The Roller Coaster Ride of Business in China To Find Your True Calling with Leon Durupt

Michael MicheliniBusiness, Ecommerce, Podcast1 Comment


We are less than 2 weeks away from the Cross Border Summit and Claire and I are excited! Today’s show, we have Leon, the co-founder and a talented singer and musician at the Terrace in Shekou, Shenzhen. Mike and he met up to discuss the story of the Terrace, how Leon got over to China, and some ins and outs of doing business in China as a foreigner. Specifically about restaurant and local business management, it is an interesting one for sure!

Topics Covered in this Episode

  • Intro Leon

    Famous in Shenzhen and in the music circles in China and globally, welcome Leon to the show – can you give us a brief introduction?

  • How did you end up in China?

    You’re originally from Canada. Your story perked my ears when we were chatting earlier on your China story

  • Opening a Large Scale Restaurant and Bar in Shenzhen, China - In the Early Days

    So the Terrace is an icon here in Shenzhen – it’s been around for decades, when did it get started and what’s the story?

  • Benefits of Being a Foreigner doing Business in China?

    What are some of the perks of being a foreigner when doing business, specifically local, in China?

  • Setback of Being a Foreigner doing business in China.

    On the other side, what are some of the setbacks? Maybe some examples would make this fun 🙂

  • What’s The Conversation Like

    When there are conflicts in management in a business like this? That always must be a challenge with various partners and managers in this business.

  • Times Now Vs Then in China

    China has changed a ton since I’ve been here, for you even more – what would you recommend a newbie to China to do an entrepreneur venture to do?

  • Reaching Out

    How can people find you and Terrace online? You have some awesome music you’ve released too, we’ll link it up in the show notes – actually – can we play some of it at the end of the interview? Thanks Leon!

People / Companies / Resources Mentioned in this Episode

√ Their Website – The Terrace China . com
Wechat group – add globalfromasia and ask Claire to add you
The cross border summit
Our meetup on April 19 at the terrace

Episode Length 22:26

Thank you Leon! Can’t wait to see some of you at the meetup – its a new thing we will try out – feedback appreciated.

And now back to teaching my kids english, they are here in the studio with me pushing books on me. Enjoy the rest of your week everyone, we have tons of shows already recorded and ready to rock out for weeks to come. And if you can make it to Cross Border Summit April 21-22 – it will be really worth your while we are working hard as possible to jam as much value into it!

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Podcast Transcription

“Yeah, I think in general, this is a good place to come and start a business. If you’ve got a good model and you’re working hard, learn the language.”

Welcome to the Global From Asia podcast where the daunting process of running an international business is broken down into straight up actionable advice and now your host, Michael Michelini.

Mike: Everybody, 170 shows! I can’t believe it! Globalfromasia.com/episode170. So Claire, how are you?

Claire: I’m good.

Mike: So busy planning. We are getting so close, I mean, in less than 2 weeks, this episode when getting online. So, the heat is on and we are getting tons of positive responses and great updates as we go. Anything you want to share?

Claire: Well, we are really looking forward to see you at the Summit and we only, you know like, we’ll got to have our first volunteer like meetup next week. So, if you are interested just add my WeChat to Global From Asia.

Mike: Okay, great! And then let’s just get ready to this week’s show. We have Leon from The Terrace, he’s the founder and very talented musician and a singer from Canada. And we met up and did this interview a few weeks ago. We have so many amazing shows, it’s hard to prioritize, but Leon are ready for him to come on. And also, we’ll got to have our after party at The Terrace so it works nicely for the Summit on that Saturday night April 22nd. And some other interesting updates, we just did a pre-event, so we’ll got to do April 19th Wednesday night, starting at 7pm. And it will be an interview, live interview recording with our guest Mike, I call Mic Awesome. He’s another American here doing some ventures so we’ll interview him live on the stage. And there’s basically a special offer for 100 RMB for 2 drinks and snacks, hopefully some pretty good snacks, too. So you guys stop on over, you could check it out on the show notes. We’ll link to the page globalfromasia.com/episode170. I just took that from Claire. She’s supposed to say that. But yeah of course you know, I know she was on WeChat, a lot of WeChat but also email. What’s the email they can get to you?

