Driving Technical Innovation and Exchange between China and Berlin.
An interview with Max Ma, CEO of 36Kr Global
36Kr Global is China’s TechCrunch, the leading publishing and data company reporting technology news and connecting to startups and investors in Asia. As a major digital business media group, 36Kr Global is dedicated to scientific and technological innovation and business exchanges between Asia and the rest of the world, providing a platform for players engaging in the global new economy.
36Kr Global has expanded its local and cross-border operations in markets such as China, Japan, Southeast Asia, India and now Europe. The business network covers multinational corporations (MNC), international government agencies, institutional investors, start-ups, and start-up ecosystem developers, encouraging the flow of information, talents, capital and technology with content and services, and promoting the steady and sustainable development of the global new economy.
With the progress of globalization and Chinese enterprises strengthening their innovation capacity, more and more Chinese companies have a presence in international markets. Max Ma, CEO of 36Kr Global, and Dr. Stefan Franzke, CEO of Berlin Partner, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on strategic co-operations to promote closer collaboration between China and Berlin’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.
With its successful expansion in Japan, Southeast Asia and India, 36Kr Global has become an important ecosystem player in these major markets. Now, 36Kr Global has set up an office in Berlin as its European headquarters, committed to connecting start-ups, multinational enterprises and venture capital networks between Asia and Europe.
We spoke with Max Ma, CEO of 36Kr Global, to discuss the blueprint for Chinese start-ups in the international market, the technological innovation and exchanges between China and other countries, and 36Kr Global’s future development in the European market.
Mr. Ma, thank you so much for meeting with us today. We are very pleased to have this opportunity to talk to you. Your business and platform have achieved great success. Would you please briefly share your career experience with us?
Early on in my career, I worked in Japan and in Japanese enterprises. I joined 36Kr in 2015, responsible for multiple business lines, including sales, innovation consultation and overseas business. In 2017, I put my energy into 36Kr’s overseas business, built three media brands in Chinese, English and Japanese, including 36Kr Overseas, Kr ASIA and 36 Kr Japan and established legal entities in Beijing, Singapore and Japan, respectively. In 2019, we established 36Kr Global in Hong Kong and formally put all overseas businesses under the 36Kr Group Now, 36Kr Global has become the largest multilingual cross-border service provider in Asia, serving hundreds of millions of users and thousands of enterprises.
How did you decide to develop 36Kr Global? What services does 36Kr Global provide?
When 36Kr launched its international strategy in 2017, it selected media as its main business because information exchange is the first step for cross-border cooperation. First of all, we needed to build our reputation overseas and introduce China to foreign partners. Then, we could better bridge China and other countries. So, through our media ecosystems in English, Japanese and Chinese focused on Chinese enterprises’ overseas expansion, we facilitated communication worldwide and made cross-border expansion possible. In our opinion, “deepening understanding” is most important in business value creation, moreso even than building social relationships. Over the past 4 years, 36Kr Global has connected a lot of partners across Asia and has established its local teams and networks. We provide brand communication, cross-border services, business consulting and other cross-border related services for hundreds of multinational enterprises and start-ups.
36Kr Global has settled in Berlin and you also have an ambitious plan in Europe. What are your special expectations for the further expansion of 36Kr Global in Europe?
We have been focusing on the European market for a while. Although the worldwide pandemic has postponed our European expansion plan over the past year, we also see the future prospect of online media and digital services in the post-epidemic era. We just launched KrEurope, a brand-new media brand serving European audiences and our European flagship website www.Kr-Europe.co went live several days ago. We aim to develop KrEurope into the most intensive and influential commercial and technological media bridging Europe and Asia to overcome the barrier of information asymmetry.
Why did 36Kr Global choose Berlin?
Berlin is a very special city. Although it is the capital of Germany, it is more like the capital of Europe in the field of science, technology and innovation. Here, English is the common language, and more than one third of the population are foreigners. It’s easy to find professionals who can speak different European languages in Berlin, which is very attractive for an organization specializing in cross-border services. We need team members and partners who can really understand the local language, culture and market of the host country. Relying on Berlin as the European headquarters, we aim to enter the most cutting-edge and dynamic technical and business ecology in Europe, rather than just Germany, and have direct access to top founders, leading companies, and investment institutions. Over the past few years, we have seen important multinational technology companies from different sectors, such as TikTok and Tesla, come to Berlin one after another. We believe this trend will continue.
36Kr Global shoulders the ambitious mission of promoting technological innovation and exchanges between China and other countries. Where does this mission come from?
As a Chinese person, I hope to present a real picture of China to foreigners. However, many foreign organizations fail to do so. We had this original aspiration in our minds when we started our journey. We realize that China and even the whole of Asia has become the most important market in the world, while China is still strange to the rest of the world. What a pity! We hope to help enterprises in China and Asia to better reach the international market. We could also bring more overseas enterprises and organizations to China and Asia to create their business value. This will be a long journey, but it is our unchangeable mission.
In your opinion, what’s the next revolutionary development that will change global science and technology, after artificial intelligence?
Regarding this, someone may say it’s blockchain or quantum computing. All advanced technologies may be a focus in global technology and the capital market. However, I believe that the next revolutionary development will be those solutions to cruel social issues faced by human beings now such as environment, ecology, animals, the elderly, and diseases. I hope these are answers to your question. I want to see more investments made in science and technology that will create more value for human beings. Why not restore our planet, instead of investing in space technology to make a home in outer space?
What challenges do you face in your work? What special challenges do you encounter in the German market?
The biggest challenge in our daily work is how to overcome different cultural barriers for different countries and regions, to facilitate exchange, integration and co-development. Our team members come from more than a dozen countries and regions, but they share common values with concerted actions, which is very important.
Comparably, Germany has a slow pace of life. In Asia, over the past few decades, we had been used to high-intensity work and high-speed projects. On many occasions, this has become an obstacle in communicating with our German partners. For example, when Germans say, „Your work is very interesting, but I’m going on vacation now, we can talk about it in detail in a month“. In Asia, it means that the counterpart has rejected your project. He has no interest at all. However, the German counterpart would contact you after 30 days when he finishes his vacation. Therefore, coordinating the different work paces and communication methods between China and Germany to ensure our rapid growth pace and keep up with the market will be a continuous challenge.
Which is your favorite Chinese startup company? And do you have any favorite startups from Berlin?
There are many startups in China. I think they are all worthy of our respect and we should learn from them. As long as a startup is really solving problems which will benefit many people or enterprises, I think we should support such startups.
Now, few startups from Berlin enter China. I have heard of Jina AI, Matchx and a few other projects, but I haven’t had an opportunity to find out more about them yet. I think many startups in Berlin have business models suitable for Europe, but once they enter Asia and China, they face many new problems that need to be solved. We also hope KrEurope can help these startups to better enter Chinese and Asian markets, break down information barriers, and find the best partners.
What is your biggest vision for the future development of 36Kr global in the European market?
I hope KrEurope can become the best platform for European enterprises to know Asia and China. We hope that information and services that we provide can better help European enterprises enter Asia and China and help those European enterprises already in Asia and China improve their development. We also hope that through our services, Chinese and Asian enterprises can better know about Berlin, Germany and Europe, so that they can invest and develop in Europe and better serve European markets and customers. This is KrEurope’s biggest vision.
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