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March 17, 2016

An interview with Emil – The founder of Hapo

by Yan Diana and Ling Li

Background:

Company Name: Hapo

Introduction: Founded in 2006, Hapo is a city poly system who operates various events combining art, parties and trends into one place. It serves a large range of brands and integrates culture into business. Hapo also creates its own entertainment programme.

1.Question:What makes you decide to be an entrepreneur and start your own business?

Answer:It all started from 2006. At that time I was a sophomore in the university. When I returned to China that year, I found an unique phenomenon that: In the Chinese Bar, people’s age ranges from 30 to 60, and only a very limited proportion of the customers are the young (from 20 to 30 years old). This inspired me to come up with an idea to use party as a method to gather friends and hang out together, which is the same way I used in UK to call for my fellows.

Another indirect reason is my family. As many international students do, when I back to China, I took over the responsibility from my parents to run my family business, bur there were two problems emerged at that time.

Firstly, my parents’ management ideas are different from mine, which resulted in endless quarrels with my family. Furthermore, I felt I can’t realize my personal value and achieve nothing at this stage, with only rare friends in China, eventually I decide to start my own business in 2009.

2.Question:Why did you choose cultural media enterprise as your business?

Answer:Initially, my idea is: Through holding these parties, people can enlarge their social network, and meet with new friends. Because deep down inside, I think Chinese are really living a tough life, it is hard to make people feel happy and relieved in their daily life. Thus, I ask myself why we can’t have a relaxing and blest lifestyle, why we can’t have party like those foreigners? I hope my cultural project can bring happiness to people.

3.Question:How do you ensure your idea is both creative and profitable? How do you promote the creativity in your company?

Answer:In terms of creativity, I really admire Japanese’ innovative ability. They are especially excelled in“secondary innovation”, which means they are talented in adapting and improving those existed outstanding work to perfection. Thus, I believe that best ideas come from learning and imitating; hence many creative ideas of mine were coming from some classical cases outside of China.

When it comes to how to make profit, we didn’t go that further at the beginning stage. But there was a harsh time from 2009 to 2012, it was literally a big challenge for our company. During that period, I made another decision: I went to Beijing for one-year further study. After that our team usually have brainstorming together to think about creative ideas.

4. Questions:From your perspective, what are the most essential traits and skills for an entrepreneur?

Answer:In my opinion, I regard entrepreneurship as a spirit, which comes from the passion of what you love. Meanwhile, you should have a comprehensive understanding, personalized analytical skills and endless enthusiasm on your own business. Of course as an entrepreneur, we need a wide range of knowledge in various domains, such as history, philosophy, psychology and management theory etc. Also, the ability to execute the idea is very important as well. Thus, it is not very easy to be an entrepreneur.

5.Question:Do you have any advice for the students who want to start a business in creative and media industry?

Answer:For those students who want to be entrepreneurs, my advice is: before starting up a business, they should ask themselves which industry they are interested in first. Platform is extremely important for these students. For example, if you are interested in Media, go to a related company and learn sufficient working experience, meeting with more authorities in this field. Do not push yourself too much, in the beginning five years, try to polish up your own skills and knowledge and waiting for the suitable time to start your business.


February 28, 2015

Dance Entrepreneur– Swaroopa Unni



Interviewer: Ankita Menon

Swaroopa Unni is a dance entrepreneur based in Dunedin, New Zealand where she founded Natyaloka School of Indian Classical dance. Natyaloka is a Sanskrit word for the ‘world of dance’ and the school embodies that word by offering classes in Bharatnatyam and Mohiniyattam.

Currently pursuing her PhD in Dance studies from Otago University, New Zealand, Swaroopa began her dance journey from the tender age of four. She has trained in Bharatnatyam, Mohiniyattam, Kuchipudi and Kathak, each a distinct Indian classical dance style of its own over a span of 15 years from various distinguished dance masters and has performed across many stages in India. She has also won several prizes at the University, District and State levels whilst representing her school and college.

Born into a family of artists that encouraged dancing amongst girls, she never faced any objection from her family members to pursue this field and believes her husband Siddharth Nambiar is her strongest supporter and critic who equivalently helps her in the technical aspects of her dance shows.

Natyaloka was never a “pre-planned” idea for a start-up and began in the flow of her married life after shifting to Dunedin in 2010.
In an email interview, she writes, “I knew that dance would be a part of my life though I was not sure how long or how much I would be involved in it. I was the happiest when I was on stage. So I had a hope that I would become a performing artist. But once I moved to Dunedin, I was asked if I could teach /train the youth from the Indian diaspora here and so my journey began. It just all fell into place and Natyaloka was born.

For someone who has been performing her whole life, surprisingly, teaching dance to 25 students of all ages gives her utmost satisfaction.

