Pure and simple: 3W Coffee founder’s secret to start-up success in China

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 August, 2015, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 August, 2015, 7:00am

It’s hard to get a clear view ahead as an entrepreneur, but keeping it simple will take you on fewer detours, says the founder of 3W Coffee, where many of Beijing’s tech start-ups are born.

“That may sound silly – to be simple-minded – but being simple and kind can move people to help you or even join you,” said Xu Dandan, who opened 3W Coffee in August, 2011 with Ma Delong and Bao Aile.

The business started as start-up-themed cafe and became a meeting place for entrepreneurs and angel investors. It has expanded its services to start-ups, and serves as an incubator and “makerspace” for nascent firms.

The trio launched the business with crowdfunding  from more than 180 investors, including Xu Xiaoping,  a well-known angel investor who cofounded the New York-listed private education services company New Oriental. Shen Nanpeng,  a venture capitalist who founded Sequoia Capital in China, affiliated with the famed US venture capital firm of the same name, was also a backer.

3W Coffee, Xu said, had a simple ambition – to help young people to develop their own businesses.

Xu, a former internet and media sector analyst at China Asset Management   and the securities unit of Ping An Insurance,  also founded Lagou,  a successful technology industry recruiting website, in July, 2013.

“I encountered a lot of difficulties establishing Lagou, so I know how hard it is to see the way clear. I think my practical experience can help young entrepreneurs,” he said.

“I am thankful that many capable people were willing to teach me over the past few years. I don’t think that would have happened if I was a complicated or selfish person.”

Lagou, which means “fingers crossed”, in turn saved 3W Coffee when it was struggling to survive. The website has grown to a staff of 260 in two years. 3W Coffee, which helped incubate more than 100 start-ups including Lagou, has also diversified its business since last year to seed investment, marketing and communications and head-hunting with its own staff of more than 200.

“If I hadn’t started the business, I would be enjoying life in the US on much higher pay than I earn now,” said Xu, who was an analyst at a US hedge fund when he planned 3W Coffee.

“I haven’t bought any property because I’m too busy, and I don’t buy too many clothes or dine out much.

“But I have no regrets as the business has made my life more colourful.”

 Xu, who was born into a rural family in Anhui province, shrugs off the hardships of a seven-day work week and the never-ending need to think about his businesses.

“I try to be a simple and relaxed person, so I can devote more time and mental room to think about the direction of the company,” he said.