, and we know that our partnership with XMind has been critical to opening up a whole new area of growth for our global community. For Biggerplate, it is essential to start thinking and acting now to engage with our Chinese members, in order to maximise the opportunity that this exciting new community represents! If any of our Chinese members are reading this blog post... we'd love to hear from you!
Of particular interest in trying to understand and maximise the opportunities ahead for both XMind and Biggerplate, there was a universal acknowledgement that East-West business models and marketing do not necessarily transport and translate seamlessly back and forth. What struck me was that the UK and US can seem as alien and unknown to Chinese companies as China can seem for us. This was not just evident in my meeting with XMind, but in several other interactions over the course of this visit to China. It confirmed for me the need to work closely with local partners and supporters in order to better understand the nuances and cultural norms that we are engaging with (or walking blindly into)!
Despite what our internet connectedness may lead us to believe, a one-size-fits-all product or brand offering is unlikely to work universally around the globe, and simply replicating/exporting what worked in one region to another is unlikely to gain the sort of engagement that you might want. China in particular has been famously tough on Western tech companies trying to simply export themselves with little (or no) adaptation to suit the local market (for a great insight into this, I recommend "China's Disruptors: How Alibaba, Xiaoi, Tencent and Others are Changing the Rules of Business" by Edward Tse). Both Biggerplate and XMind have already gained invaluable experience with regards to the challenges of this cross-cultural challenge, and certainly a key outcome of this most recent meeting will be greater collaboration and ongoing dialogue to help each other improve understanding of our respective home markets!
As Lionel Ritchie (or a screaming approximation thereof) floats through the bar, lobby, and probably the first few floors of rooms here at the hotel, I reflect on what Stephen and his team have achieved over the last 10 years and it is truly remarkable, especially given the cross-cultural challenges for a Chinese company working to reach potential users around the world! The total user population for XMind, and the daily download statistics are amazing, and will continue to grow as long as Stephen and his team can maintain their vision, focus, and high quality execution... We have no doubt that they will!
We are very fortunate to work with such an exciting, creative, and collaborative partner, and I look forward to the next era of Biggerplate-XMind innovation, and of course, to the continued growth of our Chinese member community!