Interviewed by Hans Tung and Zara Zhang.
GGV Capital’s Hans Tung and Zara Zhang interview Doris Ke, a marketer and writer who has had an interesting career across the US and China. Doris grew up in China and went to the US for college, where she attended Bard College in New York. She started her career at Unilever where she worked on brand development, and then joined Michael Kors in New York where she was the social communications manager for APAC. In 2015, she left Michael Kors to become the head of marketing operations at Alipay US, based in Silicon Valley. In 2017, she returned to China to become the CMO of the Chinese startup YCloset (衣二三), which is often referred to as “the Chinese version of Rent the Runway”. She recently left YCloset to start her own marketing startup.
Throughout all of this, she has also been running a WeChat official account with around 100K followers called “doriskeke”, where she blogs about the cultural differences between US and China.
During this lively episode, Doris discussed the cultural differences between working at Chinese vs. American companies, lessons from her viral yet controversial marketing campaign at YCloset, what it is like to live in Beijing as a Shanghainese, and how she used the “growth mindset” to find her boyfriend (now husband).
Hans Tung: Hi there. Welcome to the show, where we interview movers and shakers of China’s tech industry, as well as tech leaders who have a U.S.-China cross-border perspective. My name’s Hans Tung. I am the managing partner at GGV Capital, and have been working at startups and investing in them in both the U.S. and China for the past 20 years.
Zara Zhang: My name is Zara Zhang. I’m an investment analyst at GGV Capital and a former journalist. On the show today we have Doris Ke, a marketer and writer who has had an extremely interesting career across the US and China. Doris grew up in China and went to the US for college where she attended Bard College in New York. She started her career at Unilever where she worked on brand development and then joined Michael Kors in New York where she was the Social Communications Manager for APAC. In 2015 she left Michael Kors to become the Head of Marketing Operations for Alipay US based in Silicon Valley. In 2017 she returned to China to become the CMO of the Chinese startup YCloset or Yiersan 衣二三 which is often referred to as the Chinese version of Rent the Runway. She recently left YCloset to start her own marketing startup.
Hans Tung: Throughout all of this, she has also been running a WeChat official account with around 100,000 followers called Doriskeke where she blogs about the cultural differences between the US and China. She’s also known as Dao Jie 刀姐 in China because Chinese people pronounce her name as Doris and by the way Dao Jie 刀姐literally means knife sister. I always found this name appropriate because both her personality and her writing are extremely sharp, on point and insightful. Welcome to the show Doris.
Doris Ke: Hi everyone.
Zara Zhang: So, you chose a very different career path from the vast majority of Liuxuesheng 留学生 or Chinese students who study abroad. Most of my friends who went to college in the US found jobs in finance, consulting or engineering after graduation, but you went into FMCG and marketing; why?
Doris Ke: Yeah, I think to be honest, one of the reasons why is actually I couldn’t get one. I went to a liberal arts college. It’s Bard College, it’s not like a big university like Harvard or Yale, so I wasn’t really –
Hans Tung: But it’s still a good school.
Doris Ke: Yeah, it’s a good school but it’s famous for art and all of my friends, they’re like really into philosophy and art. They want to be artist when they graduate so we are not like one of those target schools, so that’s the actual real reason. Then the second reason is really when I was doing an internship when I was in college, I didn’t even bother to go to one of those banking jobs because I just felt like that was really boring to me. I actually went to one of the consulting firms, Roland Berger, during my junior year and all I was doing was doing cold call, paperwork and research on the glass industry. The next year I was doing a Coca-Cola internship and I compared the difference and it was really big.
One is you’re just doing numbers. Crunching numbers and trying to analyze the industry while on the other hand, while I was at Coca-Cola, I did consumer research and I changed the products, and the marketing campaigns. I really see the impact I’m making on people. So, I felt like I really wanted to do some job that’s making a real impact versus just crunching numbers. That’s just my personal opinion. That’s why I chose to do marketing and I went to Unilever in the end.
Zara Zhang: When you went to Unilever you actually turned down an offer from P&G?
Doris Ke: Right.
Zara Zhang: How did you approach that decision-making process?
Doris Ke: When I decided to go into the marketing industry, I did research on what are the best companies to go to. Procter & Gamble and Unilever were definitely the two best companies. They’re like the marketing schools and so I applied for Procter & Gamble China and then Unilever US because Procter & Gamble US couldn’t sponsor a H-1B for me but Unilever at that time, had this innovative program called Shanghai Management Trainee Program in which they put Chinese people, graduates, two years in the US and then the third year they sent you to China to become a manager. Versus Procter & Gamble, they just sent you back directly back to Guangzhou. I was like, “Guangzhou, I have never been. I’ve heard Dim Sum is good, but probably not offend me. I’m Chinese to be honest.” I’m kind of like, “Guangzhou, really?” So, I debated really hard because Procter & Gamble is my dream company. Unilever in the US, that’s really attractive.