Claire: You can email me at [email protected] So, it’s S H A D S T O N E.

Mike: Okay, great! And let’s get into the interview with Leon. Let’s go.

Mike: Thank you everybody for tuning in. So, Global From Asia podcast. We are here on site with Leon.

Leon: Welcome.

Mike: And it’s really great to have you here.

Leon: Glad to be here.

Mike: Yeah man, I’m happy finally get you on the show here. You’re famous here in Shenzhen.

Leon: This my first podcast, too. So, I’m excited.

Mike: Awesome. It’s really cool.

Leon: How many of these have you done? You’v done like hundreds, right?

Mike: I don’t know which exact numbers we’ll be in, we’ll got to be 160s.

Leon: Cool. Well done.

Mike: Thanks, thanks. I’m trying to document the chaos underground here. So cool. Well, yeah I mean, I know you as the guy from Terrace, one of the owners and singer, and you also have your own music, you’re doing in China. So, do you want to give everyone eye level about yourself, Leon?

Leon: Sure! I’m a musician from Canada and came over to China in 1996. Way, way back. First to Shanghai, stay there for year and a half, then moved to Tsingtao where we, Tsingtao in the North of China, do you heard Tsingtao beer, you know of course. And so I stay there for about 7 years. Actually I was the first performer in 3 brand new venues there in Tsingtao. And there also go in Shangrila, sorry 2 of them not going anymore. But the one in Shangrila still going in the one in New York bar, still going as well.

Mike: Cool, they know that. Just learning. So, I know you as one of the owners and main guys behind The Terrace. So, how do you down in Shenzhen?

Leon: Well, my buddy, John, he was living down here. Actually we started, not recruiting but we started searching around for places while he was in Xiamen with another city else like. Have you been there?

Mike: Cool. Yeah, it’s an island city it’s like, I heard they call it San Diego of China.

Leon: Pretty much. It’s right, I heard that.

Mike: Because it’s at the bay, one side on the ocean and the other like.

Leon: I love that. I’ve only been there once but I really like it. It’s just a speeding distance from Taiwan but we didn’t have a success there but when he moved to Shenzhen, and he really sort fell in love with the city and he said, definitely we got to do something in Shenzhen. So, about 2 or 3 years of recruitment or in his behalf, or research on his behalf and then finally in 2005, he give me a call and said I got a place in Seaworld which I had already seen. Because I traveled here a couple of times to take a look. And we jump on it right away.

Mike: Awesome! Yeah, I mean it’s still an icon in Seaworld, even though Seaworld seems so much.

Leon: A totally different.

Mike: Totally, totally different. So, that’s pretty awesome and then in 2005, I came here 07, I remember seeing it right there, it was totally rocking. So, maybe a little bit of structure, I mean, is it, foreign known, Chinese zone?

Leon: Yeah, I think so, that was 5 of us that own it. So 4 Canadian, 1 American.

Mike: Cool, nice.

Leon: So, I built the wall.

Mike: It seems taking over here, very cool.

Leon: (laughing) It’s a good partnership we’ve been. This group of partners has been together since 2007, I guess, early 2007. Yeah, it’s been very successful and we’ve all had a lot of fun doing it.

Mike: Very cool. So, 2005 was early for sure and was there any challenge getting off the ground?

Leon: Not per se. I mean, we pretty much did everything by the book and we got all the proper licenses and got all the proper visas and everything like that. So, I mean, if you got the iced cross the teas, it’s pretty, I mean as long as you got the capital, to start it up. And you got enough reserve in case things goes salt the first thing or which we always we seem to do.

Mike: Definitely, I can imagine. I don’t know if you want to talk about numbers but, it’s cheaper then than now.

