Customer trust: issue in China


Customers buy from you when they trust you, and you can solve their problem.

Lean Startup is  about trying to see a solution to customers’ problems and then build on that.

In the case of China, market in which our Startup is oriented, customer problem and trust go together. 

Even before to have any meeting with possible customers in China you must have at least some 关系 “Guanxi” .

In China there is a word that every companies doing or choosing to have business in China will constantly hear. This word is 关系 (Guanxi). The translation of this word into English is close to “relationship”, even if it is not completely the same meaning. Guanxi is something that requires time, and it is crucial to have in order to deal with any kind of business and settlement in China. Guanxi is about connections, building a network for a mutually beneficial relationship for the Chinese side and for the foreign side. Guanxi is a valuable and strong relationship with two or more individuals, based on respect and trust. In order to develop Guanxi it is necessary to spend time getting to know the Chinese counterpart outside the office matters, get to know the family, the friends and everyone related to that person from family to business partners. Guanxi is something much deeper than a simple work relationship just for the purpose of business.

In our case, our previous experience in China helped us, at least to have some meetings, but having Guanxi, especially introducing a concept as Lean Startup, does not mean getting instantaneously “trust”.

Build trust in China is a long process, as long as build a Guanxi.

Why customers do not trust you first?

Business mentality in China is a set of mind quite different from Westerners. In first place any business, startup, going to China must be aware that they are outsider. Westerners are seen as people to be aware of and do not trust, all because of history. It is easy to be cheated in China for the simple reason that foreigners are out of the “groups”. But once a foreign succeed to be in, s/he is in for good. Viceversa, once out, you are out for good.

Trust in a way is a process that must be build, and must be careful to it if not the risk to be out could be the worst result. As westerners going to China, also Chinese doing business with “outsiders” want to avoid to be cheated.
“Seeing is Believing” is a must in China for both sides.

In most of the calls, from outside China, and meetings thanks to our local collaborator, the most common answer was

Who are you? Where you company or office is based?

or where can I send you money if I want to pay the service?

Lean Startup is based on build a solution for the customer, testing and feedback. With the Lean a product or a service can be tested even if it does not exist yet. In China our startup faced an enormous gap between this concept and the real business life in China.

What we have learned doing testing and interviews with our customers was that our customers want to meet us, and want to see the product or service even before start to talk about it.

Our solution to solve these issues:

  • create the company as priority
  • going to China to meet the customers we have already interviewed
  • create a website, even minimal

All these points can be a start to proceed with our startup plans.


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