Then I talked to one of the Unilever directors and he gave me this point of view which was really helpful to me even to now. He told me that Procter & Gamble hires 30 marketers every year and so to now the already have 500 and Unilever only hired 10 Chinese in the US to be marketers in the US. Do you want to be one out of 500 or one out of 10? Your uniqueness is going to define how valuable you are in the future. That’s why I was like, “Oh yeah, that sounds right.” I turned down Procter & Gamble, although I was literally heartbroken to turn it down, but I went to Unilever in the end.
Hans Tung: One of the reasons we have you on the show is that you had experience doing marketing which is very localized. It’s very localized domain knowledge in both the US and China.
Doris Ke: True.
Hans Tung: That’s still rare enough. The second reason is that you made adjustment of coming back to China and localizing the Chinese community after spending quite a bit of time outside of China. On those two fronts, how easy is it? How much leverage do you get from knowing how to do marketing in the US to China? Then as you learn how to do marketing in China, how do you localize and reintegrate yourself back into the Chinese community?
Doris Ke: That’s a great question. Lots of people actually ask me that. Actually, you don’t get a lot of leverage from working in the US. Lots of people, after working in the US for a while, they return to China and they’re like, “Oh my God, it’s completely differently. I should have come back to China earlier.
Hans Tung: Are you saying you should have taken the P&G job?
Doris Ke: I should have taken that, to be honest. I regret it so much. Sorry, Unilever. But to be honest, I went to Unilever then I went to Michael Kors and then I went to Alibaba. That’s when I got to adjust to the Chinese culture. That’s when I came back to Beijing two years ago to join YCloset, I wasn’t really that culture shocked because in Alibaba I already had the culture shock.
Hans Tung: So, Ali is better than Unilever.
Doris Ke: Right. So, Unilever taught me a lot of systematics, structured thinking.
Hans Tung: Multinational way of doing business.
Doris Ke: Right, business sense. How you calculate the ROI, cost of goods sold, margin and profit and all of that but in China the media is different, consumers are different and then the budget is different. In the US, I mean, when I was at Michael Kors, I had millions of dollars in the budget to make videos. When it comes to YCloset they’re like, “Sorry, we don’t have that.”
Hans Tung: You’ve got to be innovative.
Doris Ke: What is budget? There is no budget, sorry, just use your mind, be creative. So, I think that’s the huge difference. I really appreciate my experience in the US because I got to be really structural and plan ahead, be strategic versus in China you just need to be flexible and you need to navigate around resources to get things done and that’s very different.
Hans Tung: Yeah.
Zara Zhang: In 2015, you made the move from New York to the Bay Area to become the Head of Marketing Operations for Alipay US. I recently read the book Ali Tiejun 阿里铁军 which means “Ali Iron Army.” It’s a book about the B2B sales team at Alibaba which is very famous for its training and methods and just army like culture. A big takeaway from the book is that this culture will probably be very difficult for internationally minded Millennials to adjust to.
Doris Ke: It is.
Zara Zhang: Because, the company puts a lot of emphasis on culture and has a lot of practices that are almost military in nature and doesn’t really promote self-expression. So, what was your impression on the Ali culture after you joined? What were the most unexpected things as someone who had just moved from the glitzy world of New York marketing?
Doris Ke: Yeah, I think that was really memorable. I will never forget about that experience. I think Alibaba is great. It’s great because the execution of Alibaba is all doing it so fast and smooth. It’s all because of that culture that’s cultivated but it’s really hard for me who has had the US education, who has been trying really hard to try to express myself when I went to the US and then to Alibaba it’s this other –
Hans Tung: There’s no need to, just follow and execute.
Doris Ke: It’s reverting back to myself again. I have a couple of really, I would say shocking memories, like really interesting memories when I went to Alibaba. The first thing is when I was in New York, you know the lifestyle of New York you are in high heels, you’re head-to-toe dressed up and then you’re meeting celebrities. That was my New York life. Then went I went to Alibaba the first thing is I went to Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley and New York, that’s already a big difference.
Hans Tung: Yes, even for Americans in America, yes.
Doris Ke: Right. So, I was like, “Oh my God countryside.”
Hans Tung: Countryside.
Doris Ke: Bubble tea was like my night life in California.
Hans Tung: Nothing happens after 10:00.
Doris Ke: Right. Then half of my time was in Hangzhou. That was another culture shock. Basically, you have mountains and tea.
Hans Tung: Right.
Doris Ke: Last second, I was in high heels in New York and next second I was doing “Double 12” campaign for Alipay. I told Zara before, we were putting ribbons on my forehead and then drinking alcohol and then smashing the cups on the ground and then lots of drugs. I literally remember, we need to write down the KPIs on a wall, on a global map because we were doing global Alipay. Then I need to sign my blood on it. I was like that was really interesting.
Hans Tung: It seems that way.
Doris Ke: Yes. Then we were wearing the slogan t-shirt that says, “Gan 干.” Then I was trying to explain to my US colleagues –
Hans Tung: Just like Nike’s “Just Do It”, that’s all.
Doris Ke: I was like, right, just do it. That also means “fuck”. Why are we wearing that? So, that was a really fun experience, yeah. Some other experiences that –
Hans Tung: What prompted you to leave the good marketing in New York to join Ali in the countryside of Silicon Valley?
