Vaggelis: From AEGEE to Manager in China

Vaggelis with European friends in China

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.

Vagge­lis with Euro­pean friends in Chi­na

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: 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.

Vagge­lis’ com­pa­ny Microchi­na man­ages the man­u­fac­tur­ing part of Gloworm

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.

Vagge­lis dur­ing pro­duc­tion inspec­tion and qual­i­ty con­trol at a tablet fac­to­ry.

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.

The prod­uct of Vagge­lis’ com­pa­ny.

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?

That’d how most peo­ple remem­ber Vagge­lis — at an Ago­ra.

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.

This is where Vagge­lis stud­ies — the Hong Kong Uni­ver­si­ty of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­o­gy.

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!

Vagge­lis is always look­ing for­ward to meet­ing old friends in Chi­na.

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.