Leon: Oh yeah, the rent was a lot cheaper and I mean Seaworld is a prime location now. So I mean they charge a lot more than it back then. And overhead in general has just gone through the roof. So, that was a pretty, I mean the first place I moved into and I thought I was paying so much. I’m paying 6,000 RMB a month for my apartment then. And I mean, that apartment now has doubled. So it’s like. And, although my buddy from Shanghai was saying the place we live in now is probably 25 or 30K in Shanghai.

Mike: Yeah, Shanghai is still definitely more than Shenzhen but Shenzhen has steadily increased the salary I’m sure you must be.

Leon: Like the staff and the time. Like our wage staff at that time we could afford to pay them like 1500 a month. We could get away with paying to that way but now there’s no way you could pay that low. Nobody would bother walking through the door.

Mike: It’s true. I mean, I’ve been through that, too. I’ve come to, address my business model because of that in Shenzhen. I mean the salary, I think it was like 2009, 2010 they are really shooting to the roof.

Leon: And I mean you get to pay the old guy too, right?

Mike: Awesome! So, it seems things were pretty smooth. Is there?

Leon: There were some hiccups. I mean, we had Chinese partners as well in the beginning and you know, there was some a bit of, animosity would not been the right word but I mean there was a clash. But we figure it out amicably we, they sold their shares to our current partners. And it all work out in the end. But I mean, I was a little tense there for few months.

Mike: Yeah, I could imagine. So, whether Chinese or any partner when there’s differences, it’s always tricky for entrepreneur.

Leon: It’s actually, especially the day to day operation that you have to be sort on this page about. And when that goes south, you’re pretty much, it’s over.

Mike: I’ve been there, too. To share to our listeners but is there like benefit’s you think of being foreign managed?

Leon: For sure, I mean, one of the things like, John and I both speak pretty fluent Mandarin. And John in fact is very good in writing Mandarin as well and reading. So, when you come from that perspective in the Chinese culture, i think it got a lot of advantages to doing the business here as suppose to say back in Canada or the States. And you know there’s definitely, I mean that’s kind of how China, that’s not kind of how China has developed over the last 20 or 30 years is by remaining open to talented foreigners that have skills that maybe some of the local people don’t have. Or come from a different perspective. Or do things differently. And I think that’s why China has succeeded to the level that it has.

Mike: It’s true. But there must be some drawbacks on the management or managing the staff?

Leon: Well that’s, I mean, because we both speak Chinese. And I was managing on site for, let’s see about, let’s see the first time a year and a half and then another 5, so about 6 or 7 years out of the 10 year, I’ve been the general manager. It’s pretty smooth as long I can, sometimes I think I’ve got to the point across and turns out that i didn’t. But usually because someone is not paying attention, not because I wasn’t expressing myself properly. I mean, you’re right in one sense that there’s culturally or inflection wise or how you say things. Sometimes, I tend to be, sometimes I used a lot of sarcasm, fictitiousness that isn’t good even in English. But so I have to tone that down a little bit. I like to be, I tried to be funny and sometimes it’s like blank stares. So, I have to really adjust my communication skills. The way that I carry myself. I’m sort of a day to day basis, so people could get me a little bit quicker.

Mike: Sure. I’ve gotten that too, as I’ve been here saying in different ways just to make sure you’re clear.

Leon: Right, and I mean, it’s not when you’re talking Chinese there’s pretty quite a few ways to say things. And there’s, as there are in English, I mean you know you take communication courses in English, why not in Chinese, right? I mean, I would have to do it again. Like, I’m not proud necessary the way I handle myself in such situations were simply rephrasing it or bring it up in different way, would have probably have done me a lot better.

Mike: Got it! Yeah, I mean sometimes 5 minute later I regret the way i handles it. I think that’s just management in general. Whether it’s in China.

