Shanghai Entrepreneurs: Daniel Cheng

By Frances Chen, June 19, 2017

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Shanghai is a city of entrepreneurship. In our series, 'Shanghai Entrepreneurs,' we talk to people from different backgrounds and businesses about their motivations, experiences and what they have learned along the way.

Daniel Cheng is the founder of Metric Design Studio (MDS) and has been working in marketing and design for over eight years in Shanghai. By combining expertise in the digital landscape in China with strong technical skills, Daniel has landed a diverse range of clients which spans from the luxury hotel chain Shangri-la Hotels to top-tiered universities such as Shanghai Jiaotong University and Duke Kunshan University. In his spare time he enjoys the company of his rescue dog.

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Tell us about your work experience in Shanghai and how your business was founded in the first place? 
I came to Shanghai in 2009 and worked in various marketing jobs, eventually landing a position as Brand Manager at LVMH. However, I discovered I wanted to be on the agency side to explore what I could do for other brands in the market. In the winter of 2013, I quit LVMH and took all the savings I had and started MDS. The firm has been running strong since. We’ve been doing all forms of digital marketing and e-commerce management for clients across China, as well as for international brands looking to enter the Chinese market.

Did you have fears while starting your company considering you don’t have investors nor partners? 
I started my company based off of two simple rules. Of course these are not set in stone, but it made sense at the time and has served me well. 

No Partners: I’ve heard too many stories of partnerships gone sour. To me, this was a no-brainer. By opting to do everything on my own allowed me to have full creative authority over any decisions that needed to be made. 

No Investors: not having a board of shareholders granted me the freedom to take on projects that were more about passion, rather than cash. 

It was logical for me to follow this path. Cash flow is always a burden, but knowing how to scale properly is one of the most important skills in a startup. I know this doesn’t necessarily apply to all businesses, but if you have an idea, there are ways to make it a reality it without overthinking it and spending too much.

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Shanghai is a goldmine for business, but what exactly is the vital advantage among all that Shanghai has to offer? 
I came to Shanghai thinking I would stay for only six months, and little did I know I ended up staying over eight years. There is a passion in this city that I haven’t found elsewhere. The type of people you connect with on a daily basis aren’t jaded and are genuinely passionate about their work and what they care about. Also, it comes down to timing - it’s a totally different time now than it was eight years ago. It took years of learning and mistakes before I knew how to run a profitable business.

Every successful entrepreneur has their own principles in business, what are yours and how did they work out for you? 
I can’t stress this enough - being resourceful is the most important skill for a leader. If you can’t figure out how to do something - find someone who does. Some people just give up when they hit a wall and that’s a terrible mindset. Also, surrounding yourself with like-minded colleagues and mentors is critical for any business. 

I think the main principle that governs me professionally is being fair. I charge clients fairly, and I pay my staff fairly. I think it’s important to be transparent and honest with your business and how you run it. It pays off in the end.

"Being resourceful is the most important skill for a leader. If you can’t figure out how to do something - find someone who does."

Do you consider at the time your startup was riding the wave of this rapidly growing industry? 
Sure! As long as there are brands entering China there will be plenty work to be done. The beauty of our agency is that we’re positioned as a digital production house to do white-label projects for 4A and global agencies, but we’re also experienced enough to deal directly with the end client, whether they are Fortune 500 companies or listed on the HK stock exchange. 

How do you balance your life and work and how do you tackle stress management? 
This is hard. Whenever I speak to young professionals seeking advice, I focus on stress management. It’s something I severely underestimated; balancing professional and personal commitments as a founder can be quite daunting and overwhelming. Boundaries have to be set, which is why I don’t assign work to my staff over weekends. Also, it’s important not to let work dig too deep under your skin - it can ruin you. 

What kind of individuals do you tend to employ regarding Shanghai’s multicultural human resource? 
Our team is comprised mainly of Chinese nationals who have studied abroad. When it comes to doing business in China, I think it’s important to be equipped with a global mindset. Sounds dumb but it couldn’t be more true these days. 

If things could be different, what would you have done differently back to 2009 when you just got here? 
Ha, besides invest in real estate? Probably open up a dance studio for kids - that seems infinitely scalable. But seriously, I am really happy with my situation and my firm. I’m blessed with a hardworking staff, ingenious mentors, and amazing clients. And of course, I’m beyond grateful for the continued support from my friends and family.

Photos by zhouzhou. Visit metricdesign.net for more information.


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