iTien Blog
Late to the blogging world but better than never

June 2023
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Going back to PayPal
Filed under: Work, China
Posted by: Alan @ 3:00 pm

After a great year at Geni, I have decided to return to PayPal China.  My old/new boss Jeff wrote up a perfect return email:

Dear All –

It is with my greatest pleasure to welcome Alan Tien back. Commencing March 3rd, Alan will start his new role in the capacity of Chief Operating Officer of PayPal China, reporting directly to me. 

Alan is not a stranger to most of us - before he took up the Beibao 贝宝 ( Country Product Manager role in Shanghai in July, 2005, Alan had been a senior API PM, Merchant Features with PayPal in San Jose since 2002.  Last March, Alan was invited to join and launch in China. 

For those who knew him well, you’d agree to my characterization of Alan being a person who is not only extremely intellectually bright particularly when it comes to strategic thinking and innovation, but also an entrepreneurial leader with a track record of success - in his 16+ year profession across international product management, marketing and business consulting with both large MNCs and small start-ups, Alan has demonstrated his equal proficiency in technology and business with rapidly increasing management responsibility and leadership scope.

Please join me to welcome Alan Tien back and congratulate him for his new and expanded role with PayPal China. Thanks and regards.

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Guerilla Marketing
Filed under: Work, Shanghai, China
Posted by: Alan @ 4:02 pm

Guerilla Marketing.  Sounds good, right?  It sounds like “powerful word-of-mouth marketing on the cheap.”  Great.  So how do you do it?

Many of the big, successful PR events that you may have read about actually cost a lot of money.  In Mavericks at Work, the author describes ING Direct as a “master of bold publicity stunts and brash PR moves….In Boston, ING Direct paid for all the subway lines on the MBTA (know as the “T” among Bostonians) to be free one morning to rush-hour commuters - a high-profile stunt that the company dubbed the “ING Direct Boston T Party.”  This PR sounds wonderful, and it’s probably cheaper than buying an ad during the Superbowl, but it’s definitely not cheap.

I’m trying to figure this out for my company  At first, we tried to get bloggers to write about us.  We get a ton of blog coverage in the US because of founder David Sacks’ reputation from his being COO at PayPal.  However, outside of the US, Dave’s reputation is limited.  Sort of like how US PayPal executives couldn’t believe that users in China have never heard of PayPal.  Or how many of the big hotel chains from the US - such as 5-star Holiday Inns and Radisson’s - are trying to upgrade their brand in China because Chinese users have no idea how good or bad they are in the US. 

After cold-contacting many APAC bloggers, we got minimal response besides a few mentions in Singapore.  I felt like we had a compelling story about a new social networking site focused on families.  The bloggers in the US love Geni, raving about the UI and the virality.  However, we could not get much interest among the Asian bloggers, and I’m only talking about the ones who write in English.

In parallel, I tried to use my “guanxi” in Shanghai to get published in expat magazines.  It took a while but I have finally got a few mentions.  One was in the October issue of Shanghai’s American Chamber of Commerce’s (AmCham) magazine Insight.  And just yesterday, I saw my article published in the November issue of American Women’s Club of Shanghai’s (AWCS) magazine The Spirit.  That was a lot of work.

In Ad-tech Beijing, one of the panels was on Guerilla Marketing.  But the majority of the panel discussion was on how to deal with negative press, how large MNC’s often fail to recognize the powder keg of unsatisfied users on non-traditional media such as blogs and discussion boards.  When an attendee finally asked about how to do “proactive guerilla marketing,” one of the speakers (from, I assume, a PR company) said “Oh, it’s very hard.  Please come up afterwards and we can talk about such a project.”

I also got a proposal from a professional PR company - for a good chunk of change, they promise access to traditional media writers and bloggers.  My friends in China tell me that PR in China is completely a paid thing.  “Reporters” here are supposedly extremely lazy.  You have to write the story, provide all the supporting material (e.g., pictures) and pay them money for them to get your PR printed.  They are essentially gateways to media. 

As often is the case, the more you learn of an industry, the uglier it gets.

Differentiation is Good
Filed under: General, Work, China
Posted by: Alan @ 11:59 am

Here’s my response to Dean Bubley’s nice blog about how people are using FB for all contacts, not just friends.  He states, “I’m trying to come up with a reasoned criterion for someone being ‘Facebookable’.”

I’m the GM of Geni China.  We at Geni obviously believe that there should be differentiation among the circles of people you care about in your life: friends (FB), co-workers (LinkedIn), and a circle you didn’t mention - family (Geni).

However, in China, most of the social networkers here do not differentiate. They invite everybody they meet to their SNS of choice, and they accept invitations from everyone without distinguishing which circle.

I wish, like the Olympic “manners” campaigns where the Chinese government is trying to teach 1.2B people that spitting on the street isn’t cool, Chinese bloggers could reiterate what you’ve said, and explain the value and purpose of differentiation.  Not everyone can be your BFF.

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Sacks interview
Filed under: Work
Posted by: Alan @ 6:24 pm

Super interesting story on Geni’s CEO David Sacks:

In other words, why the heck would you do another internet startup when you have succeeded building one already (PayPal) and have also produced a Golden-Globe nominated movie Thank You for Smoking

I’ve worked with a bunch of Product Managers at Jamcracker ($140M internet startup/flameout), PayPal and eBay, and David’s by far the best.  Why do I call him a PM when he’s the CEO?  This is by no means a demotion.  It’s recognition of his genius.  He has fantastic intuition for usability; he argues product design with uncommon clarity and logic; he demands rigorous data analysis both before product design and after product launch; he’s willing to change his mind if you come up with a better product design.

Internet startup success is rarely based on just a great idea.  Execution is paramount.  Dave and the Geni team is executing at world-class levels.  I may be a bit biased being employed by David, but I’m also observing from a distance, from Shanghai.  I drink a diluted version of the Koolaid.

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Geni Interview
Filed under: Work
Posted by: Alan @ 10:53 pm


I was interviewed by Ben for Singapore Entrepreneurs, covering Geni.

Singapore blogosphere has been good to Geni APAC: theory.isthereason and Deadpoet’s Cave also covered Geni.

Geni’s gotten excellent write ups in the US:



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