I discussed with Marian Danko, founder of weHustle and TECOM, about his projects. In his answers, it is clear that he pays strong attention to events to run a tech community. That is how he experiences the passion of that group and their mission. Therefore, it makes sense that Marian is a volunteer at Startup Grind and Angelhack. And that’s on top of setting up TECOM, a conference for entrepreneurs and community builders in Shanghai. Marian, believes in the power of offline gatherings.
Shanghai says – online first!
When I first arrived in Shanghai, I believed otherwise. WeChat is everywhere and is often the link between reality and people’s life. Communities wouldn’t survive offline because everybody’s attention was online.
In fact, somebody with good intentions could spin off a WeChat group instantly. And in a couple of hours, have two hundred participants sharing heated opinions on something hot and trendy. Spammers would most likely overtake the same group after a couple of days.
That’s how I came back to Marian’s opinion that communities need to crystallize their existence with in-person events.
In-person events aren’t dead
Startup Grind in Shanghai is thriving. They run sold-out events with inspiring speakers. This momentum creates a strong following with old and new faces. AngelHack is the platform for developers to hack on new technologies or APIs. While some hackathons run online, I have seen better results with offline experiences. It is about the people you connect, as much as the context in which you work.
I also have done my fair share of local events: Startup Weekend, DrinkEntrepreneurs HK, la French Tech HK, and Techstars. I have tested many different formats, setups, and audiences. There is a significant surge of engagement, support, and new initiatives after each gathering. My go-to reply addressing growth was: “host one event, get three more in the pipeline.” Great participants attract their peers and the passion rolls to a broader circle. Over time, running local events become the backbone of communities.
So Marian, can you please introduce yourself first?
My name is Marian, the founder of weHustle. I came to China seven years ago, first in a city close to Beijing and then in Shanghai, three years later. Not knowing people in town, I started attending many events around entrepreneurship including Startup Weekend. Over time, I understood that entrepreneurship is my passion. I wanted to know more. Doubling down on attending events, I got so inspired and excited by the startup ecosystem with events, pitches, and founders, that I decided to start my own company. That’s how weHustle got founded. It’s been three years now, and we work with many tech communities, startups, and founders. I’m looking forward to what’s ahead of us in the future.
Why did you start working on WeHustle? What was the pain point you tried to address? Why were you the person to solve it?
Initially, the company was called China Classifieds. Back then, I was sitting in my office, working for another company. And as a big fan of Kickstarter, I would order and support many projects on the platform. One that stood up was a USD 9 computer chip that I purchased. But to use it, you needed a monitor. For a USD 9 computer, I didn’t want to buy something new. Now, I’m from Ukraine, a place where you can easily find second-hand websites and buy cheap stuff for fun. I couldn’t find something similar here in Shanghai, and I thought to myself that many other people were probably facing the same challenge. That’s how China Classifieds got started. We added various categories such as apartments, jobs, event listings, and more. Somehow, it didn’t work with the audience, and they couldn’t see the value in China Classifieds to the point where they’d use it all the time. Plus, it was tough to push the strategy in different directions to test new markets fast. And people were confused about the concept itself – whether it was to find apartments, jobs, a platform for communities – it wasn’t clear. As my real passion was around entrepreneurship and innovation, we decided to narrow down our categories and simply keep “jobs” and “events.” We changed the name to weHustle to reflect the new direction, and we now have a platform that connects innovators from the region.
How is it going so far? What was the response from the community?
As we announced the rebranding, we got surprised by the number of positive feedback from people. So many private messages were telling us how they love the new name and positioning. Doing it was a smart move. Also, people associate weHustle with WeWork, so it helps me market the product. The word “hustle” itself is very trendy and a hot topic, for example, with Gary Vee talks or people fighting against the concept. So we can see many conversations around it, helping us get visibility. Plus, it’s way shorter than China Classifieds, so people remember our new name more easily. And since the rebranding, we’ve seen many companies that didn’t use our service under China Classifieds, now more willing to try our platform.
How do you see the evolution of that platform considering that now you have more user engagement?
As we have more user engagement, we can track how many people apply for jobs, how many people post events. The number is increasing. Now, we’re trying to create more sophisticated ways to track and to retain people on the platform.
So far, it goes well. We have some crazy ideas that we are working on right now, and that will help engage visitors.
If you had to boil down the business plan into a general concept, what is weHustle in a few words?
“weHustle is a recruitment platform with the community.”
How do you nurture this community? How do you make sure that it exists and helps you compete with alternatives?
We don’t say that we have “our community.” Instead, we work with many other existing groups like Slush, Startup Grind, AngelHack, Ladies Who Tech, Chinaccelerator, and Technode. These communities have their circles with active followers and events. We channel their and our activities in one place. So by following weHustle, people can stay up to date with the broad spectrum of upcoming events from different communities. In this way, we share an audience passionate about innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology. And that aggregated community is the audience that companies, startups, and organizations would like to get in touch to find talents, partners, co-founders, or clients.
Have you identified any differences with the Shanghai tech ecosystem? Is there something that stands out?
