Founder & Managing Director, LITAO
What is LITAO and why did you start it?
I first arrived in China as a student of Chinese, after three years studying it at university in Lithuania. At the time, very few people from my country understood Chinese so in order to help my fellow Lithuanians engage with China, I became a translator. However, I noticed that no matter how good my translation skills were, a fundamental quality of communication was missing because the two sides did not truly understand where the other was coming from. A foreigner is o en surrounded by mistaken preconceptions, assumptions, and stereotypes about China and vice versa. Business communication, especially in China, relies on trust and as a foreigner who studied Chinese culture as well as language, I was able to bridge the two sides. I started working with business owners and government officials as their on-the-ground negotiator and consultant for sourcing, trade, and dispute settling. The volume of work steadily grew and the cases became more complex, so I started forming a team to address them. In late 2014, all this started to take the shape of LITAO.
As a cross-cultural consulting company, LITAO is a natural solution for a growing need for clarity and cross-cultural trust. We know what it’s like to struggle as a foreigner. We offer a full scope of professional services supporting great companies that seek to enter the China market or otherwise expand beyond their borders.
Our key focus areas include clear communication, effective management, and long-term business strategy. I wish for LITAO to be a way I can give back to both societies that have shaped me: my homeland of Lithuania and my actual home of the past 9 years, China.
What’s been your greatest career challenge and greatest success as an entrepreneur so far?
I am currently facing a challenge to make the company more autonomous; in this technological age, I want to find a different management style, one that is less top-down and more focused on individual responsibility. We have just found the best way to manage the workflow on the cloud, allowing each team member to self-assign tasks and make the process transparent, both for the other team members and the client if there is such a need. This allows each team member to have personal stakes in group projects and be more aware of what their individual actions do for the group. Also, allowing them to assign their own tasks enables each person to choose their areas of expertise to work on and realistically manage their own time. This is not easy to do when I am still the one paying the wages, as each member of the team has to be highly responsible, motivated, and self-aware.
But truly, my biggest success as an entrepreneur is my team. I have been extremely lucky and honoured to meet amazing people and call them my colleagues, friends and mentors. Last year, 9 out of 10 LITAO team members started either their own companies or impactful personal projects alongside working on LITAO’s projects. This means LITAO is succeeding in empowering its employees as well as its clients, allowing everybody to do what they have identified to be their most important work.
In terms of our clients, the two coolest successes last year included reaching 100% client acquisition rate for a high-end fashion designer apparel project as well as selling the first load of Lithuanian-produced seafood to a Hong Kong retailer – while knowing full well that HK is the biggest producer of the products we were selling!
What are some of the most common business mistakes you see entrepreneurs making in china?
I think it is unfair to speak of mistakes. Anyone who has ever done anything has committed ‘mistakes’ but what really matters is having the courage to be able to fail and carry on anyway.
Sometimes it takes years to realize how the situation might have been handled differently, and something that looked absolutely innocent initially might have caused an unexpected sequence of events. My personal management & LEAN consultant once told me, “Spirituality in business is finding comfort in not knowing.” There are no guarantees; the markets are unpredictable and changing faster than ever. I don’t always know in the moment whether my decision will be ‘right' or ‘wrong’ in the future, but I trust I have made the best decision with my current capacity though there is always room to learn.
Society has this strange obsession to consume negative news; people criticize one another and build up their own image by observing others’ wrongdoings and delving into detailed discussion of their faulty demeanour or performance. I focus on positive case studies, which provide possibilities. I always tell my clients about practical problem-solving tricks that others have employed successfully, and I hope that this will broaden their minds enough to seize the unexpected — more opportunities are always out there for a fine-tuned eye.
I believe each business would benefit from a strong identity consisting of ‘who one is, who one is not, and who one is up against’. If you observe established brands and corporations, they spend tons of money on research and constantly seek feedback from all stakeholders to see whether their identity translates according to their expectations. In businesses where the mentality is still ‘hard power’ and short-term thinking, this scientific approach to creating narratives within different communities is beyond reasoning. Companies o en think, “Why should I spend money on storytelling? I/my product/my services are much better and cheaper than anyone’s in the market.”
Well, nowadays, being the best or even the cheapest is not always enough. The best is only a comparative measurement, and we each have a different understanding of what’s best for me. We are all in the business of serving people in the end; despite the market practice of placing consumers into categories, it doesn’t matter in the end how rich or how poor certain people are, their race or gender or even where they live, as they are each an individual first.
This is a very important understanding: statistics are a social, theoretical construct, yet each purchasing decision is made by a single individual, and each decision is an independent conscious or unconscious action that is not always rational. When a company builds its brand identity, it is like a person espousing a life philosophy — it will attract the people who identify with that philosophy. Such an identity taps into their existing pains and needs. On an individual level, to know better what your identity is, you should surround yourself with people—be it friends, colleagues, or business partners—who have the same philosophy of life as yours. On a business level, it is also important to find suppliers, distributors, manufacturers, partners and employees whose values are similar to yours. Being niche might limit your customers, but the ones you have will truly be right for you. On the other hand, being too general—like someone in life who has no opinions of his own because he wants to please everybody—might actually kill a business, because why would someone want something that doesn’t strike a real chord with them?
What advice would you give to someone wanting to launch their own business in China?
My advice is to make sure you have a strong discipline and never skip breakfast. ☺ Seriously – it is not as easy as it sounds when the pressure hits!
On a deeper note, I have noticed that ladies are o en way too modest, self-doubting, and shy to speak up or self-advertise. Or else we might go the other way and think we have to be overly aggressive in order to compete with men in the workplace. I hope rather than holding ourselves to societal gender standards, every one of us can find what makes us unique and embody that fully. Then it doesn’t matter if we do business, become really good mothers, or just cook amazing breakfasts— we will emanate happiness, and that is what the world today needs most: more happy people with genuine self-esteem!
If you would like to reach Lina to learn more about LITAO please contact her.
WeChat ID: LITAO-Shanghai
And check out: www.litao.lt