Doris Ke: Because I think Alibaba is the future and then Silicon Valley is also the future. When I was at Michael Kors, I think most of the time we were doing traditional marketing whereas you get a contract with a celebrity, you make a fancy video, we put lots of budget behind it and then you have lots of stores opening. Whereas I was reading Zero to One, Growth Hacker and things like that and I was seeing California there are so many companies they just grow from zero to a million without any budget all because of growth hacking. I was like, “Wow, that’s so different.” I was also seeing Alibaba, in China there are lots of crazy things happening like Taobao or Alipay and so I feel like I shouldn’t just surround myself into this fashion world where everything looks fancy, but I don’t really see the business point behind it, and I don’t see it being sustainable and so I want to learn new things. That’s why I went to Alibaba in California. Half the time I can learn growth hacking from the US side and half time I can learn the military style from Chinese style.
Hans Tung: [crosstalk] discoveries?
Doris Ke: That’s a perfect fit.
Zara Zhang: What was your biggest takeaway from your time at Ali?
Doris Ke: There are so many takeaways. First of all, I think the culture which you just mentioned in Alibaba is really interesting. Everyone in Alibaba is always super pumped. They never slack off. That’s something I’ve never seen before. I was always trying to figure out how they did that, like what’s the HR system that you can motivate people like this? I literally remember one of my co-workers she just gave birth a second ago and the next second she’s on DingTalk. I was like, what? Wow, what kind of HR system supports that? I think that’s really amazing.
The second part is really the ops. There’s a saying in China. I don’t know if it still works right now, it’s by Baidu tech.
Zara Zhang: Tencent’s product.
Hans Tung: Tencent’s product and Ali’s operations.
Doris Ke: Tencent’s product and Ali’s operations. So, I was on the operation side and really when I was on marketing it is more about spending money and how to create the brand awareness and then impressions. But in ops, it’s really about ROI, how you make the most impact out of this budget.
Hans Tung: Right.
Doris Ke: So, that’s what I learned most from Alibaba.
Hans Tung: Very good. Yeah, someone who has figured out a way to combine east and west in Silicon Valley, what prompted you to come back to China and join a startup.
Doris Ke: Yeah. I always wanted to go back since day one, right. What made me stay in the US is because I felt like US in terms of brand management and marketing is way ahead of China back then, so I wanted to learn the logistic style of marketing. Then after a couple of years I felt like I already absorbed most parts of the US marketing culture and lessons. I really want to do something that’s, you know, what I built. In that sense, it’s like Michael Kors the brand is already there. In Alibaba it’s already there. What I did was that I basically took that brand and make it a little bit better maybe. But YCloset, it’s a fresh new idea and brand, nobody knows about it and I kind of want to prove whether I really know marketing or not by maybe I should do something from zero to one. I kind of want to show my muscle and try to challenge myself again, but this time not in a big platform like Unilever and Michael Kors or Alibaba but in a platform, nobody knows about without any budget and see what I can achieve.
Hans Tung: Before you joined YCloset you hadn’t been doing marketing in China before? You had been working at Ali but doing US and some China, but mostly US and so do you think that because of your experience with Michael Kors and YCloset is in the fashion business and because of your training at Alibaba it helped you get a job that you know for sure that you can do marketing in China?
Doris Ke: That’s actually because my WeChat account. I’m very real. I was like, “I’m not even sure I can do China marketing, but she trusts I can do it.” Actually, I really admire the founder of YCloset, Stella. She read my blog. I mean, my WeChat account. I was writing a lot about marketing and cultural differences between China and the US, how I did marketing at Alibaba and Michael Kors and all of that and she really has this trust in me that she sees my potential. She’s like, “Why don’t you be my CMO and I trust you.” She didn’t even interview me that much, she just said, “Come join me.” I felt like she gave me the trust, maybe I can do something big together and so that’s why I joined.
Hans Tung: If you look back, what made your WeChat unique? What were the things that you wrote that your followers mostly responded to the most?
Doris Ke: I think two things. One is a real experience how a Chinese working in the US looks like. The first post that made me popular is when I wrote about my job at Michael Kors and being a Social Communications Manager in New York City fashion world and being Chinese. That was like, how I experienced all the culture shock and how I struggled and got past that. That was really popular. The second thing is really comparing difference between China and the US. I wrote about the difference between bloggers between China and the US and how they’re different and how fitness differs from China and the US and all that. Right now, I’m writing how beauty bloggers differ from China and the US.
I think when I was writing my articles all I was thinking was what is my niche point? Lots of people know beauty bloggers in the US, lots of people know beauty bloggers in China but they don’t know the difference between them and how they impact different businesses in different worlds. I think being someone who is the bridge of US and China, what I should bring to the table is really see the difference and then inspire different worlds how other people are doing the same business. That’s really popular on my platform and we attract the Chinese world.
Zara Zhang: I think writing is all about finding what’s the unique perspective that you have. You’re not the only Chinese person doing marketing in New York but you’re the only one who bothered to write about it so that makes a difference. A lot of people writing, it gets great response just because other people resonate with what you write. Most people just don’t bother to write so if you make the effort and be disciplined and just keep writing that is actually really rewarding.