The Shanghai community is very dynamic, well engaged, and international. Shanghai has it all, communities such as Google Developer Group which has localized their content and attracts local geeks. Startup Grind which is also global but hasn’t localized that much and many foreigners and locals alike attending their events.
How do you see the future of tech and entrepreneurship in Shanghai?
Shanghai is growing very fast. There are more and more global communities entering China with Shanghai as the first landing pad. It is easy to test a model, adapt and then replicate in more cities. That’s the case with Le Wagon: they’ve been here in China just for a couple of years. Shanghai was their first city, and now they have a presence in Chengdu and more recently in Shenzhen. The same happened to Angelhack, we did three successful hackathons last year in big cities, and now we’re moving to other provinces.
How do you see your involvement as a volunteer for AngelHack and Startup Grind benefiting yourself, and weHustle?
First of all, I don’t see community building and engagement as a direct source of benefits. That’s the wrong attitude. Instead, join the community because you feel the passion and you like its mission. Once you invest more time and efforts in it, you’ll harvest some benefits in return. What you get is access to vast networking, you learn a lot from your teammates and speakers. For me, it helped a lot getting inbound connections such as: “I’ve seen you at Startup Grind, I have some questions…” and then we start a conversation.
We typically associate Startup Grind with inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs and AngelHack as a way to put in practice what you’ve learned.
Have you have you considered what would happen afterward for your participants? What are they supposed to do in Shanghai? What are the suitable solutions for them?
What we see are two options:
Work for big corporations. For example, running incubators, corporate innovation programs, or building bridges with local startups.
Create your startup;
Once you get inspired and motivated at events, you start your project with good connections and some knowledge obtained.
Last month, you announced TECOM to the world! Can you share why you considered starting a conference for community builders?
I’ve been following many of conferences recently, including RISE, Slush, TechCrunch, etc. And what I saw were VCs, startups, and pitches. After the event, you can tell that people were excited but didn’t get enough follow up. Sometimes, even if you have pitched to investors at the conference, you wouldn’t get the return on your time invested.
We have been working with many communities for a few years. We see that they provide a lot of support and value to startups and help grow the whole ecosystem. Why not put a conference for them?
I believe that a community should be the pillars on which startups can grow.
If you go to a smaller city like Suzhou or Hangzhou, you can’t find that many communities where to pitch your project or talk with peers.
I want to use TECOM to bring most communities under one roof and showcase their values, missions, and how they help the next generation. We will also talk about their impact, their challenges, their focus, and so much more. It will also allow communities to know and talk with each other. It will enable new people to join these groups, and we can foster best practices sharing among different community builders. For example, we will have one panel with four organizations that started here in Shanghai. They are small but are building a stronger presence quickly. They can learn from larger communities and can follow some of the steps.
Can you share some of the of the activities that will be taking place during TECOM?
TECOM is a day-long event, on March 23rd.
It has a main stage with over 30 confirmed speakers. There will be keynotes – deep dives – and two panels.
We will host three workshops:
One run by a digital marketing agency 31Ten to help community builders refine their WeChat strategy and how to leverage it to full potential when it comes to marketing events on WeChat.
Another one from Qalista that will focus on how to make your pitch interview with employers better. That’s for job seekers.
The third workshop will be run by nihub for startups to raise funds and improve their pitch.
TECOM will host the Digital Talent Job Fair. It feels important to support the best people that are looking for new opportunities. We are bringing 40 companies to exhibit their job openings. We will also have a Community Alley where the general public can find more information about participating tech and entrepreneur communities.
Why should somebody join TECOM?
If you want to know what’s happening within the tech and entrepreneurship ecosystem in town;
if you’re a community builder;
if you’re looking for a new job opportunity;
if you’re an innovator or entrepreneur, then you should join TECOM.
What did you like the most about creating TECOM?
My best moments are hearing “yes” replies from companies and communities once you’ve reached out to them. You pitch the idea, and they love it! Then you start building the schedule, confirming speakers, lining up partners – that’s another beautiful moment to reflect how you’re making something that didn’t exist before. It is now coming to life!
Were you surprised during the journey of organizing TECOM?
Yes, if we take the example of my conversation with Feiyue after reaching out to them. I was pitching the idea around TECOM and bringing the communities together, gathering motivated, international people together. They agreed to co-brand their shoes with us, and we’ll have awesome Feiyue x TECOM shoes for volunteers and teams. What a big surprise!
What’s your ambition with TECOM?
2019 is our first year, so it’s hard to know what will happen next, but the idea is to bring TECOM to different cities and make it a yearly conference. In this way, we can facilitate and strengthen the startup ecosystem in various cities across China. By doing this, we help startups have more opportunities to grow. At the same time, I’d hope to get support from the government to make it larger.
You’ve partnered with large organizations, what do they hope to get out of their involvement with TECOM?
These big companies are trying to get into the startup community. But if they target startups one by one, they’ll waste a lot of time and resources in the process. The easiest way for them is, therefore, to work with the communities and us and leverage these connections to identify good startups.