Afternaut got our start in China and looking back now, we’re grateful for all the opportunities we’ve had to create some of our favourite work. The fast pace, strength of relationships and the resourcefulness we’ve had to build add up to our experiences working in China.

Since then we’ve applied what we’ve learned to projects in Singapore too. Afternaut’s co-founders Berlin Lee, Kokyong Chew and Chong Zhe Wei share what they learnt about building a harmonious, constructive working relationship in the competitive Chinese market.

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Part of the experience centre for the Chongqing Changshou Sales Gallery

1. Be Sincere

When our co-founder Berlin first went to China, he put forward the best version of himself. He was genuine and sold his vision, values and his conviction to get the job done.

From conceptualising man-less convenience stores to erecting an entire first-of-its-kind tech fest, China is truly a place where innovation can flourish and firms like Afternaut could do good work. As far as exciting opportunities go, they show no signs of stopping. We’ve been given all kinds of opportunities to bring our crazy ideas to life in China.

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A girl using facial recognition to enter the Comma Convenience Store, a manless and friction-less retail store.

2. Be Ethical

“We stand firm so they can understand that there is no shortcut. There’s a need to work with integrity. It makes all the difference. ” — Berlin

Chinese working culture is unlike any other. They have different limitations, which might lead them to compromise on certain values that you might not agree with. Therefore, it is crucial for both parties to set the groundwork on ethics and principle before proceeding with the deal.

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The award-winning Bright installation by Formwerkz Architects, at the Zero One Technology Festival 2018.

3. Be Committed

“Like any other business or industry, there are always pros and cons. One of the cons with China is the constant to and fro travelling (before the pandemic). However, it is a commitment we are willing to make because our work excites us every single day. Passion is one of Afternaut’s core values, it drives us to stay committed.” — Kok Yong

Relationships can’t survive solely on Zoom or Skype meetings. Physical encounters can do more than strengthening rapport. Back in 2018, Afternaut undertook ZeroOne Tech Fest. The project took them a year to plan. It ended with Kok Yong leading a team of 20 to Shenzhen, to ensure the successful implementation of the festival. The experience allowed the team to watch, learn and adapt the Chinese work better.

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The Zero One Technology Festival 2018 team from Singapore.

4. Be the definition of Cheap, Fast, and Good

“To survive in the playing ground, we have to be fast and good. The Chinese speed of innovation is high so we compensate with top quality work.” — Berlin

China coined the term “cheap, good and fast”. When the speed of innovation is so high, quality could often be overlooked. The smallest details are likely to fall between the cracks. That’s why Afternaut is very meticulous. But, in this new definition of “cheap, fast, and good”, we’re fast and good and cheap for the amount of value we bring. But we bring top quality work to the table.

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The Forum at the Zero One Technology Festival.

5. Be Flexible

“We believe that we are an open API and can be plugged in with all other teams and to fulfill a project together.” — Kok Yong

Flexibility is necessary for any partnership. By understanding their behaviour and having the ability to pivot when and where needed, you, your company becomes a better fit to theirs.

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A robotic barista at Seedplaza, a services-only mall in China.

Industry challenges are ever-changing, one needs to understand the ins and outs to stay relevant. Globalised yet Asian, Singaporean entities are fortunate enough to bridge the gap between China and the international market. This cross-pollination expertise is an invaluable asset when it comes to understanding and catering to the ever-growing demand of Chinese consumers.