“I still remember the spring some years ago
I still had long hair back then
I didn’t have a credit card, didn’t have her
Didn’t have 24-hour hot water at home.
But I was so happy at the beginning
Though all I had was a beat-up guitar
On the streets, under bridges, and in fields,
Singing songs no one cared about”
There’s no other songs can be more appropriate than popular Chinese musician Wang Feng’s “In Spring” to describe the fad for startups and entrepreneurship in China today.
Wang Feng, known as a popular musician, is also one of the mentors at the entertainment show “Voice” and a father (his wife being the popular Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi). Since 2015, he has also started his own company FIIL and chaired the startup.
It’s a common trend for stars and celebrities to invest in the internet industry or develop internet products. Some participate by investing money, others participate by merely endorsing the product. Mr. Wang chose the latter one, and endeavored to enter the hardware-making industry, which is known to be quite challenging. In this interview, Mr. Wang reiterated that he took FIIL very seriously. “Mr. Wang Feng is more than a celebrity endorser, but rather product manager, shareholder of FILL. He’s developed involved in the research, development and marketing of our products, ”Peng Jinzhou, co-founder of FIIL, proved his words at a T-Edge summit.
So far, many people might still doubt if Mr. Wang Feng is really keen in starting his own company and regard him merely as a celebrity endorser of the product. Please continue to read to find his response to such doubt.
A product manager: I choose earphone colors out of a pool of over 300
Zhao Hejuan: The primary focus of any entrepreneur, whether celebrities or the rich, should be the product, since this is what determines if any entrepreneur could succeed or not. Can you reveal to us how much you spent in the R&D of products at FIIL last year?
Wang Feng: Around RMB 20 million. We spared a lot of money in this sector. For me, our R&D team is the most important component of my company, though consumers might never be able to know who they are.
Zhao Hejuan: So, the product you are most satisfied with is the bluetooth earphone FILL Wireless. What role did you play in the “creation” of this product?
Wang Feng: Making major decisions! Of course, I can’t participate in all kinds of work no matter big or trivial, since I have lots of talents to do their best in areas they are expert in. You have to give full play to talents, instead of intervening and controlling them in order to make full use of them.
Zhao Hejuan: Have you ever doubted if you’ve made a wrong decision or judgement? For example, while you thought a product was very promising and decided to put a lot of money onto it, it wasn’t embraced in the market, which is quite common in the hardware-making industry.
Wang Feng: I guess you are right and it’s quite easy to make the wrong judgement when making hardware, even for leaders of big companies. Yet, for me, I make decisions based on suggestions from my R&D team all the way to other executives. In this sense, even if our product did fail in the market for some time, I wouldn’t think that we’ve made the wrong decision, because we all agreed so, and we were ready to bear all the responsibility and face up the consequences of our decisions, whether favorable or not.
Zhao Hejuan: Do you have any requirement for your R&D team when developing products?
Wang Feng: Yes, I do. As a matter of fact, I have some really detailed requirements for them.
Zhao Hejuan: “Detailed” to what degree?
Wang Feng: For example, when we decided what color to use, I had to choose only a few colors out of a pool of 300 or so , 70 types of which are red. So I’ve got to compare the effect of a color under different lightning situations and from various angles; it was easier for me to tell which sound quality was better when we had to decide on the sound, since I was quite expert in this, and would immediately tell how my engineers and designers should adjust. We’ve got a really great designer Mr. Moritz, and I had several quite effective conversations with him. At last, speaking of PR and branding, there were even time when I disagreed messily and argued vociferously.
Zhao Hejuan: On that occasion, who had the final say?
Wang Feng: Me! Now that nobody could convince the other, I was the one to make the decision. Developing a product is pretty much like setting up a band. When I was still in a band, I believed in the concept of “democratic centralism”, because I knew quite clearly that many bands just broke up due to too much democracy.
Zhao Hejuan: Although many people are excited about FILL, there are people out there who have negative comments over FIIL. Have you ever read those negative comments? How do you respond to such comments?
Wang Feng: Yep, despite favorable feedbacks, there are a few negative comments. I admit that there could be defective models even for a perfect product. When I receive any negative comment, I will directly turn to relevant divisions, whether PR, R&D, or marketing, send them the screenshots of the problem and ask them to respond accordingly. My philosophy is: although our product might not be perfect, our service must be perfect since consumers are attached uttermost importance here at FIIL.
A customer service agent: I am serious about being an entrepreneur
Zhao Hejuan: I heard that you would spend some time communicating with customers, as a customer service agent would do. Do customers know that the person they are communicating with is you?
Wang Feng: Some people might not believe at first, but I would ask them what’s their problem, and promise them I could help them solve the problem immediately by referring them to related heads of divisions, since I’m in charge. When they heard me say such words, they would realize that I was indeed Wang Feng.
Zhao Hejuan: Today, consumers seem to be very particular about products, especially the post-90 and post-00 generation. How do you cater to their needs?