Doris Ke: Yes, yes.
Hans Tung: Right.
Doris Ke: Then when I was doing Michael Kors that was actually the rise of the year of WeChat official platform in 2014.
Hans Tung: Yes.
Doris Ke: I really saw the benefit of writing on WeChat and how it got to Michael Kors. I was thinking if I write a blog under my name and about my content, I could also benefit from that. That’s why it really got me motivated to write.
Hans Tung: I want to point out that when Zara encouraged us to do 996 Podcast, I wasn’t sure how popular it would be. I think like you said, if you’re willing to write something or produce something and it resonates with other people a lot of people didn’t bother to do it at all. You also took advantage of the fact that a new platform just emerged and you’re among the first that did it on the platform that suddenly became very popular. Also, you are where you are because of the different jobs that you make a decision to take that gave you exposure both to US and China. A lot of people don’t do that. They tend to want to advance in their career and get better doing something that they started and do not want to change from that track because that’s how you get promoted very fast. But in the long run, by having different jobs in different locations it may require restarting and readjustment and in the long run that gives you more perspective to be a much better bridge.
Doris Ke: Right.
Hans Tung: A lot of people think it’s easy to be a chronical bridge. I don’t think so at all. You have to have enough knowledge of how each system works in order to create value. Being a bridge if you’re just up charging information is less interesting. Creating value is much harder.
Doris Ke: Right, I totally agree.
Hans Tung: At YCloset what were the things that surprised you the most and what were the things that were most satisfying about the impact you were able to make because of your cross-border experience?
Doris Ke: What I was really surprised by was I really didn’t know – that was my first job in China doing marketing and also the first time in a startup. All before that it was really big companies. There were many shocks, and so I’m not sure if it’s because YCloset, or because it was China, or because it was a startup.
Hans Tung: Too many variables.
Doris Ke: There were too many variables at the same time. I should have done one variable at a time. It was too many variables. I was shocked that lots of systems are not built, so we don’t even have a solid data tracking system, so we see growth, but we don’t know where it comes from. Then there’s not a planning system. There are lots of things like that. But really what I found is it’s really common in China among startups and so what I really wanted to build was bringing the mature systems from the US but at the same time being flexible in China so not to be too America style. You still need to be China style. That was my shock.
Then, I was really proud because as someone who just came from America, I was really localized. I managed to build my own team and then also I grew the user base 10 times from a paid user standpoint. Then I actually built lots of successful campaigns that drove the growth and also brought in the idea of growth hacking from the US but combined with the Chinese style which is also called Liebian 裂变 which is cost efficient. I don’t know if Americans understand that.
Zara Zhang: Like, viral growth?
Doris Ke: It’s like viral growth and referral program and all of that with the WeChat system. I was really being able to combine the western and the eastern style. That was really something that I was proud of doing.
Hans Tung: Got it.
Zara Zhang: I think growth in China is usually heavier than the US. In the US people kind of build a great product and wait for people to come. Whereas in China, you actually have some really heavy Yunying 运营 or operations behind it.
Doris Ke: You usually pay people to use your product, right.
Hans Tung: In the US there’s a lot of growth hacking but there’s not a lot of operation.
Doris Ke: Right.
Zara Zhang: It’s more data driven in the US.
Hans Tung: More data driven, that’s right.
Zara Zhang: Data, and tech, and product driven whereas in China it’s like human driven and money, I guess. So, did you do a lot of that and what do you think were the takeaways on the best practices?
Doris Ke: From an operations standpoint?
Zara Zhang: Yes.
Doris Ke: From an operations standpoint I was doing lots of WeChat group management ops. That’s like community based and that’s something really Chinese style that you basically need to make a poster and then put it in the groups so that people can make it viral and then inviting more people to join the groups. Something like that. That doesn’t exist in the US. But we also did like lots of red packets in YCloset where you refer a friend and both of them can get RMB 50 or something like that. Or, we just invented lots of incentive tools like that to motivate people to share, or to use more. I don’t think that’s really common in the US. In the US you just have the Rent the Runway, you have lots of dress on the platform and then people are just going to rent. But in China we have something called Jiayiquan 加衣券it’s basically like a dress coupon where if you have it you can rent one more dress in your bag. That’s something we created for Chinese users.
Zara Zhang: You had no budget, so how do you deal with that challenge? How do you be scrappy and creative and do things without spending a lot of money?
Doris Ke: That’s a good question. When I say I don’t have a budget, I actually mean I have a limited budget, but it is not like I don’t have any. It’s basically how do you get the best ROI out of it. The first thing is really how you get free traffic and then also make the most out of your traffic. So, for example I would talk to lots of platforms like, for example, Alipay. Then I know they have lots of traffic and what they need. Then I just talk to them about a collaboration between YCloset and Alipay. That’s how we got lots of traffic to be honest.
