SHANGHAI — When the "Shanghai Coffee Club" was first mentioned to me, the name evoked an image of old-era Shanghai where the French Concession was established.
Of course, this was all in my head.
Joseph Xie, who introduced me to the club, was talking about the "Shanghai IC Coffee Club." The operative term here is "IC."
This IC Coffee Club is located nowhere near the Puxi side of Shanghai, where the old French Concession neighborhood still exists. Xie took me instead to a modestly decorated cafe, inside a nondescript shopping mall near Zhangjiang Hi-Tech Park in Pudong. To me, the area looked exactly like Santa Clara, Calif.
But this is no ordinary coffee house. It's a hangout for engineers and entrepreneurs in Shanghai's IC community. The setup isn't posh, but it hums with an air of passion, earnestness, and friendliness that struck me as extraordinary.
As Xie tells the story, 100 people (including him), all of them working in the semiconductor industry, got together and hashed out a plan. Each threw in $3,000 and pitched in a little sweat. And they got themselves a coffee house of their own, right here.
How cool is that?
While non-members can also drop in for a cup of coffee, the place is owned and run by its geek-world founders. They've hired their own baristas and waiters to serve the clients.
Having a place of their own is important to many members. It provides a much needed refuge where likeminded people can sit, chat, compare notes, and share their stories. They arrange meetings and organize workshops. There are also seminars on technology and business twice a week.
Xie explained that he first envisioned Shanghai IC Coffee Club as a takeoff on the Beacon Street bar in Boston that served as the model for Sam Malone's bar in the popular TV series Cheers (1982 to 1993).
Cheers doesn't much resemble The Big Bang Theory, the TV series that every geek of the current generation seems to love. But Cheers captured so well what's often missing from our daily lives, and what anyone struggling to succeed has always craved: the place where everyone knows your name.
As the Cheers theme song goes:
Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you've got;
Taking a break from all your worries
Sure would help a lot.
Wouldn't you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same;
You want to be where everybody knows your name.
Many Chinese returnees, often called "Sea Turtles," were born in China but came to study in the US to pursue university degrees. Those US-educated Chinese often found good engineering jobs at big companies or hot startups in Silicon Valley. But later, some made the difficult decision to return, often in hopes of fulfilling the dream of starting companies on their own back in China.
We're talking high achievers here. But even alpha-male type-A's, once in a while, need a few words of advice, a shot of courage, or a kick in the butt to stay on course and persevere. The Shanghai IC Coffee House is where they go, says Xie.
Inside the Cafe
The interior of the Shanghai IC Coffee Club last week, on a quiet Thursday afternoon. It's a sunny room. Note the seminar-ready projector screen in the back.