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🌱 Next 100 days of 'Following the yuan'
After turning frustration into products, we all need a little push.
Writer’s note 📝:
I’ve recently wrapped up a 100-day online program that helps me polish the editorial and business strategy of ‘Following the yuan’, here’s an end-of-course reflection in case you’re interested in my *journey*, my struggles and where I’m going next
I’ve been aware of CUNY’s Entrepreneurial Journalism Creators Program for a while now, ever since the first cohort. I’ve visited the page multiple times, but I always wonder, what’s the big deal? I’ve read enough startup books and watched enough productivity videos on YouTube. I can do this on my own.
So when this round of application came around, I glanced at it and dismissed it, until a friend, who was in the last cohort with the awesome China-focused visual newsletter Far & Near, successfully convinced me to give it a try.
Sometimes, all it takes is a gentle nudge. And over the 100 days, I’m glad that I’ve been pushed into the right direction every week, which results in the current version of my media product:
“Following the yuan” is now a Substack newsletter that explores how and why Chinese people spend their money. It aims to provide colors and alternative views on Chinese consumers in various fields such as food and beverage, fashion and beauty, lifestyle, and China’s emerging Web3 scene.
The newsletter has gathered over 1,100 subscribers and received pledges from 9 subscribers in just 8 months. It has been recommended by 13 other publications, including Sinocism. It has been mentioned by global news publication Semafor and counts marketing and advertising intelligence platform WARC as a syndication partner. Additionally, I’ve launched a sister newsletter on LinkedIn named ‘China Blunders’ specifically focusing on consumer companies’ blunders in China. There has also been two meet-ups in Shanghai and Los Angeles.
It’s still not a well-known publication, and it’s far from being a prominent name on Substack. However, I’d love to reflect on how I got here and explain to my future self why I started.
Where does the frustration come from? 😩
Major publications have long neglected the pulse of Chinese consumers. Nowadays, China-related newsrooms and desks often chase after politically charged events. When it comes to business reporting, many of them have shifted their focus from company news to China-US tech, trade wars, or how political leaders’ actions impact Chinese companies.
This leaves behind valuable trends that shape the largest consumer market-to-be — the people who often define the social fabric of Chinese society.
As a result, there is a lack of understanding about Chinese people and their individual differences. They can be nationalistic or liberal, brutally funny or rigid, hardworking or embracing a “lying flat” lifestyle. Unfortunately, we are often generalized with buzzwords, and everyone thinks we are the same (yes, I have a personal stake in bad China reporting).
It’s understandable that not many outstanding non-Chinese reporters were able to stay in the country or renew their visas. The remaining reporters were under a lot of pressure to focus on the “bigger” stories.
One significant issue is the lack of insights from locals. Due to China’s regulations, Chinese nationals usually cannot have bylines for foreign publications (except for SCMP, Reuters, and Bloomberg, for different reasons) that cover China stories in other languages. China-based staff also tend to avoid being in the social media spotlight to protect themselves and their organizations.
There are a couple of personal triggers for me. One significant trigger was not getting a relevant job in 2021, and then feeling restricted to stay silent under pressure from my direct supervisor in the following year at a different job. Looking back, both incidents happened for the best.
That kind of frustration can push you to start something new.
What am I working on now?
Having learned a bunch and felt that I’m practically a new person 👀, I’ve realized that my actions and implementation may still be mismatched.
When I get busy with consulting projects or traveling, I often fail to provide updates. Sometimes, I start working on drafts, and I miss the initial deadline I set for myself, then I’d think they’re outdated and they sit in my drafts being 70% ready. It’s a serious mental block I need to overcome.
Moreover, I find myself hesitant to think of my newsletter as a publication, and reach out to people to do original reporting, despite knowing that it would be most valuable for my target audience.
These are the two major mental blocks I’m currently working on. For the first one, I’m in the process of setting up a team workflow that will create a safety net around production. As for the latter, I believe I just need to put myself out there.
As one of my entrepreneur friends once shared, “You are only as serious as you take yourself.” That’s something I’ll always remember.
Over the next 100 days and beyond, I will maintain a sustainable editorial schedule that includes weekly news roundups of China’s consumer markets and write more explainers that explain the market context. In the coming months, I plan to launch a multi-tiered paid model that includes an earnings call calendar featuring around 45 large U.S. and China-listed consumer companies, and consultation slots for annual subscribers.
Thank you for being here all along! Let me know if you have any suggestions or the topics you’d like to read about, I look forward to hearing from you! 🔚