The second thing is when you get the traffic you need to increase the conversion rates. We did a lot of A/B testing. That’s also common in the US to see how you really increase conversion rate not to waste the traffic. Then the third thing is that when people become a user, we try hard to make them sure to refer so you get the viral growth out of it. Basically, the idea is the same but just in the Chinese system you need to use different tools, incentives and platforms to make that happen. Also, we made a very controversial video.
Hans Tung: That’s our next question. If you have a limited budget you have to do something out of the ordinary and so what was it, how did it work out and what was your lesson takeaway?
Doris Ke: The reason why I did that is I did all the growth hacking stuff like I told you, but the conversion rate was still very limited because of a couple of reasons. First of all, people don’t want to wear the clothes that other people have already worn. They don’t want to share. The second thing is nobody knows about YCloset, like what is it? Even though I can see I can wear so many cloths in a month, but I don’t trust this platform and so low brand awareness and trust. The third thing is that they just couldn’t figure out how to rent clothes on YCloset and so lots of education cost there and that leads to high customer acquisition cost.
Basically, I figured out the root of the problem is a marketing issue. You need to make people trust you, be aware of you and then know what the hell you are. That’s why I really insisted on making a video or a marketing campaign to make people be aware of what YCloset is and what benefits it can actually bring to you. That’s going to lower the CAC later on.
Hans Tung: Right. That seems innocent enough.
Doris Ke: Then I went off to convince the CEO that we need to make a video. But usually, when you say that, “I need money to make videos,” CEOs are going to be very insecure. Like, “How much do you need? What impact am I going to get out of this video?” I couldn’t ask for a lot, but I need to make this video viral and also at the same time have it really clearly communicate what the value prop of YCloset is. So, I thought about doing something that’s really controversial to trigger the buzz and talk online. No matter online or offline I just want to make people talk about this concept, so it needs to be some insight that’s really sharp.
I did lots of surveys on YCloset and users and what occasions they were using. I see the result is that they all use YCloset for work and the cause is that at work they feel really needed to dress properly.
Zara Zhang: Differently every day?
Doris Ke: Right. Differently every day, otherwise especially in cities like Shanghai people are going to laugh at you like, “Oh my God, you didn’t change clothes again?” That’s why they need lots of dress. I took lots of observations at work and I see that this is the deep motivation and that’s why I made a video about women at work and how they dress properly can dramatically lead to career advancement.
Zara Zhang: Lead to career advancement.
Doris Ke: Even eventually at force. I made it really dramatic and also that’s really similar to one of the TV shows that’s popular in China which is called Huanlesong 欢乐颂.
Zara Zhang: Ode to Joy.
Doris Ke: Ode to Joy, right. So, that video eventually became so popular and viral in China. There are two sides of people talking about it. One side is, “Oh my God, this video is so funny. It’s really interesting I never knew such a product existed.” The other side is like, “Oh my God, you’re talking about appearance leads to career advancement? Did you even go to the US?” I was like, “Okay, that’s not what I meant.”
Hans Tung: Right.
Doris Ke: I actually meant in China there’s lots of occasions people don’t dress popularly. Like when you meet clients, you’re in gym clothes but someone else who is properly dressed can actually get lots of notice from clients. I made it really dramatic and it led to lots of controversy. But no matter which side they’re on, they all download the YCloset and become a user and so that’s a good number. But yeah, I got lots of attacks doing that controversial video.
Hans Tung: How does it feel when you yourself become popular and controversial in a topic of things that you know that’s not who you are, but people are talking about you in that context? How do you deal with that?
Doris Ke: I had a huge struggle inside. I was like, “Growth and your belief, that’s like oh my God which side do I try? The KPI and my value side?” I’m like, “One side I want to make my job successful without a budget I can make success happen.” Then the other side is like, “That’s a little bit controversial, that’s not what I believe in.” When I wanted to do marketing, I wanted to build a brand that’s positive and make people feel better and now I’m making a video that is making people feel worse. That is the first thing that was like a super shock to myself.
Hans Tung: Sure.
Doris Ke: Yeah. Even to now I’m still thinking about it.
Hans Tung: Did you ever write a blog post on your account? On your WeChat account?
Doris Ke: Yeah, I wrote one back then to defend or to really tell why I’m making this video and what message I wanted to deliver. But I didn’t write about the struggle or the dilemma after that.
Zara Zhang: Would you have done the same thing if you had the chance to do it again?
Doris Ke: I would do that video but then I’m going to create a second video after that.
Hans Tung: Yes.
Doris Ke: That video is going to create all the controversy and buzzy and mystery. Then the second one is like revealing why she actually got the career advancement. It’s like in addition to all the appearances, all the properly dressed thing, she also worked very hard. That’s going to become a series of video and then we can actually continue the IP.
Hans Tung: Yes.
Doris Ke: That’s something I really regret I didn’t do.
Hans Tung: Right, but that’s a very good lesson?
Doris Ke: Right.
Hans Tung: A very, very good tip for what could have been done.
Zara Zhang: So, for the company itself it’s referred to as the Chinese version of Rent the Runway, why did you think that this model could work in China? The shared closet concept was very new and Taobao is so powerful and works so well and stuff and is so cheap. What was your opinion on this model?
