Xiao Zuo was the director of strategic programs in Indiegogo, a crowdfunding platform in Silicon Valley founded in 2008, with over $10B raised through incubating different tech products. Xiao has been geeking out between Silicon Valley and Aisa for 10 years, and (even though I’m not sure he’ll admit it) he’s definitely one of the OG’s in the industry, and cross border technology expert in particular.
Of course, when I got the chance to sit down with Xiao, I asked him the questions a lot of product innovators wants to know, like What does it take for a founder to develop a successful tech product? How did he grow Indiegogo strategic programs into a phenomenon?…but I also inquired about Xiao’s personal passions and interests, and really aimed to understand what his aspirations are going forward.
Ten years ago, Indiegogo launched the modern era of crowdfunding by creating a place where anyone could pitch their idea, product, or creative endeavor to the entire world, asking for the funds to make it reality. Today, it’s still tremendously influential, offering entrepreneurs not just a funding platform, but also support beyond their campaigns, with tools to ease the transition from concept to launch. Since Xiao joined Indiegogo, there are dramatic change in Indiegogo technology strategy. In 2018, the global brand Segway-Ninebot (Segway-Ninebot) and Indiegogo successfully launched online distribution of a variety of products around the world, and achieved remarkable results. Xiao and his team lead this global campaign and achieved multi-million fund raised in the first month.
Question: Would you like to give us one example that how you have helped technology company to reach market?
Xiao: Segway, the leader in the balancing car market, was founded in the United States and was acquired in 2015 by Beijing-based Ninebot. After the merger, the new Segway-Ninebot global company is formed. The company is based on the global market and focuses on leading the innovation and transformation of intelligent short-traffic and service-based robot products. A well-designed, flexible and fun future technology experience product. In order to gain greater global influence, Segway-Ninebot decided to use direct marketing to attract consumers around the world with the Indiegogo platform. We helped them in every aspect of the marketing and branding effort. Working with their Seattle team, we isolated their target audience using advanced digital technology. As a result, we achieved 2 million backer fund within a month. Segway-Ninebot also leveraged on our data platform to get quick understanding from user regarding their product functionality and tech specification.
Question: What is the future of cross-border product incubation?
Xiao: DTC (Direct To Consumer) marketing and product incubation have been a major trend in building successful brands in recent years. Consumers like to directly contact their favorite brands, understand brand stories, and then purchase products. Crowdfunding platform gives companies the opportunity to directly market and reach out to early adopters of global hardware products. For the past five years, I have been working with experts and industrial leaders in this space to innovate ways to help cross-border product incubation and brand acceleration. We believe there is a systematic way to nurture a technology from prototype to product, then to commercial ready goods, finally to form a phenomena brand.
Question: How did you become a cross-border technology expert? Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Xiao: I worked in the tech-accelerator field in the past 6 years. After witnessing many technology failed to turn into market success, I approached some famous technologist and entrepreneurs, asked if we could incubate their product and began launching brands sold through major retailers. In our Global Technology Incubator, we select 30 start-ups out of 600 to test our methodology. It was a big success in 2014 and we experience a rapid growth.
Things just snowballed and I started negotiate with some major strategic partners such as LKK design, Frog Design and Xlab bringing them into the ecosystem and things went well. However, after about 4 years I wanted to do something different. I was in my mid-30s and wanted to explore what was happening in cross border technology incubation and enrolled on an MBA at Cornell Business School. That was in 2018 I came back and was determined to create strategic programs for the Chinese market in Indiegogo. I could see this growing Direct-to-consumer demand for cross boarder brands there. Since then, we built two offices in China to source outstanding technology and product to make them a commercial success in international market.
Question: As an technologist and tech-entrepreneur, what is it that motivates and drives you?
Xiao: I think a lot of entrepreneurs will say the same that it is not about the money. You always want to prove yourself, you’re never quite satisfied.
Question: In one word, describe your life as an entrepreneur.
Xiao: Adventure – it feels like a constant adventure. You are never quite satisfied, always trying to push the boundaries, and then moving onto the next thing – which inevitably takes you back to starting over again.
Question: Who inspires you?
Xiao: Sir Richard Branson. I read a book about him when I was quite young, I think I was about 16 when I was studying in Singapore. It was about his epic journey to build global company and it was just his determination never to give up and his adventure that was truly inspiring.