Wang Feng: I agree there is certain difficulty out there, since there must be gap when our culture is changing rapidly every day. To deal with this problem, I would ask my team members, at least all the senior executives to embrace new culture, be willing to understand the needs of the post-90 and post-95 generation and get to know their sense of beauty and aesthetic value.
In addition, we would take some time communicating with young people and getting to know them better. I’ve found that young people might not necessarily be interested in your product when all you are trying to prove is how advanced the product is. Instead, they might be attracted by a product and make up their mind to buy one themselves when they only like the design or the material and appearance.
“Your earphone isn’t cool enough. Can you make an earphone with glass? I believe such an pari of earphone will become a lot cooler when you see it far away”, a young user of FIIL told me once. I find the idea worthy of attention and turn to Yang Chen at the R&D division. Two days later, he told me that it was possible to make such a pair of earphone and he could use a type of ceramics similar to glass in appearance. At last, they did make such a model, and I am already using it myself now.
Zhao Hejuan: I am amazed that you are so familiar with the details of FIIL earphones. Many people would also think that you are just like a celebrity endorser for FIIL earphones, and would expect you to spend too much time on the product. So are you serious about starting your own company and are you prepared for possible obstacles?
Wang Feng: Yes, I am 100% serious about FIIL. I, as many other celebrities, have participated in the industry by merely investing some money or endorsing a product, and we could also make a lot of money. Yet, I only invest in products I am fond of.
For me, when you say it’s hard to start your own company, you are still not keen in the business. That’s why you might complain that you are so tired when you only meet some tiny obstacle. However, if you are really keen in your business, no obstacle can stop you. This is especially true when you have really a good team and some really supportive shareholders. Nothing is impossible. When you find something is impossible, you are just not trying enough and are not determined about your goal.
Zhao Hejuan: To be more specific?
Wang Feng: When you have too high expectation for something and end up realizing that things didn’t turn out as you have expected, you might began to doubt yourself feel wronged. However, you might still soothe yourself by saying that things will get better one day. Oftentimes, we would find ourselves trapped in such a circle, whether for things and people you love.
Zhao Hejuan: I agree. As an entrepreneur, I would also stay awake in the dead of night and doubt myself with questions such as “why are you doing this?” when there are ups and downs. Have you ever had such doubts?
Wang Feng: Not yet. But we did encounter many problems, for example, there was time when my understanding of the product differed with that of my R&D team, and when we didn’t know what to do next. At present, we are still wondering if we should adopt internet thinking more since we’ve already made several pice of hardware.
“Things that used to be correct might be wrong as time goes by,” David Bowie once said. Mr. David is actually describing the change of time in the quote. Time changes, and only those who are capable enough can lead the trend and survive or even transform the world we live in.
A boss: I will support you as long as you are devoted
Zhao Hejuan: Most members of your team are pretty young. Are you worried that they might not be as “loyal” or they they might work in FIIL because of you at first, but gradually feel unsatisfactory and just quit? How do you communicate with young employees in your team?
Wang Feng: Every generation of people have their own problem. Based on my interaction and communication with young employees at FIIL, I don’t find them impetus. The only difference I find is that they might not be experienced, mature enough, because such quality can be acquired only through years of experience. Speaking of critical and creative thinking and judgement, I don’t think they are generally poorer than us.
I seldom to a young employee that they were too green. Instead, I would spend more time encouraging them, and inspiring them to release imagination. I would often tell them: I will always support you no matter you succeed or not, since I am the person who make decisions, and suffer financial losses. Just do it, and never think too much. Even if you fail, I won’t fire you.
When we all agree to do so, and you’ve devoted a great deal in the process and done a great job at every step, the problem lies not in you wen we fail.However, when I find that you are poor in execution and make a lot of mistakes in the process, I will fire you even if we succeed at last as a team.
The only thing matters is whether you are devoted enough.
Zhao Hejuan: I believe that you are no longer simply a musician. Where did you acquire these qualities essential as an entrepreneur? Are they from lessons you learned when you are still young, or are they born with you?
Wang Feng: I’ve always dreamt of being a musician, but I’ve steadily doing some other related business and I would never stop. At present, I am working on a project that is even more surprising for many people, I would say. I would officially reveal more information about this project after a while.
I did encounter many obstacles and doubt myself if I could really do this. But two things will never change: first, I have to be righteous, strong enough; second, I only devote myself in things I really love.
Many people do things driven purely by profit, not love.
Zhao Hejuan: Will you find inspiration more easily when you are doubting yourself? In other words, will you lose the spirit of rock music and your inspiration when you are doing business and starting your own company, which requires more rational thinking?
Wang Feng: As a matter of fact, I am working on my next album right now. I don’t think my experience as an entrepreneur will be directly included in my new songs, but something more intangible, something I learn about in this process might be interwoven into my songs.
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Translated by Garrett Lee (Senior Translator at PAGE TO PAGE), working for TMTpost.