ZX Ventures in China: Working in the Eye of the Hurricane

By Martin Suter

I have had the wonderful fortune to live and work internationally—which I recommend to everyone—my entire life. I am now able to continue that adventure through my work with ZX Ventures. When I moved to China this year to lead our Chinese market eCommerce team, it was actually a bit of a homecoming. I first lived here in the late 1980s, when China was on the front end of its economic development. Today, being in Shanghai and working with eCommerce, I’m living in the eye of the hurricane. Online shopping trends and new explosive growth patterns happen here first. It’s a tremendous opportunity to test out new ideas in a dynamic and active market.

The ZX Ventures office here in China reflects our status as a lean, agile startup. We’re located in an accelerator, surrounded by other startups. The creative energy in this space is ridiculous. We thrive on that growth vibe and encourage our people to take advantage of it—to really participate in the profusion of creative new ideas all around them. I see my role as the head of the eCommerce team largely as getting people infected with the startup virus, and being in this space is critical to that process.

Through my time with numerous startups, I’ve learned that the keys to a successful startup are autonomy, velocity, and agility—values that apply not just to the business and how it operates, but to the individuals working there as well. So, we provide everyone on our team with a degree of autonomy in how they execute on their ideas, giving everyone both responsibility and accountability. As far as velocity, I like to say, if you’re going to fail, fail fast. That way, you can learn the lesson from your failure and move on with that knowledge.

Part of what makes us so successful as a startup here is that the eCommerce market in China is unique. Some characteristics are cultural and unique to this region, such as the infatuation with celebrities and celebrity endorsements, but others are probably going to spread around the world. China’s mobile proliferation, with 80 to 90% of online transactions conducted from mobile devices, is likely to become a global trend. We get to experiment with how to best use that modality here, so we can drive that trend in other markets as it catches on.

I have been lucky to live and work in different countries and different cultures throughout my career. I would encourage anyone, from a professional perspective, to stretch their horizons beyond their home countries. Getting that real-life global perspective, and being taken out of your comfort zone daily, is both a provocation and a challenge, helping us grow as individuals.