Doris Ke: That’s actually from my personal experience on Taobao I could buy lots of stuff but not really so many dresses that are fit for me. In the US have you have lots of good choices, you can go to Zara, or you could go to Michael Kors or there’s lots of other boutique stores that are okay. But in China there are low cost level there are luxury level but in between there are not many options. If you go to Beijing, where are you going to go to shop? I don’t even know where to go. I think there are still a lot of opportunities in terms of fashion and apparel out there.
Then I told you that at work lots of people have troubles wearing different clothes every day. Your closet is limited. Your space is limited. How are you going to buy so many clothes? I think the problem, the pain point is there it’s just how are you going to solve it.
Zara Zhang: Alibaba also made a strategic investment into that company?
Doris Ke: Right.
Hans Tung: Switching gears a little bit, I’ve lived and worked in nine different cities and I want to say New York, Silicon Valley and Beijing are amongst my favorites. There are more but those three are definitely standouts. For you, what are your observations on these three cities and how are they different when it comes to people, their working styles and values? Especially within the tech industry do you see any similarity or are there mostly differences?
Doris Ke: New York is definitely my favorite city. I think New York is fun because people there they have this energy around them. They can go to work and be very hardworking, but they still have a nightlife. They go to clubs or to bars, and they go to a show or galleries during the weekends. But from a romantic relationship standpoint, I don’t think New York is the best place.
Hans Tung: Why not?
Doris Ke: I think lots of women would admit to that.
Hans Tung: Too much competition?
Doris Ke: No, there are too many douchebags in New York. Too many bankers.
Hans Tung: But here it’s hedge fund guys, traders.
Doris Ke: Right. Not doing solid things just doing – I don’t like that. Whereas, Silicon Valley there are lots of tech guys who are smart.
Hans Tung: They are boring.
Doris Ke: They’re boring? That’s true.
Zara Zhang: They’re trustworthy.
Hans Tung: They’re very reliable.
Doris Ke: Very, very reliable. That’s why I found a husband in Silicon Valley. He was trustworthy.
Hans Tung: I hope he’s not hearing this.
Doris Ke: They don’t even know how to spend money. They just work their hearts out and be smart. That’s good. I like Silicon Valley. But it’s actually different from my imagination. I thought everyone there is like startup style, Elon Musk.
Hans Tung: Like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg.
Doris Ke: Yeah. But I don’t know if I came out in the wrong groups or what. They just talk about buying apartments, investing in stock.
Zara Zhang: Green cards.
Doris Ke: Right. Having two kids at home and which apartment they’re going to buy in Palo Alto, what’s the house rise. I just don’t think it’s really cool. So, I was disappointed. I was disappointed, I learned a lot and then I came back to Beijing. Beijing is really fund. Beijing is like a combination of New York and Silicon Valley.
Hans Tung: You’re from Shanghai, so. And you live around in Beijing.
Doris Ke: You know, all my friends are not hanging out with me anymore because they’re like, “a Shanghainese in Beijing? What’s wrong with you?” It’s like someone grew up in Paris and ends up in Silicon Valley, it’s just very weird. Because I moved from Silicon Valley to Beijing, I feel like Beijing is okay.
Hans Tung: Beijing is an improvement.
Hans Tung: It’s very relative.
Doris Ke: Every time my parents visit me, they’re like, “Oh my God, my poor baby.”
Hans Tung: You’re not eating well. You’re not living well.
Doris Ke: “It’s all dirty. Oh my God. Oh my God, you can’t stay here anymore.” So, yeah, that’s really weird. Shanghai is like all the restaurants are like celebrity style and blogger style. Beijing is just Luchuan 撸串, you know. How do you say it?
Zara Zhang: Skewers.
Hans Tung: Skewers from the streets?
Doris Ke: Luckily, I’m a workaholic so I don’t really – I’m not into those lifestyle things so I like Beijing more.
Hans Tung: Now that you are not at YCloset anymore, you’re doing your own startup, did you ever think about doing your own startup in Shanghai instead of Beijing?
Doris Ke: My own shop?
Hans Tung: Your own startup?
Doris Ke: My own startup? I still chose to stay in Beijing because I think the startup, the dynamics and environment is so much better here. People are motivated. We talk a lot about growth and then how to make growth happen. But in Shanghai they just ask me, “How many houses did you buy?” “Oh, two, that’s not enough.” “Did you find a husband?” “Where is he from?” “He’s from Wuhan not Shanghai? Oh my God, what’s wrong with you.” I’m not going to go back to Shanghai.
Hans Tung: A lot of people in the western world thing that Shanghai is more the international city and is more likely to have startup, is more free but a lot of people out there don’t know that Beijing has the most number of startups and most number of tech IPOs in China. From your perspective is you would choose to have your own startup in Beijing is actually quite interesting.
Doris Ke: Yeah. I just feel like if I go back to Shanghai, I will probably get off my work ethic too early.
Hans Tung: And go home afterwards or go out for dinner and party.
Doris Ke: Right.
