How the Israeli who captured Chinese hearts plans to turn online fame into fortune
Raz Gal-Or has already won a massive fan base with his videos giving a foreign perspective on China, but for the young entrepreneur this is only the first step
It is a hard thing for foreigners to be accepted by the Chinese public. Among the few successful ones, Raz Gal-Or must be one of the smartest, and possibly the youngest, having gained huge popularity through internet.
The 23-year-old, born in a small town near Tel Aviv in Israel first came to the public’s attention when he appeared on a Chinese television programme.
What propelled him to nationwide fame, however, were series of short videos he produced and sometimes hosted in which foreign residents shared their perspective on Chinese matters.
The videos produced by the Foreigners Research Institute, cofounded by Gal-Or last year, were so funny that they successfully captured the heart of millions of youngsters.
On Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter, the institute now has 1.8 million followers.
Looking back, his China journey was driven by the ambitions of his father Amir Gal-Or, a successful venture capitalist who moved his businesses and the whole family to the country.
“When I was only 13 years old, just in middle school, my father sat us down at dinner at told us we were moving to China,” he recalled at his office at Zhongguancun SOHO, in the heart of Beijing’s silicon valley.
“We were shocked, because we could not really speak Chinese or English.”
Fortunately, Gal-Or’s first stop was Hong Kong, a good place to start to become accustomed to Chinese culture and language.
He later moved to Beijing because he had developed a “love for the culture, the language, the curiosity and opportunities”, and chose to study international relations at Peking University to get a sense of the country’s diplomatic thinking and impact on the future.
Now in the final year of his studies at the university, he lives the same lifestyle that local residents do.
He speaks fluent Mandarin and uses mobile apps to order food, call taxis, shop online, read the Chinese news and relaxes by playing King of Glory, a popular mobile game developed by Chinese internet giant Tencent.
His advice for newcomers is to “localise yourself” and take everyday cultural barriers as “an opportunity to learn”.
“The greater the cultural shock is, the more you should sacrifice to become engaged in local communities,” he said.
He has also followed in his father’s footsteps by cultivating a reputation a start-up businessman.
“I myself love to create things, my father gives me this kind of inspiration. I like to sit down with a team and build something different,” he told the South China Morning Post.
Gal-Or, together with three partners, started a new media company named weWOWwe in January to capitalise on the popularity of his videos, securing 10 million yuan (US$1.5 million) seed funding from his father’s company Infinity Group and Will Hunting Capital.
The company relies on embedded advertisements and joint productions with major Chinese video platforms for its revenues.
However, with a very healthy fan base – most viewers are young and international in their outlook, and 70 per cent of them are women – it has already won the favour of many big brands such as WeChat Pay, JD.com, McDonald’s and Jeep.
“We can make more than one million yuan a month if we want to … We are pretty profitable,” he said.
A new round fundraising is already in the pipeline, said the student-entrepreneur, set to introduce strategic e-commerce partners to help build up its creative product sales channels.
Sitting on the sofa of his office, which has an amazing view over the Zhongguancun hi-tech incubation centre and Microsoft’s China headquarters to its south, the young man is thinking big.
“We started doing video and content with a vision … We want to show to the world the new generation of foreigners in China. We call it Foreigner 2.0,” he said.
“For me personally, it’s a place where I can create a better communication between the world and China.”
The young entrepreneur is also focusing his work on a brand new channel called WhyChina, designed to showcase the country to the rest of the world.
The channel will be launched on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram – all of which are banned on the mainland – with an initial target of gaining one million followers for each platform.
“I want to offer a new perspective to the audience of what modern China looks like … Only when you come here, live here, engage with the culture, get to know Chinese people, work here, study here – literally spending time with Chinese people here every day – use Chinese technology or applications, then you can really find how beautiful the engaging dynamics of China are.”
The biggest challenge, Gal-Or said, was how to maintain momentum and build a better team full of “experienced people” and “people with the passion”.
The start-up faced a heavy workload in the run-up to Double Eleven, or Singles’ Day, sales on November 11 – China’s largest online shopping festival.
Gal-Or and his 15-member team were also busy making their videos – In the latest episode he dressed up as a delivery man to experience the life of local workers.
All of which means he has been extremely busy in the office, not to mention his studies at the university.
He explained that his philosophy was to “live in the moment, live your life by what drives you”.
“I enjoy them [business and studies] both. Who knows what I will be in the future? Becoming popular or influential is not something I aimed for. It happened to be through the influence of the platform we created.”