Prior to Natyaloka and after moving to Dunedin, Swaroopa participated at the Dunedin Fringe Festival in 2011 and was nominated for the outstanding performer and best newcomer, thanks to the support of the Dunedin creative arts community. The local community at Dunedin was only familiar with Bollywood dance and in her own little way, Swaroopa was instrumental in creating an interest in Indian classical dance forms through workshops, lecture-demonstrations and various tutoring sessions within the Indian diaspora as well as with the local population in Dunedin. As a culmination of all these, Natyaloka was born on 6 October 2011 “at a spare room in her apartment with just three students.” She felt Natyaloka would be the best launchpad to promote herself as a dance instructor as well as an artist.

Natyaloka was the first Indian classical dance school in Dunedin and its main USP was that it was an all-inclusive performing arts center catering to all skill levels and abilities. Class, religion, age, ability and gender were not taken into consideration and the main aim was “to inculcate a healthy and supportive environment for learning the dance forms.”

Analyzing the SWOT of her dance school, Swaroopa writes. “My idea was not commercialization of the dance form, our culture or to make profits. I just wanted to share my passion for dance with the others and identify similar artists, art appreciators within my dance school and outside. So I didn’t identify any threat nor am I insecure
She never considered the competition while starting out and doesn’t really mind it as long as it is healthy competition where her art can speak for itself.

Dance is an art form that often does not provide enough financial impetus especially in countries where dance appreciation is not fully developed or encouraged. Like any solo dance entrepreneur, Swaroopa, too, struggled to gain financial incentives only through her dance school. She reminisced that when she started Natyaloka, the classes used to initially take place at her apartment and there was hardly any cost involved apart from knowledge generation. But as the dance school grew and more and more students enrolled, she decided to move the classes to a studio for which she pays the per week’s rent. Initially, she had to do a couple of odd jobs to sustain the rent payment but now she pays from the fees given by the students.

She admits with complete honesty,” I don’t make much earning through my dance school. But I am doing it for the love of it. I just want to share my passion and love for art with everyone around me.

Dance is an expensive field on account of the costumes, venue and stage options. More so for Indian classical dances because the tradition of performing it on a proper stage in front of a knowledgeable audience adorned in the traditional attire and jewellery has to be followed. The financial expenses intensify with the addition of live music, which is why many artists prefer to use recordings rather than live orchestra. Swaroopa acknowledged that the struggle is real when it comes to arranging the venue, stage, lights and costumes and to add-on to that, promotion of shows and sale of tickets/ invites. However that hasn’t stopped all her shows from being a sell-out until now!

Natyaloka usually hosts its annual productions between August and October every year and apart from that, participates in several cultural events set up by the Dunedin City Council.
Explaining the process undertaken for her annual productions, she writes-” I look for a theme for my show every year and rehearsals start 7-8 months before the actual production. Initially during class hours and then closer towards the programme, say 2-3 months before we meet on Sunday for extra rehearsal. Planning for Themes for production start right after one is finished the previous year. I start with booking the venue, hiring sound and light and hiring the tech and photographer and letting the students and their parents know about the production and rehearsal details at the beginning of the year. Costumes and jewellery are sourced from India which my parents help me organize.”

A lover of all dance styles, currently she is focused on Bharatnatyam. While the performer in her believes in maintaining her individuality in the choreographies, as a teacher she encourages her students to find their own individual style in synchronization with the choreographic works. Swaroopa enjoys projecting contemporary issues in her dances as well as undertaking concepts showcasing women as powerful characters. She writes,” Creativity is a process on its own. I observe a lot. I read a lot too. So when I come across something that is interesting to me, that triggers a spark in my mind I go about researching it and try to come up with a choreography and music.”

Her passion for using dance as a medium of change is explicitly indicated in her belief that Indian classical dance has a bright future ahead due to its beautiful story-telling feature which can be used to address contemporary issues of today and not just remain as an “exotic spectacle.”

Swaroopa feels that in terms of marketing, self-branding plays an important role for a dance entrepreneur to attain opportunities and use it as a wheel for promotional activities. Although she admits at being bad in promoting herself, she takes every given opportunity to promote her students through Natyaloka. Apart from that, she indulges in word-of-mouth, Facebook, fliers-around-the-city and articles in local newspapers as marketing strategies before a show. However, at the beginning of every year she does advertise for new enrollments at local newspapers in line with the promotion for Natyaloka.

Even though it took 2 years for Natyaloka to create a name in the Dunedin dance scene, Swaroopa is happy with the active participation of Natyaloka in the Dunedin dance community and the name it has created for itself in the dance sector. Although bigger cities like Auckland and Wellington have a number of Indian classical dance institutions, she feels the sector is small but growing.

When asked how things would have been different if she started her school in India, she writes- “India would have been different. Easier to get students because dance is part of our lives and there is no need for an explanation. But I am happy I started here because I can look at my dance objectively. My perspectives, ideas and philosophies have changed.”

It is a one-woman army handling everything for now and she doesn’t want to make it an enterprise unless she gets the opportunity to work with like-minded people who will foster and support her endeavours.


