His stock in trade: creative juices

Updated: 2012-06-15 08:47

By Li Aoxue (China Daily)

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 His stock in trade: creative juices

He Feng believes creation is the way people try to express themselves. Zou Hong / China Daily

He Feng runs a website that seeks funding for talented people's projects

Studying at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, He Feng, 18, learned about the importance of self-expression, something that has become an asset in his career.

He, now 34, is the co-founder of demohour.com, a crowd-funding website in China. He and three others set it up last year, inspired by Kickstarter, said to be the world's largest funding website for creative projects, set up in 2009.

"In the US, Kickstarter has developed well in recent years, so I thought we could set up a similar website for people who have creative projects," He says.

Demohour.com shows off the videos of creative people and their projects as a way of attracting funding support. In return, the designer/director who launches the project gives products or opera tickets to donors based on the amount they give. Once the project has reached its funding target, demohour.com takes 10 percent.

He says that 70 of the 150 programs placed on demohour.com, which was set up 11 months ago, have succeeded in raising funds, and the rest are still taking in money.

Programs placed on demohour.com cover industrial design, travel, film, music, photography, technology and publishing. One of the most successful fund-raisers, a book publishing project that finished in mid-May, drew 340,000 yuan ($53,389, 42,275 euros).

Every day, He says, the site receives about 10,000 hits, an increase of 20-30 percent in two months.

He, who studied overseas for seven years, says that his support for self-expression drove him to set up such a website.

"Creation is the way people try to express themselves. That's something in short supply in China because Chinese are poor at expressing themselves.

"When I studied in the US, I was encouraged to express myself, something that is all too rare for people here."

Expressing oneself is critical, he says, and he hopes that the website can help those who have creative ideas to fulfill their dreams.

He has an MBA from Stanford University, which he gained in 2009, and he says the experience of studying there helped shape the outlook of the start-up.

"Stanford has a culture of encouraging people to become start-ups A lot of IT elites such as Google's CEO and Yahoo's CEO graduated from there, and they go back to the university to deliver speeches.

"What's more, Stanford offers a lot on start-ups, so creating a start-up was not that difficult."

Before attending Stanford, He, from Beijing, had work experience with Boston Consulting Group and Lenovo China.

"Lenovo is a good company, I must say, but it has its own style and culture. I wanted a company based on my own ideas, which I thought would be more fulfilling."

Constant refrains of He during the interview are "having fun" and "advocating self-expression", but the serious, business side of things seems to be never far from his mind as he acknowledges the responsibilities he shoulders with the start-up.

"Working with a company is a lot different to working for a start-up. With a company you are fine if you simply follow the rules, but with a start-up you need to develop a strong sense of responsibility and make a lot of decisions."

Recently he has been reading a book titled The Startup of You by Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of the website LinkedIn, and Ben Casnocha, an entrepreneur, and He stands by a lot of what the authors say.

"No matter whether people are employed or they are the employer, they should develop their careers as if they are running start-ups," He says.

Although demohour.com has yet to turn a profit and is riding on an investment of $500,000 from angel investors, He plans to make the first round of financing in the second half of the year.

The largest number of creative projects, 85, presented on demouhour.com are to do with design, the website says. Twenty-six are connected with film and 15 with music. He says this runs counter to his initial goal.

"Indie movies and music are different to industrial design, whose products can be promoted and sold through channels such as Taobao. Because indie movies get less support at large, I would like them to get backing and be made successfully through my platform."

One of He's hobbies is music. In his free moments, one outlet for him is strumming the guitar on the balcony next to his office. He also likes writing and has a blog in which he analyzes and comments on social media.

"My hobbies are all about self-expression, so it is no wonder that I have created this website for those who want to express themselves."

One of his role models since he was an undergraduate at Swarthmore has been Richard Feynman, a US physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965.

"Even though he was a Nobel Prize winner, he acted as if he came from the streets of Brooklyn. He was very independent in thought and cocked a snook at authority.

"I wonder how he came to live such a colorful life."

As an overseas returnee and a co-founder of a well-known website, He takes a leaf out of his hero's book by trumpeting his Beijing hutong origins.

Wearing a Swarthmore T-shirt and a baseball hat, He talks about the plans for his business: "The environment for business development in IT changes rapidly, so I need to be flexible. Our next plan is to find a project that can become a milestone for our website."


(China Daily 06/15/2012 page20)