After Five Tips Tuesday, Shanghai Rendezvous, and Freelance Friday Presents, NextStep brings you another interview series called NextStep BackStage.
This interview series will share unique stories, struggles, and successes of entrepreneurs, creatives, startups, and highly driven individuals all around the globe.
For our first edition, we feature Andres Diaz Bedolla of Beacon, a company that creates quality education programs for international students in China.
Since its launch in 2012, Beacon has been disrupting the education system through its practical services. It offers hands-on training programs, international exchanges, international scholarships, language courses, travels, and housings.
To learn more about Beacon and its humble beginnings, we spoke with Andres, the co-founder, and CEO of the company.
Can you tell us more about yourself? How did you arrive in Shanghai?
I’m Andrés Díaz-Bedolla, born and raised in Mexico City. I recently got married to a brilliant and beautiful polyglot who shares my love for traveling and inspires me to continue learning new languages every day.
When I was six, I convinced my parents to send me to Boston for a month to an English-language camp. I studied an intensive French language course at Vichy, and later on attended Lyon 3 as part of my University studies.
After graduation, I worked for the Mexican government. I did Attraction of Foreign Direct Investment, and my boss helped me apply for a scholarship to study an Economics degree in China.
It was three weeks later when I was in line for registration at Fudan University that I realized the Economics course was in Chinese. I didn’t speak a word of the language yet, so I decided to first enroll in an intensive language course. A year after that, I started the economics course in Chinese and I’ve been in Shanghai ever since.
Can you tell us more about BEACON? What problem is it trying to solve?
I started Beacon in 2012 with my business partner Sergio Masse and since then, we’ve been creating and promoting hands-on education programs for international students in China.
The professional world market is now more complex than ever before. Knowledge, without practical implementation strategies, is obsolete.
Beacon allows students and young professionals to learn on the field. Led by professors, mentors, and their own peers, they get out to the world to experience failures and success.
While I was at Fudan University, I studied alongside brilliant people who found it challenging to keep their focus in the confines of the classroom. After conversing with them, I learned that spending time through experiencing the local communities helped them learn better.
Classrooms are great when sharing concepts and learning strategies, but experiencing the culture itself gives students a deeper understanding of what it’s all about.
Could you tell us more about Beacon’s famous program “LEAP”?
The Leading Entrepreneurs Acceleration Program or LEAP is a hands-on innovation program that allows students and young professionals to turn good ideas into successful business ventures.
Candidates get accomplished entrepreneurs and industry leaders as mentors for six weeks. Mentors also share their knowledge and facilitate workshops where candidates practice what they have learned. They also get guidance on how to turn these lessons into business ideas while working on their soft skills.
Since 2014, we’ve helped create 22 startups that are currently running and have collectively sold more than $2M USD.
With so many Executive MBA and educational programs everywhere, what are you doing differently?
I think we’re complementing what’s already available out there.
LEAP’s value lays on the fact that candidates work on real time in real scenarios that are closer to the entrepreneurs’ reality. Executive MBA’s have candidates analyzing huge companies with unlimited resources while LEAP focuses on building a project from the ground-up, which is far more relatable.
We’ve found that successful entrepreneurs are always excited about sharing their path to success with young motivated people. Students get more inspired by those who are changing the world. We provide the necessary channels for them to meet and create value together. We also do it cheaper and faster, so that always helps.
Why did you choose to become an entrepreneur? What is the key factor that would not make you go back?
I think I never chose to become an entrepreneur. But once I became one, I did choose to never go back to being employed.
The main reason why I can’t see myself being employed is fear. I’m terrified that I could never live up to my potential. In the corporate world, I had to limit myself to a corporate structure or authority battle.
I have a lot of ideas and I just feel the need to try them all out. Most of them fail, some of them work, but ultimately, I need to know I tried. I enjoy trying out all the business ideas that come to my mind.
Do you think you could have done something similar somewhere else, particularly in your hometown?
I don’t know if I would have built Beacon if I had never come to China. Back in Mexico, the pressure to be successful would have probably had me going down the corporate path.
Maybe I would have become an entrepreneur at some point, but it would have taken much longer to do it.
China provided me everything I needed when we started Beacon. It gave me the opportunity to do very profitable side-jobs. I worked in the office, became a movie extra, a waiter, and a bartender. I got to pay the rent, enjoy my 20’s, and start my business with very little investment and keep it growing.
What are the difficulties you have to face as an Entrepreneur?
I have been very lucky to have a business partner that complements all my shortcomings. Our partnership has taught me a lot, and I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish all of this by myself. I lack the tech and organization skills to maintain good progress evaluation metrics.
I guess the biggest difficulty we encountered is the constant change. In China, laws and regulations change a lot. These changes are challenging because it shifts exchange rates, which affects the prices of the programs and influences people’s decision. But I think we’ve done a good job in dealing with changes in the past.
For many, “entrepreneurship” often goes with serial entrepreneurs. What else did you do or are you currently working on aside this main project?
I guess they are all sort of related. We opened a co-working space in Yangpu District called The Hive last March. We focus on the importance of a balanced life, so it’s a “co-working meets healthy eatery meets gym”.
It’s exciting to see that people are embracing the idea with enthusiasm. We partnered up with YOGA Real Estate. It’s a company that focuses on international student short-term relocation in Shanghai to restructure the customer experience and customer service.
There’s so much more coming up. There are plenty of brilliant people that share our vision in this city. We have been creating new innovation programs under our flagship short-term program, LEAP. We’re most excited about our new program for Product Designers and for Fashion and Entrepreneurship.
How would you describe the entrepreneurial scene right now in Shanghai? What do you think is lacking?
Shanghai is inspiring. Its young spirit and attitude plus its complex diversity make it the perfect hub for fostering innovation.
I love how everyone is always ready to cooperate and get things done. If you have a good idea and a Wechat account, you can be an entrepreneur; LEAN Startup at its best.
If you’re not into tech, you might find yourself a bit out of the loop. I’d like to see more meetings and workshops for people with tangible products and services.
What are the 3 pieces of advice you would give to anyone starting a business in Shanghai in 2018?
First, try it out on Wechat. Find your first clients and start selling. Ask for feedback, pivot and keep going.
Once you know you have something good in your hands, get that WFOE (Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprise). You’ll feel so much better once you stop worrying about your Visa status and you know everything is 100% legal.
Third, network. Find a community that’s willing to help people starting out. Get your idea out there, there’s a higher chance that someone will help you improve it.
For more information about Beacon and its services, visit their official website and follow their WeChat account, BEACONGROUP. You can also reach Andres through LinkedIn or send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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