Breaking out of the ‘Berlin Bubble’ has been a hot topic within the startup community over the past few months. And while many companies struggle to expand outside of Europe, Berlin-based 88tc88 is thinking big by looking east, providing a platform for Western artists to launch in China.
The firm’s co-founder and CEO Thomas Reemer told Silicon Allee about cultural barriers, the different definitions of success, and just how similar Berlin and Beijing really are.
88tc88 is, as Thomas puts it, a cultural enabling engine for music, games and apps. The team works to connect the West with China by offering Western companies a web-based service to cross international boundaries. It incorporates a one-stop solution of translation, approval by the Chinese authorities, product globalization, and international publishing and sales.
Working with artists, brands, labels, aggregators, app developers, and publishers, 88tc88 enables the access to digital, mobile and physical distribution in China which is otherwise fraught with difficulties.
Internet Control Software
The idea was originally conceived while Thomas was travelling in China in 2009, with the service officially launching at South By Southwest in March 2011. Thomas had been invited by the Chinese government to work on the Green Dam project, the internet and content-control software used in China.
He said: “Western people are shocked by that, because they think it’s a bit sinister. But it’s actually not, it’s controlled dynamics. Because the country is still growing up, it needs that control to be able to take full advantage of the concept of freedom that we have.” After that, he said, he was hooked into China’s blossoming music and technology scene.
While 88tc88 is currently only importing west to east, artists and labels alike are embracing the chance to break into China’s notoriously difficult business world. Thomas added: “The share of Western content in China is very low. Record labels aren’t licensing – they can’t anymore because it gets pirated. Apps have just started becoming popular, and gaming companies are also not licensing into China because theres no hosting solution. But we want to change that. We are out to increase that percentage of western content in China. At the moment it’s around one and a half percent, we want to increase that by 100 percent, by 200 percent, by 1000 percent eventually.”
Trust, Thomas explained, is the biggest issue when it comes to Western brands offering content on the Chinese market: “You need to be able to offer a transparent solution – I think transparency is the biggest stumbling block, and we do that. Our platform is completely controlled… We are in a very fortunate situation because we’re coming from the ‘right side’, and we can protect our clients’ content when it enters China.”
Beijing as East Berlin
Despite the success, however, the cultural challenges are still fairly big, starting with the definition of what constitutes a success:. “In the West, we are likely to post a press release when we get investors, and we consider that a success. Whereby in China, you will likely release a press release when you’ve sold a million things.”
But while there are plenty of differences in how business works in China as compared to Germany, there are also many similarities. “Chinese people like to consume products as much as we do. Technical gadgets, cosmetics, fashion, and music are very popular there. Contrary to what everybody thinks, I think they are also quick adapters for new global green, organic initiatives, you can see that they’re working quicker than anyone else. But there’s lots to do – this is a country that came out of the dark ages only 30 years ago, and people don’t give China enough credit for how fast they’ve developed.”
For Thomas, going to Beijing provokes memories of the place where he grew up – East Berlin. “It’s the same setup. Both have very strong control, but underneath the lid things are bubbling, and there’s a sub-text going on. And people have a very different definition of what freedom can actually be. And I like that a lot, I could totally relate to it.”
As for the future, 88tc88 plan to launch a new venture called PaiShou88, their first B2C encounter in China, into beta in April – with plans to open it up to the public by October. There are also several extensions of the business in the works, such as reverse models brining Chinese content to the West, and plans to further expand and go beyond music, games and apps to e-books, audio books and video.