PARIS – Businessmen have a reputation for being cool and pragmatic, but they are among the most fervent believers in the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Especially in the electronics industry, a lot of otherwise sensible capitalists have tended to see that rainbow arching over China.
In 2009, Yannick Levy, then the CEO of DiBcom, a French mobile TV chip startup, decided to find out if China was the jackpot.
DiBcom's sales were already declining when he arrived in China. The company'schips were designed to address the DVB-H standard for the European mobile TV market. Making matters worse, the global financial crisis of 2008 didn’t look like it would end any time soon. Looking back, Levy recalled, “The industry and media… kept writing about China. I wanted to know if there is indeed a market in China for DiBcom. I wanted to see it [for] myself.”
Levy (left), a true engineer and entrepreneur, decided in 2009 to pack up and leave his home in Paris with his wife and three kids (10, 8 and 5 at that time) in tow and head for Shanghai. The Levys lived in the Pudong section of Shanghai for seven months. He then set out to learn what was going on in China's electronics industry.
He spent a lot of time trying to understand China’s mobile TV market and its two competing standards, CMMB and CTTB. The first question was: Which format was winning in the market? Once Levy figured that out, he had to determined if there was a big enough Chinese market for DiBcom to pursue.
Levy also needed to figure out if his TV chips would go into mobile handsets and, if so, which handset suppliers were interested in doing business with him.
The already difficult market research was made harder by the language barrier. Still, Levy found that engineers on the factory floor could be candid and helpful. In formal meetings with company bosses, however, Levy found negotiating with them through an interpreter to be both cumbersome and unproductive.