Leon: Well, we’re human, right? I mean, for human, it’s just that, because living here is an easy life as a foreigner. You’re taking good care of and people give you a lot of leeway, a lot of respect. But there’s still things that frustrate you and so you like those things pile up too much and you’re in the wrong head space. So, I think for me I had to learn how to manage those, from myself. I have to learn to manage those frustrations and just go okay. So you’re telling me this is got to take 2 weeks and in my mind, I’m thinking this should take 2 days, right? You know just an example. It’s managing your expectation.

Mike: That’s true. I think we had a lot of interviews manufacturing and factory.

Leon: Oh, I can’t even. You know what, the business that I run compare to that is I’m sure that’s a cake.

Mike: That’s a lot of fun. A lot of stuff to manage them, the expectations. I still hear it even now.

Leon: Because we’re still, were selling fun. We’re selling like it’s a nice environment, right? And things you know, as long as everybody earnest and they’re trying their best you get a lot of leeway. But in a factory man, there’s no (laughing).

Mike: Yeah, those were some painful experiences, we both been through on that side. Cool and you’re like a musician as well and a singer.

Leon: Still at heart even when I was a GM. I consider myself as a pretty good businessman now but I still pretty much a musician. Planking my piano every day.

Mike: Awesome, man and you put some online.

Leon: Yeah, actually, we got a couple of songs up there. They were Chinese songs originally and then someone in Guangzhou ask me to write some English lyrics and sing it. So, we put it up on QQ music and there’s another, I forget which one but yeah, have you search my name Leon Durupt you’ll find couple of songs. My Chinese name Lee Jia Long, if you search that on QQ you got me as well. And some of my other originals, and some of my other English originals as well are there as well.

Mike: Very cool. Maybe we could put some a clip on the show.

Leon: That would be awesome. Pick a good one though. (laughing)

Mike: Well, I’ll give you feedback, I’ll check them out, too. Very cool. So, what’s in the future?

Leon: Well, I mean, the only thing that we say we have still to tackle is to expand and make more Terraces because I think we’ve got one of the best formulas that you could have or like a restaurant in bar outlet. It’s not like nobody’s ever done that before but i think, with our team and the guys that we have on as owners, all dedicated to that and to that concept. So, I think that we’re pretty well set to do some expansion. First, in Shenzhen, I think and then coz I’m a little travel averse so maybe Zhuhai or Guangzhou or something like that.

Mike: I definitely think you should as others have done it. I think, Terrace has got a really great brand and a model. Maybe some listeners can even reach out.

Leon: Absolutely. If anybody wants to help us out we’re always open to new people, new talented people that want to help us out. That would be great.

Mike: Very cool. So, what would you, maybe, there’s a lot of people that aren’t been to China once before or maybe not even come yet and maybe they’re listening trying to learn. I always trying to tell just come over here. Is there some ideas you have for newcomers?

Leon: You mean, in terms of business or just anything in general?

Mike: Maybe, I guess it’s more of a business podcast, yeah, maybe entrepreneur trying to jump over, get out of 9 to 5 or something like that.

Leon: Yeah, I think in general, this is a good place to come and start a business. If you got a good model and you’re working hard. But i think what i would say is, learn the language. I mean I see so many foreigners struggling over here without any, even passable Chinese. There’s too many things that you’re in the dark about otherwise. I found that it’s truthfully people talk about the tones and the difference, honestly the grammar is so easy.

Mike: True. We called it cave man, was it like.

Leon: Yeah, it was a simple grammar. The tones, I mean if you’re getting into little mimicking and stuff like that, it’s not that bad. I took the pin yang chart, you know the one with the pronunciation of phonetics, and I just, my guide, he wasn’t even a teacher just a friend of mine this guy in Shanghai. He said, learn this whole chart and you basically say every word in the language.

Mike: Awesome.

Leon: And that’s what I did. I didn’t learn any words of the top. I just learn those and that was that. I mean if you study at the university and you got the language and you can write? Man, you’re golden, get over here.

Mike: Yeah, so should I, maybe they can come here and learn while they’re here instead of learn back to.

