Premiere Li Keqiang visits the 3W Café located along the Zhongguancun Entrepreneurship Street and communicates with entrepreneurs in the café on May 7. [Photo by Ding Lin/Xinhua]
It is said that in every restaurant in Zhongguancun you can hear people beside you talking about business. The wave of entrepreneurship is growing prosperously in Zhongguancun.
Premier Li Keqiang visited 3W Café on the Zhongguancun Entrepreneurship Street and had coffee last month. The coffee sold out quickly and café founder Xu Dandan became popular.
As a participant who has experienced the wave of public entrepreneurship and one of the founders of the entrepreneurship café, Xu has many opinions and experiences about his journey.
Born in the 1980s, Xu was called an early bird because he not only launched his start-up early but also opened the café early.
Xu finished undergrad at the Beijing University of Chemical Technology and went to Peking University to pursue his master's degree. Xu studied Computer Science for undergrad and Hindi Language and Culture for his master's.
Xu thought he made a smart choice, "I expected that trade between China and India would grow rapidly in the near future. And Information Technology (IT) is an emerging industry. As I have an IT background, if I master both Chinese and Hindi, I would be an appropriate candidate of IT trade between China and India."
But Xu found himself uninterested in courses on Indian Buddhism History or Indian Buddhist Arts. Therefore, Xu dropped out school and started to discover the road of entrepreneurship.
Xu changed jobs for three times in four years after graduation. In 2010, Xu posted a weibo and decided to launch a café. He said that his original intention was to establish a platform for people to discover the industrial trend and exchange knowledge as the Internet industry changed rapidly.
More than 170 capital ventures including Xu Xiaoping, founder of New Oriental Group, the domestic leader in education and Shen Nanpeng, partner of Sequoia Capital have invested in the café.
The 3W Café focused on the Internet but not entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship became a trend itself, said Xu.
"Entrepreneurship and Angel Investment are popular buzzwords nowadays that people outside the Internet industry also know them. But actually, these words became popular only in the end of 2012. China is changing so rapidly that the public gets used to new concepts soon," said Xu.
Therefore, when Angel Investment became popular in the end of 2012, 3W Café had been in the industry for two years and could be called a pioneer. This is also the reason why Premiere Li Keqiang visited 3W Café, according to Xu.
In the beginning, the founders of 3W Café worked part-time to manage the café. Problems continuously broke out. In 2012, the café was trapped in a crisis: more than seven million yuan ($1.13 million) of investment had been almost used up. After failing to pay the rent the water and electricity supply were cut. The café was closed.
After discussion, the founders decided to move the café to the Zhongguancun Entrepreneurship Street. The area of the new store was expanded six times. A total of seven capital ventures invested 6.4 million yuan ($1.03 million). In return, Xu agreed to launch other businesses in the café including job hunting websites and helping entrepreneurs raise funds.
The street was not named "the Entrepreneurship Street" when the café moved there, according to Xu.
"The atmosphere of entrepreneurship was just created at that time. But my analysts' sense told me that entrepreneurship would be a trend. It was obvious that the amount of angel investment was becoming greater. More opportunities were found in the integration of the Internet and traditional industries. The "Internet plus" was called the integration of the Internet and traditional industries in those days. Therefore, I estimated that the entrepreneurship would be popular in two to three years," said Xu.
That was also the reason why Xu quit his job and launched the café full-time.
As the government promoted public entrepreneurship to encourage and support young start-ups, more start-ups were launched along the Entrepreneurship Street, including 36Kr and Angel Crust. Each start-up had a different focus and the entire street is a huge eco-system, according to Xu.
The 3W Group has six sub-companies which include a communications agency, incubator, capital fund, and Lagou.com. Nearly 400 staffs serve to promote entrepreneurship information and provide recruiting services.
"Until now, we are the most completed Internet entrepreneurship service provider," said Xu. Such services were expanded step by step according to entrepreneurs' requirements. Finally, the services formed a small eco-system of entrepreneurship services.
Apart from 3W Café, the Zhongguancun Entrepreneurship Street is home to other presentation platforms including Cheku Café, Binggo Café, and the newly launched JD+Smart Milk Tea House by JD.com.
Facing competitors, Xu said, "The competition environment is positive. We are seeking ecological cooperation with competitors."
"If I'm not in the café, I must be on the way to café." This is the daily lives of entrepreneurs. Tons of entrepreneurs talk about entrepreneurship ideas, financing plans, and company strategies in the 3W Café everyday.
The increasing number of entrepreneurs not only brings resources and opportunities, but also brings the threat from homogenous services.
Talking about the next step, Xu said 3W Café needs to know clearly about its core competency and goal and provide deeper and sounder services. "It is hard for competitors to keep up with you if you accumulate gradually," said Xu.