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Instead of competing with China, partner up and collaborate Laurence Van Elegem - June 20, 2018

China Alexander De Bievre Landscape

An interview with Mobit co-founder Alexander De Bièvre

“European people often ask me about my focus when I tell them about the projects I’m involved in. I never get that question in China. People are purely opportunistic there: they think “if you see a chance, just grab it, even if there are risks involved””: these few words at the start of our interview sum up Alexander De Bièvre’s deep respect for China and his go-get attitude towards entrepreneurship. It was inspiring to experience how the Mobit co-founder sees possibilities where others see threats, risks and what Peter Hinssen calls “European Questions”. It’s actually a ‘little something’ he picked up when he worked and lived for 9 years in China: in Wuhu, Beijing (Tsinghua University), Shanghai and Guangzhou.

"Europeans tend to think in black and whites while the Chinese see shades of grey."

For those of you who don’t know Mobit: it’s is the sharing platform for mobility solutions that Alexander co-founded with his business partner Bernard De Groote. “It’s Airbnb, but for bikes”, as Alexander jokingly put it. “Actually, it started out as a SaaS platform for bike sharing with smart locks, but then we decided to develop our own platform - instead of using an existing one – so that we could also recycle it for other shared mobility ideas and smart city IoT applications. We’re for instance working on a fleet management solution at the moment”, Alexander explained, illustrating the opportunity-grabbing mentality he so much appreciates in China.

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“We do focus, of course, but that focus always remains relative to the market and our environment“, Alexander explained. “Our number one priority is developing Mobit in the European market, both in B2B as well as B2C. But we keep our eyes open for expansion in adjacent markets at all times. And if we’ll need to adapt, we’ll adapt.” That type of agility is also quite typical for Chinese entrepreneurs. That’s often why so many Europeans completely misunderstand the Chinese as being untrustworthy, according to Alexander: “Europeans tend to think in black and whites while the Chinese see shades of grey. When Europeans decide upon something, it is written in stone. There’s an agreement and - even if the context changes – that agreement shall be respected no matter what. The Chinese on the other hand, adapt along with the situation and the environment, which is actually a lot more logical and durable. They go where the customer leads them, not where ‘the contract’ is.”

"I tell people to use the knowhow, the technology, the mindset and the network from the Chinese, but over here."

That’s why entering the Chinese market is so tricky for Europeans. We lack the speed, and the ruthless agility to compete with the locals. Even government owned companies over there are a lot faster than over here. Their energy is incredible. And they keep on working until it’s done. “That’s something that companies over here have trouble matching.”, Alexander explains. “And we also have a hard time understanding how their minds work.” 

Entering the Chinese market is tough. Very tough. “Though I would never advise against trying your luck out there” Alexander continues, “I really prefer a different strategy: I tell people to use the knowhow, the technology, the mindset and the network from the Chinese, but over here. Take the Internet of Things technology. Theirs is so much more developed than ours in any ways. Why reinvent the wheel? Why not just integrate their insights? This is our time to ‘copy’ them.”

Actually, you can’t really call it ‘copying’, if you go about it through partnerships and collaborations. “At this moment, a lot of Chinese companies tend to consider the European market as quite niche, and much too complex.”, Alexander explained. There are so many cultures, languages, preferences, which are also very much different from theirs. That’s why - for now - they prefer to enter South Asian markets, instead of expanding to Europe. But, opportunistic as they are, they are always open to partnerships with European players, so they can enter our market with limited effort. And we should see that as an opportunity too. It’s – literally – an example of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’.”

"This is the time to join the Chinese ecosystem, and collaborate, rather than compete."

“We know they will eventually end up here, and in a lot of different industries. So this is the time to join their ecosystem, and collaborate, rather than compete.”, Alexander stated. Which is another approach that is very Chinese: to them, competitors are as much a threat as they are an opportunity for fast growth and development. It’s actually quite normal in China when competitors collaborate. Chinese understand the power of the network a lot better than us. Like Chinese online shopping website Taobao - a subsidiary of Alibaba Group - one of the world's biggest e-commerce websites which is not an actual online store but a platform for small businesses and individual entrepreneurs who want to sell their goods online.” Europeans, on the other hand, may be very well connected online, but we are a lot less so in mindset.

“One of the things I love about the sharing economy is how it re-values redundant time”, Alexander told us. “There are sharing mobility platforms that buy a lot of cars, or bikes so that others can share them. But why would you do that, when there are so many bikes and cars out there that aren’t used for 80% of the time? The smart thing is to use what’s out there, and that’s exactly what we did with Mobit. Not at first, but we quickly understood the power of re-marketing ‘idle’ objects and so we started sharing existing bikes of third parties, instead of acquiring our own. 

So, use what’s out there, and partner up to enhance your speed, and your scale. That’s definitely something that we need to “copy” from Chinese entrepreneurs over here.”

Join us on our Day After Tomorrow Tour to China in September!

Laurence
Laurence Van Elegem

Laurence has more than 10 years of experience in marketing, communications and disruptive innovation. Passionately curious, she is fascinated by the impact of technology and...

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