Leon: For sure, but It’s a lot harder I think. If you’re immerse in it. Just to give you an example, I lived in Shanghai and I wasn’t formally studying. So, I was there for a year and half. But I have some good basic and I’m a musician so I kind of pick them up, pretty quick. But I found that because the locals in Shanghai were speaking Shanghainese, that I didn’t hear enough proper Mandarin being spoken. So when I go to Tsingtao even though there’s a fairly strong dialect there is Mandarin, it’s still very close to Mandarin. And i pick them up just like boom. The first year I was there I just zoom to the roof I really pick it up fast.

Mike: Awesome, yeah. I mean North is better learn in Chinese than South.

Leon: For sure. Oh, Shenzhen because in Shenzhen, you get that nice high breed Mandarin, you get what I mean, (laughing) it’s pretty darn close. I think the Mandarin spoken here like by the whole people.

Mike: And the taxi drivers are all from Fu Lang.

Leon : So, I mean this here, like, you know the local Shenzhen, the people that were born here now, the professionals that are now like 25, 30 years old are very well educated and great Mandarin. So, I mean in Shenzhen, you’ve got a good chance to learn pretty decent Mandarin I think. I would say that is, of all the southern cities this should be the one to study Mandarin.

Mike: Okay. Yeah, I mean it is true because it’s officially Mandarin speaking here. I think the population was 30,000 people or something.

Leon: Originally, yeah.

Mike: I don’t know the number.

Leon: Can you imagine like all those kids now they’re grown up? They’re all well-educated, they’re on top of it man, this locals. If you ever meet Shenzhen 2D, they were like born and raised they’re pretty hip, you know.

Mike: I know, they’re cool. They’re pretty well off, too. They were in Shenzhen early.

Leon: For sure, they are on the ground floor and they could go to Hong Kong whenever they want so yeah, it’s a nice place to be.

Mike: Very cool. Thanks. So how can people reach out to you or Terrace?

Leon: Well, we got a website theterracechina.com, they can join our WeChat, our official WeChat group is Terrace Shenzhen and they can find me at leondurupt.com it’s a pretty basic website but there’s a little bit information there. And where else, I’m on LinkedIn.

Mike: Okay, sure we’ll link it up.

Leon: And, yeah I saw you on there, lots of.

Mike: Oh yeah, Cross Border Summit.

Leon: Cross Border Summit.

Mike: Trying to get the word out. It’s coming up quick.

Leon: Yeah, we’re looking forward to that.

Mike: Yeah, we’ll do something together for sure after party and get you going. After party is always a good way to go still.

Leon: So we’re readily available, if you to my website or [email protected] or [email protected], whatever. I got tons of emails. They all going one.

Mike: Yeah, thanks so much for sharing.

Leon: No problem Mike, my pleasure.

Mike: That’s awesome, alright, cheers!

Miles: Hello, how are you?

Mike: I’m fine, thank you. How are you?

Miles: I’m fine and thank you.

Mike: Good. Yeah, so I’m teaching Miles some English. His Chinese is better than mine. I hope you guys enjoy the interview with Leon and if you’re in the Shenzhen area early for the Summit, you can come on Wednesday April 19th there and we’ll do that live interview recording. I love to have some guys there. And we’ll be just couple of days before our Summit starts. So I am full force on the Cross Border Summit. While also teaching English to my kids. I become English teacher after all. So, thank you everybody for tuning in. We’ve got tons of tons of great shows coming up. It’s always difficult how to choose which one to put up next so if you guys have any ideas of what kind of episodes you like let us know, we have some pretty interesting ones and as always, thanks for subscribing and listening. And feedback is always appreciated, iTunes reviews, emails and of course show notes are at globalfromasia.com/episode170. Take care everybody, bye bye.

To get more info, on running international business, please visit our website at www.globalfromasia.com that’s www.globalfromasia.com. Also, be sure to subscribe to our iTunes feed. Thanks for tuning in.

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