Many AEGEE members become entrepreneurs. Vaggelis Monoguios is one of them. The former member of AEGEE-Athina joined the association in 2002 and after two years in the Network commission and in the local board he became CD Network Director in 2005. Recently he moved to China where he founded his own company, Microchina Ltd. He also does an MBA at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Vaggelis told the Golden Times about his new life.
Golden Times: Vaggelis, you founded a company in China last year. How is it called and what is it about?
Vaggelis Monoguios: We call it Microchina and it specialises in contract manufacturing and sourcing. Basically we organise production lines and find products for our customers in China. Our current biggest project is Gloworm Manufacturing. Check the website: www.glowormlites.com. This is a joint venture with the New Zealand-based Gloworm Performance Products on designing, manufacturing and distributing high end and high value bike lights. My part is mostly on the manufacturing and marketing part while my partner, Bruce Davey, designs the product and makes the sales.
Golden Times: How did you get the idea to found a company in China?
Vaggelis: My former buddies from the CD, the European board of AEGEE, would remember that I was planning to go to China since 2006, when I was in the board. My family is entrepreneurial so I have the genes — and China is the country with the biggest opportunities for global business. Having said that, doesn’t the idea sound logical and simple?
Golden Times: When did you move to China?
Vaggelis: Back in 2010, right after I was accepted for my MBA program in Hong Kong.
Golden Times: Where is your company based?
Vaggelis: We are based in Shenzhen just on the other side of the Hong Kong border. Maybe unknown to most of people as Shenzhen was founded just 30 years ago with the aim to become an Economic centre, actually the gate of the West to China. Nowadays Shenzhen is a modern city of 15 million inhabitants with skyscrapers and highways. It has one of the biggest ports in China and the world centre of electronic products manufacturing.
Golden Times: How well is it going?
Vaggelis: As every start up the road to success has bumps and twists but I could say it is doing pretty well. We have successfully launched our first product in the first quarter of 2012. We got some great reviews from consumers and already a global network of distributors. I can’t complain, but as you probably know: having your own company means day and night work and full dedication. Just like being a CD member.
Golden Times: Sourcing in China is a big topic, but there is a lot of competition. What’s your unique selling point? And how much can companies save that source with you?
Vaggelis: They are hundreds of companies out there who are sourcing and offer a great price for products from China. We do the same, but where we add value is that we can understand quality and we know what our customer needs. Although I do not have clearly a technical background, AEGEE’s IT Working Group would remember me as one of the CD members who could understand their language, especially when it comes to technical matters.
Golden Times: So your technical understanding is an advantage?
Vaggelis: Yes. When it comes to complicated or technical projects, this is where our strong point is. Manufacturing in China can be very tricky and even the smallest detail in a demanding project can cost a lot of money and time. Actually this value adding point is one of the points that make Gloworm Lites successful. We have top notch New Zealand design, we take care that there are no corners cut during production and that we use materials from the highest end of the market. If that reminds you of something, it is the business model that Apple uses. Of course it would take us some hundred thousands of employees and some billion dollars of revenue to match Apple, but one could say that we base our business models on similar fundamentals: taking the best from each world, the West and the East.
Golden Times: You mentioned that you already created your first product. What does it do?
Vaggelis: We do in-house manufacturing of the Gloworm X2, a bike light which is basically as bright as a car light, but it only weighs 80 grams. It is used by mountain bike riders and biking specialists. They were four months of designing in New Zealand and developing before we hit the market. Happily we got some rocking reviews and we enjoy every moment.
Golden Times: Who are your clients?
Vaggelis: When it comes to Gloworm manufacturing, bike distributors around the globe. When it comes to Microchina, everybody who is interested in developing or buying a product from China.
Golden Times: How many employees do you have?
Vaggelis: We currently have a tiny, but highly trained production line of three people and my colleague Jay who is running daily operations. Jay, I know you are reading. Thanks for everything! Back in New Zealand, Gloworm Performance Products has a design team consisting of a product designer and an electric engineer. Our aim is having a small and flexible team and maintaining a great working atmosphere and fun. This is how we learned to work in AEGEE anyway. We could say that Microchina works more like an NGO than a traditional — and depressing — office. Allow me to say that entrepreneurs should never forget that one of the reasons they turned to doing their own thing was to avoid depressing and crazy bosses. Isn’t it obvious that you owe to yourself to create a cool and friendly environment for people working for you?
Golden Times: After you moved to China in 2010, what were your first steps before becoming entrepreneur?
Vaggelis: For the first three months I was unemployed and trying to understand China better. You can say I was culturally shocked. After that I have been working at two companies just before I decided to take a risk and start Microchina. In both companies I was doing sales. The second company was an LED light manufacturer and the place I firstly met my current partner, Bruce Davey.
Golden Times: And you thought it’s better to make an own company than to stay there?
Vaggelis: Sure. I could not imagine myself moving to the other side of the world and doing something I could also do in Greece. I simply had to grab the opportunity no matter the cost.
Golden Times: Do you actually speak Chinese?
Vaggelis: Well, I can communicate the very, very basic everyday stuff. Recently I started making factory visits myself and my language skills are becoming better. To be honest, I am not a language person and Chinese used to be all Greek to me. Keeping in mind that most of my free time was dedicated to my MBA there there was no space for language learning, but now that the MBA is about to finish mastering the Chinese language is the next step.
Golden Times: How hard was it to create a company in China? What was the hardest part? Finding staff, location, funding or the bureaucratic stuff?
Vaggelis: Understanding the culture and the way people work here was the most difficult part. The whole society has different communication norms which make even everyday life more complicated. Funding is actually non-existent for foreigners, so we had to do everything from scratch. Running a company in China is definitely a challenge.
Golden Times: Do other people in your family have entrepreneurial background?
Vaggelis: Sure. My father has been doing trade with China for the past 15 years and all my family is trading. They could not go wrong with me.
Golden Times: How can you find the time for both, job and MBA?
Vaggelis: It is a part-time MBA, so we have classes on weekends. Job and studies are ok but travelling, party and my social life suffered for two years. Of course my old AEGEE friends know that I used to be a social animal and this has not changed. There is always some time for a drink with friends, some jokes and fun.
Golden Times: And how do you like living in China? What from Europe are you missing?
Vaggelis: I miss culture, the European cafés and beautiful cities of Europe. China is fast, industrial and rich nowadays. Europe is the opposite: slow, cultural and not so rich. Of course I miss my friends and I wish I could see them more often. It was sad to miss two marriages because of the distance, the one of Asia Piskunowicz and the other of Alistair de Gaetano, both my 2006 CD buddies. Let me grab the opportunity then, to publicly wish them all the best!
Golden Times: How often will we have the chance to see you in Europe?
Vaggelis: I plan to be two times per year in Europe. Once for business every Chinese new year, which is in February and March, and once every summer for holidays in the Greek islands.
Golden Times: Do you think you will stay in China forever?
Vaggelis: I can see my future in China for at least five more years. As you know, Greece is not having its best times, but I am sure that in the future there will be many opportunities for entrepreneurs in Greece that will help me decide to come back.
Golden Times: How do you see the crisis in Greece from far distance?
Vaggelis: Expected I would say. I believe that the crisis is not a problem of just Greece or just South Economies. It is a pan-European problem that will affect all countries in the future. I am disappointed to see that European leaders make very slow steps to the right direction to support the economies.
Golden Times: You are going to join Les Anciens now. Will you organize an event for Les Anciens in China?
Vaggelis: I’d love to. Missing many good friends and I will be more than happy to host you in South East Asia. Let’s do it.