One of those who believes in China’s relationship with Africa is JX Paulin, a French Togolese who came to China for the first time in 1994 as a young entrepreneur. Now, 20 years later, he is the owner of a successful design and building business in Shanghai. He was received by French President Francois Hollande in the Élysée Palace in Paris in 2013 as instrumental in developing French interests in China.
Paulin has come to believe Africa will be the next economic superpower and has developed a start-up company marketing tablets that principally target the continent. We sat down with him recently to discuss his experience in doing business in China and his vision for Africa.
Q: Mr Paulin, you have been working in China for more than 20 years and you have created your own company. Is it fair to call you an expert in the China business environment?
Paulin: I don’t think I am an expert, because you can spend half of your life in China and you will still learn every day about customs and culture here. But I am a veteran for sure, with long experience of this difficult market. Today I use this experience to help newcomers in China. The French Chamber of Commerce and Industry - for instance - often asks me to share my experience and my thoughts on how to better enter the Chinese market.
Q: What do you say to these newcomers? What part of your experience do you share and what were the key drivers to you to meet the success in China?
JP: I created my own business about 10 years ago, after 10 other years working in different fields in Shanghai, from hospitality to trading and consulting. This experience is crucial when it comes to start a business in China. It allowed me to gain knowledge on many sensitive topics related to business but also enabled me to belong to a great network of friends and business partners in Shanghai.
An entrepreneur who is newly arrived in China should be aware of the situation here. While many foreigners still see it as an “easy market” just because of its steady growth and huge population, the competition is fierce and everybody is willing to take benefit of this huge potential.
Moreover, a newcomer in China will have to deal with a multitude of cross-cultural issues. To learn Chinese customs and etiquettes will be crucial and many entrepreneurs do not realize this stake.
I went through these difficulties when I created DBX International in Shanghai. In a few years my company became the leader in the design-and-build field in Shanghai. To manage the competition, you always must be one step ahead and make efforts to stay there. Generally speaking, my first advice for a newcomer is: come prepared, not prejudiced; to be ready to adapt your model, as your home-country’s successes do not guarantee anything in China and will actually most likely not work; be respectful and curious about Chinese culture.
Today, I have used this experience to launch a new company, which I have called Mysimax. It is part of my philosophy. I think you cannot remain complacent about what you have done, but you must try to stay one step ahead of the competition, to be kind of visionary! You should have this ambition to always create new things, to lead the way.
Q: Can you tell us more about this new project? You want to contribute to the development of technology in Africa by providing tablets and applications in schools, universities, administration, hospitals?
JP: I am Franco-Togolese and I am very committed, as well as hopeful, over the development of Africa in the very near future. I just invested in Mymax, a start-up engaged in the development, production, and marketing of tablet PCs and mobile platforms in emerging markets. Our purpose is to provide access to technology in these countries, especially in Africa, and to respond to unmet needs in crucial sectors such as education. During my frequent visit in Africa (Togo, Gabon mainly), I saw many schools still using old and outdated books to learn about history, English, literature.
Still, I meet a lot of great minds, just without good tools. We should be able to give them a tool that would greatly improve education in schools and universities, by offering teaching content easily updated, access to search engine, qualitative sources and social interaction. I really believe our project in Africa can become an astounding first, a symbol of Africa’s opening up to the rest of the world.
Q: Indeed, you have decided to invest in Africa, 20 years after arriving in China and after having witnessed the growth of China as a worldwide superpower. Do you think Africa is going to be the “next China,” the next emerging economic superpower? Don’t you think it is a bit early to develop such technological tools in Africa?
JP: It is a common question. A lot of people like to remind me that it is much too early, that Africa is far from developing its technology. It is actually exactly what people told me when I decided to start my career in China.
I first arrived in Shanghai in 1994 for a simple visit. I perceived a great potential in this city, and in all China. That is why I decided to have a try and stay there. You cannot imagine how many pessimistic speeches I had to listen to. “What are you doing in this country? There is nothing good for you there! There is no future, there will be no development.” Today, I cannot be more happy and satisfied about my choice.
I feel the very same potential and opportunity in Africa right now. I have been an active actor of the recent Forum New York Africa in Libreville, and I can attest how ready Africa is to step up, in particular in term of technological improvement.
Q: Do you already have feedback from local partners?
JP: Overall, our partner feedback is very good, and interest in Mysimax’s project is very high. We have already closed several deals with schools in different countries including AFRAM in Gabon, which represents more than 7,000 students who will soon be using our technology.
We also set up a scholarship to enable African students to come to Chinese universities as an exchange and many schools are interested in to this chance.
Amy Woo is an employee of Daxue Consulting of Shanghai
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