Not many entrepreneurs start their businesses with such razzle-dazzle as Sean Leow did. In 2007, he hosted a lavish party in Shanghai to launch Neocha, an online community of alternative Chinese artists and musicians. The event, which featured over 60 designer groups and eight independent rock bands and DJs, drew more than 10,000 people.
Leow, a California native, headed to Nanjing, China, in order to study international relations partly because his grandparents are Chinese. During his time there he became fascinated by alternative art and music, which both took off in China in the 2000s. Leow noticed that the young artists and musicians barely survived, and that few people knew about them. He decided to do something about it and make money on advertisements and mobile payments.
AFTER THE PARTY
The launch of Neocha created a buzz felt beyond the creative communities in China. But, to Leow’s surprise, significant revenue never really materialized. Trying to save the startup, he downsized Neocha staff, moved its office to a smaller space and switched to a less expensive Web-hosting service. He said he knew alternative Chinese art and music had value. But he was searching for a way to tap the potential and help the artists sell their works.
A reversal of Neocha’s fortune came when a large company called Flamingo International asked Leow to collect information for its marketing project. Neocha used its contacts in the art world to produce reports on youth cultural trends in China. Flamingo was impressed by the short response time and the quality of the reports.
FROM A FAN TO PARTNER
As Neocha was attracting more consulting business, Leow asked one of its fans, Adam Schokora, to manage consulting projects. In 2009, the two started NeochaEDGE, an agency that focuses on content production, market research and events planning. At that time, they had contacts with more than 30,000 Chinese artists and musicians.
“We realized the tremendous value that these artists can bring to companies” that try to make their marketing more creative, Leow said. The new business model has proved profitable.
Leow said he and Schokora want to “continue to make a difference in the creative industry.” In 2010, they started the EDGE Creative Collective to better represent in the business world artists who are associated with Neocha.
During the past two years, NeochaEDGE has been involved in designing furniture for a Hyatt hotel in Shanghai, producing a stop-motion animation commercial for Gap Inc., and getting seven Chinese artists into a live performance art session for Volvo. Leow and Schokora also produced a documentary about independent animation in China.
As serious business was growing, Neocha moved into a bigger office and began hiring more people. Even today, though, Leow and Schokora are having a lot of fun. “We get to work with super creative people” and on fun projects, Leow said. For example, who wouldn’t be excited to go on a fashion shoot with a popular photographer or a stylist in demand in the industry?
Downsize (v): To make something smaller, such as a company, an office or an apartment. This verb is usually used to convey the idea of saving money.
- The company was downsized in order to survive the tough economy. The office was moved across town to a smaller location. The staff took pay cuts.
Materialize (v): To become real; to begin to happen.
- The idea for our startup really materialized when the publicity and buzz from our designs brought customers from many countries to our website.
Stop-motion animation (n): Used in graphic design and film to describe a way of making a static image move by using multiple photographs of an image. The image is slightly changed in each photo.
- Graphic designers who have the skills to create stop-motion graphics are in high demand in television production, website design, and product brand placement worldwide. This is a job you can do in any language from almost anywhere in the world, if you have the right skill.
Trend (n): In this context, something that is fashionable, popular or new.
- The company looks at social media to learn about youth cultural trends. They also research what people between 18 and 25 think about an array of global issues.