Her top three requirements for anyone setting out to be a cultural entrepreneur in the dance field are passion, love and courage. As a concluding note, she writes- “If you are looking only for money and financial gain or expecting profits, it is not easy. I think this is a profession were whatever meagre amount you earn from a project in invested again for the next one. It doesn’t stay in your account. Unless you are successful to procure funding for the projects which is a highly competitive area.”

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Natyaloka?pnref=story

Swaroopa unni performing Bharatnatyam


February 21, 2015

Interview with a lifestyle cultural entrepreneur

Interviewee: Qi Fu, 33, female

Interviewer: Zhe Tang


Company: ‘秘会’, ‘Secret Date’, a lifestyle space in Beijing, started in January.

Slogan: ‘a light luxury lifestyle’

Business concept: To provide an after-work space for female professionals in Beijing to get rid of the pressure of workplace with an artistic lifestyle.

Target market: female professionals, age between 28-35, month salary between RMB 20,000-30,000 (GBP 2,083-3,125)

Location: located on east third ring of Beijing, in the capital city’s business area. One station by subway to the city’s CBD and Sanlitun Village, a concentrated area with bars and fashion brand shops frequently visited by trendsetters and white-collars.

Value chain: ‘Secret Date’ operates as a promotion platform to sell artists designs online and run lifestyle sessions offline. Artists and class tutors are paid by certain percentage of commission.

Operation mode

Offline: offline sessions include flower arrangement, drawing, vocal music, reading club, beauty makeup class, etc. personalised design, private party…

Online: sell designer products via online shop on Chinese social media ‘Wechat’

Vision: Bridging the gap between artists and consumers to make art a lifestyle for female professionals.

Mission

Creating a private space for female professionals to enrich their life with artistic tastes.

Giving independent designers and artists the access to mass consumers through the platform.

Entrepreneur background: studied vocal music in Germany for eight years. Came back to China at the age of 28 and worked as a voice teacher for three years in Beijing. Expecting to expand social circle and learn management, Fu joined Chinese job-hunting TV show ‘Only You’, where she won the job of president assistant of Eve Group, a Chinese men’s wear company. Fu left the company in January, 2015 to start her own business.

Q&A:

Q: Why do you want to start your own business?

A: I have a lot of ideas, which I can’t realise when working for someone else, I need a space to make my personal ideas come true. I’ve accumulated many resources in media, PR, fashion and cultural industry through my last job. I want to use my network to promote my friends in these industries as an agency. Designer platforms are becoming popular recently.

Q: Where does your idea come from?

A: Professional women in Beijing with monthly salary under 50,000 yuan (5,211 pounds) can only live a decent rather than luxurious life. I hope to make art a kind of lifestyle instead of something distant from the public. Outside work, I want to enrich their lives with artistic tastes and design, meanwhile affordable.

Q: How did you solve the start-up capital?

A: I have some friends with similar ideas, and each of us take some money to start the business. I worked in men’s wear company, thus have a network with designers and production companies. My partner studied design and worked in jewellery company.

Q: Meaning of the name ‘Secret Date’, and the logo.

A: What I create is an artistic lifestyle space, therefore I want to people to associate it with privacy, secrecy and mystery. That’s how I name the brand and why I use ’S’, the first letter of ‘Secret’, in the logo.

Q: Who is your target customer? Why?

A: The major consuming power in China is the after 80s, who are well educated, with certain proportion having overseas background They are at the most uprising period of their career. I hope these people, from 28 to 35 years old, who care about their life quality, will become my customers. I want to attract them with the concept of ‘art as a lifestyle’, and produce service and products from learning their needs.

Q: Your understanding of the industry, e.g. market size, competition, potential and your advantage.

A: These years Chinese people started to be interested in designer brands and art derivatives. The demand for luxury brands is decreasing. Many designers and artists begin to operate independently, but for artists, there is a contradiction between artistic pursuit and public demand. Products with too much abstract concept can hardly be accepted by the mass market. My advantage is I can use what I have learnt to communicate with designers and artists in a rational way to help them create marketable products. Then use my network resources and operating experience to promote their works.

Q: Profit mode.

A: designer product selling: online specialised design B2C, offline mass production B2B

Offline sessions and activities: membership

Q: Communication strategy.

A: I hope to attract target consumers by cross-brand cooperation and creating events our target consumers interested in, then spread it by social media. Word of mouth is the ideal way as it means recognition from our customers.

note: Fu is currently running a public account of her brand on ‘Wechat', the most popular Chinese social media platform. With friends working in media industry, they produce and release exquisite blogs and photos through the platform. They rely on consumers and friends forwarding these blogs to increase the subscription of their public account to reach more potential audiences.

Q: How does the Chines government support cultural and creative businesses?

A: By now, we haven’t applied for national capital or policy support. As far as I know, the Chinese government is very supportive to cultural and creative businesses. Candidates can apply for national fund, project support etc. For example, each district provides startup enterprises with working space support.



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  • Thanks to Olivia and Oscar for posting this some great questions and food for thought here. by Ruth Leary on this entry

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