Zara Zhang: In terms of marketing, you’ve gone through a whole gamut. First you marketed an American product to Chinese audience at Michael Kors. Then you marketed a Chinese product to an American audience at Alipay. Then you market a Chinese product to a Chinese audience at YCloset. Out of these which one did you find the most challenging and why?
Doris Ke: I think it’s definitely YCloset. I think the easiest one is Michael Kors because it is such a big brand and it is fashion. Then marketing an American brand to Chinese is a bit easier because in the past they’re not many fashion brands available in China. Then Ali US is such a big platform so although lots of US companies don’t know about it, I can just show them videos, and press releases and they’re going to be like, “Wow.”
Hans Tung: They’ll get it afterwards.
Doris Ke: Like, the Amazon of the east side. But YCloset, nobody knows about it and then people don’t get the idea. It’s like a new brand, a new product, a new concept and a new platform and so I think that’s the most challenging part. Also, being the first job I got in China definitely is the most challenging one.
Zara Zhang: Maybe you could talk about your current startup, what does it do and what is your vision?
Doris Ke: Yeah. When I look at my past, I felt like all my interests or the products I was interested in are all for females. Consumer products, fashion products, or YCloset, that’s still apparel but in a tech company environment. So, I always see this rise of women in China, being more independent and being just different. Then their needs are going to change vastly these years, especially after the viral or controversial campaign at YCloset which I made, is that I realized women are different. They’re thinking about different things. That’s why I really want to focus on her economy and do research on it and how in the western world how they’re approaching her economy and how in China people are doing that and what are the new products or what are the new business that we can get from this change from how women think differently.
So, I’m doing a combination of marketing and media company. On the media side I still write blogs about different companies. For example, Marie Dalgar which is a top Chinese cosmetic company, how they did growth and marketing and I compared beauty bloggers between China and the US and see what are the potential business ideas that you could have. Then when lots of startups start doing that, probably most of the entrepreneurs are female, they’re not sure how to build a startup, how to grow and they’ve asked me to help them. Then I can use my growth hacking skills and all my experience to help them. I think it’s going to be the future of Chinese style of consulting or media firm is you have a content media platform to gain traffic, to gain all the trust.
Hans Tung: Build credibility.
Doris Ke: Right, build credibility and then people are going to come to you for help and for services and even for FA or consulting of ideas, community groups, study groups and I’m going to build all that to support the her economy.
Hans Tung: As you spend increasingly more time in China, do you find women executives or women founders have a chance to be themselves more or make bigger impact here or less than their counterparts back in the US whether it’s New York or Silicon Valley?
Doris Ke: I think definitely in China.
Zara Zhang: More in China?
Doris Ke: Yeah, more in China.
Hans Tung: How so?
Doris Ke: I definitely think the female leadership is going to bloom in China because of several reasons. The first thing is because of the single child policy, lots of girls are raised like guys, like boys. For myself, my parents never thought of me as a girl, they always treated me like a boy. I used to play basketball, or sports, all of that. So, I don’t think I am any weaker than guys. I find lots of peers like them. The second thing is that the Chinese education system doesn’t support so much masculinity. So, girls tend to be better. I mean, they can actually perform better than guys. In the western world they guys need to do sports and all that.
Hans Tung: Football, and soccer.
Doris Ke: In China you just need to have a good score. Then actually girls are better –
Hans Tung: At academics.
Doris Ke: At academics, right. So, that’s why there are so many excellent women out there right now rising in China. The third thing is back in the history of China, because it’s cultural revolution I think lots of people, it’s called Tongzhi 同志, right back in the day.
Hans Tung: Comrades.
Doris Ke: Right, and you don’t say it’s a female comrade or a male comrade, it’s just comrade everyone is equal. So, I think women get to have more equality actually in China in the future. I definitely see that happening. I saw lots of female entrepreneurs already rising up, YCloset for example. Also, The Look, Abox, there are lots of cosmetic companies already rising.
Hans Tung: Right. Interesting.
Zara Zhang: You’re very connected Jiediqi 接地气, to the land, as we say out of all the Haiguis 海归 I know. Do you have any tips for how to adapt to China quickly as someone who returns from the US?
Doris Ke: I would say cut down the number of times you use English, especially when you mix it. It will just make people hate you. So, I almost forgot how to speak English until you guys invited me on to this. I use lots of buzz words also.
Zara Zhang: Like Bihuan 闭环 (close the loop), Jiangwei Daji 降维打击, Liebian 裂变 (viral growth), Hongli 红利 (dividend).
Doris Ke: Jiangwei Daji 降维打击, and Hongli 红利. I’m so familiar with these words. That’s actually the words that make investors trust you more.
Hans Tung: A lot more.
Doris Ke: They’re like, “Oh, you’re not that American. You actually know Chinese style.” So, that’s what I usually teach people, “Learn this vocabulary before you come back to China.”
Hans Tung: Right.
Doris Ke: Then second is really be openminded. Don’t feel superior. I actually think people who never went abroad, there are so many of them that are so much smarter than people who went to the US and start there elite, but you’re actually not. I just think you always need to learn more and be openminded.
Hans Tung: Those are two very good advices. So, you’re a very prolific writer in Chinese and you have published many articles on WeChat as we mentioned earlier and some of them have become very viral. You also have written a lot on topics of US and China cultural differences like we discussed so far on the show. One of these as Zara told me, is that you also used growth mindset to find your boyfriend, now husband. What does that mean and how have you applied what you have learned to your private personal life as well?
Doris Ke: I always like to think about lots of things and see whether there are some theories in common behind that. So, when I was thinking about growth hacking in a product, you basically find an MVP and then you do A/B test, and then you find the first scenarios to test it and you improve it until you find the PMF. Then in terms of your romantic relationships, that’s similar. I almost got married after I graduated when I was with a boyfriend from Fudan University. I should have mentioned all this. I have like a big mouth.
Hans Tung: It’s insightful.
Doris Ke: But I felt like, “Oh my God, what if I regret it later? Is he going to be the best one? Is it PMF?”
Hans Tung: Probably not a good fit, right?
Doris Ke: You don’t even know. Like, I just felt like I need to do some A/B test.
Hans Tung: So, did you date multiple people and find out?
Doris Ke: I was like, “How about we take a break?” He was like, “No, let’s break up.” I broke up with him and that’s when I went to New York and I had some dates with different styles. I actually made notes like, “This is western style. This is Chinese style. This is banker style. This is tech style.”
Hans Tung: You tagged them.
Doris Ke: Then I went out with them and see how I felt, and I definitely know which are the type of guys I definitely don’t like, like bankers are douchebags, never. They are so proud of themselves. Then later I found out – I carved out what my target audience looked like.
Hans Tung: What’s that tag?
Doris Ke: The persona is like he needs to be not bad looking. He needs to be smart and then he needs to like startups so we can talk a lot about that. I like good looking guys to be honest, that’s very bad. Then he needs to be honest, not like lying, so trustworthy.
Hans Tung: Right.
Doris Ke: So, all of these characteristics I found out that’s probably a guy in Silicon Valley doing tech job. Then, I’m like what kind of companies? That’s actually a coincidence, I went to Uber to do a collaboration between Alipay and Uber and Uber has all the tech actually called China real team.
Hans Tung: Yes.
Doris Ke: In US.
Hans Tung: In San Francisco, that’s right.
Doris Ke: In China because all their data system is in US, it couldn’t have engineers in China. Then all this group is Chinese, smart, tech guys, interviewed, filtered already by Uber.
Hans Tung: Thank you TK.
Doris Ke: Thank you TK. It’s very targeted. I didn’t even think about that, but when I went to Uber and I was doing this recap with them in a meeting then my husband walked in. Back then he was not my husband and he’s like really honest and pointing out all the mistakes he made, what information he should have and he’s good looking. I was like, “Oh my God, that’s the guy.” That’s how I knew my boyfriend. Then later I setup a celebration dinner with Uber.
Hans Tung: Sure.
Doris Ke: I arranged it. All my wing women were over there and they’re like setting us up and he didn’t actually know that I set all this up. Then we got to know each other and then later we got married. That’s my story. Looking back, I just made fun of it, “That’s just like growth hacker, growth mindset.” You shouldn’t just marry someone because your age is there and then regret afterwards. You should just do as many tests as possible and then know what are the guys you’re really into, what are the guys you should really not date. Then just be happy with the guy in the end. I think that’s a very good story.
Zara Zhang: Great tip.
Hans Tung: Very good tip.
Zara Zhang: A quick-fire question: what’s a habit that you think has changed your life?
Doris Ke: I think writing actually. I write things in my high school, I write blogs. But back then it’s not a public blog, I just write to myself because very time I’m angry, I’m frustrated, I’m confused I always write down to talk to myself. That’s a habit that really changed my life.
Zara Zhang: What did you do for fun?
Doris Ke: I’m not a fun person.
Hans Tung: Very purposeful.
Doris Ke: What do I do for fun? I used to write for fun.
Zara Zhang: But now writing is your job.
Doris Ke: Now writing is my job.
Hans Tung: Writing is your purpose.
Doris Ke: Sad.
Zara Zhang: What’s something you read recently that you recommend?
Doris Ke: Poor Richard’s Almanac.
Hans Tung: Wow, you find that interesting?
Doris Ke: I just think it’s very helpful. To me, I’m a marketer, I don’t know investment that much and then how people make decisions to invest.
Hans Tung: Sure.
Doris Ke: Lots of people talk to me about this book and says, “It’s a really deep book but you should read it.” I read it, it’s really interesting because he talked about you should always do things that’s within your capability not beyond your capability. Also, instead of just studying marketing, to do marketing you should study all other subjects such as math, physics, finance, investment and all of that so that you can have a very robust knowledge system. I definitely agree with him. That’s why I actually jumped around from brand management to communications to ops, to right now it’s media. I think everything is related. They have a similar system behind it, and you should always learn more stuff and so that’s really helpful.
Zara Zhang: Cool.
Hans Tung: Cool.
Zara Zhang: That’s all the time we have for today. Thank you so much for making the time. This was really fun.
Hans Tung: Yeah, thank you. It was indeed very fun.
Doris Ke: Thank you guys.
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