Looking back at 2008

The end of 2008 is less than an hour away, so this is a good time to look back at the past year. For me 2008 was once again a quite successful year and I enjoyed almost every day of it. Of course the global financial crisis hit during the past year, which also had an impact on some of my investments, but that doesn’t bother me too much. The fun I am having during my daily work and with my family over-compensates any monetary losses, whether in real money or on paper. 2008 had its ups and downs, but overall the outcome is very positive. Let’s look back at some of the things that were most important or most interesting over the past 12 months.

First, and most important, was of course the addition of Scott William van der Chijs to our family, 4 days before the start of 2008. This little boy (I should stop calling him a baby boy, he is more like a toddler now) completely changed our life – in a very positive way. Sure, the first months were not easy, especially because of a lack of sleep. You suddenly realize that your baby will be with you for the rest of your life and that you have a big new responsibility. But it’s just so great to have a baby, and Scott is such a nice and happy boy that he makes it the nicest responsibility I can think of. We are lucky to have domestic staff, so we do not need to take care of Scott all the time. We now have a great nanny who likes Scott a lot, and who Scott also likes. It took a while to find a good one, we had 6 different nannies during 2008!

Because of Scott I realized that my work is not as important as it used to be to me. I don’t really work less hard, but I manage to be more efficient and try to be home every day before 8 PM so that I can still play with Scott before he goes to sleep. It’s great when we see him waiting for us when our car pulls up in front of our house every evening, seeing the smile on his face when I step out of the car is one of the highlights of my day.

The downside of having a young kid is that your daily life becomes more focused on activities in and around the house. My wife and I used to go to restaurants several times a week, but that has been reduced to just once or twice a week. The rest of the time we eat at home (we have an ayi who cooks for us) or by ordering food. We also travel a lot less as a family. No beach or skiing holidays during 2008, but we still took Scott to Europe when he was about 5 months old (among others to the INSEAD 5-year reunion in Fontainebleau and to my parents in Holland) and he flew to Beijing a few times with my wife.

I made some trips without my family as well. Among others to Tanzania, where Gary, my dad and I successfully reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro on June 1 at 7 AM in the morning. Also I made a couple of trips to Hong Kong to practice for the 100 km Trailwalker race last November. Then of course several private and business trips within China, mostly to Beijing. For work I also traveled to Holland a couple of times, and there were trips to Singapore and Japan. When I think about it, even though I cut back on travel because of Scott I still logged quite some miles in airplanes.

Because of Scott we decided to move to a house from our previous apartment. We just needed more space and I wanted Scott to be able to play outside instead of playing on a 37th floor outside terrace. We now live in the suburbs, which was a bit of a change for me at first. But I now like it, it’s quiet where we live and all important shops (incl. a City Supermarket, a Dutch bakery and the Apple shop) are within walking distance, just like a lot of other conveniences (Starbucks, DVD shops, good bars & restaurants). The compound itself is nice, with for example an outdoor pool where Scott can swim and good quality management.

We moved right before the Beijing Olympics in August, which was the highlight of the year. What a party and what a fantastic atmosphere! I watched more sports within the span of 3 weeks than I normally watch in 3 years, and met tons of new, interesting people. The Holland Heineken House guaranteed a great party every night. I was lucky to get tickets to both the Opening and Closing ceremonies, so I can say that I literally watched the Games from the beginning until the end. For me and for China the Beijing Olympics were a big success.

Another highlight for me was the so-called “Chinareis 2008“, a trip for 42 Dutch entrepreneurs and business executives active in new media to Shanghai and Chengdu. I helped to co-organize the trip and had one of the busiest but also one of the most interesting weeks of my life. We not only visited many companies, but among others also watched the Water Releasing festival in Dujiangyan (the city would be partly destroyed a month later during the Sichuan earthquake) and met the head of Taoism in a temple in the mountains outside Chengdu. Some of the participants have become good friends in the meantime and I was happy that I could show the “real” China to a group of influential people. It changed many people’s perspective on China, and because of the trip some of them even set up their own businesses here.

Work-wise also quite some things happened. I only did a few investments this year and I likely will do even less next year, mainly because of Scott and the fact that I want to spend more quality time with my family. One that I did do is a fun one: I invested some money in M1NT, a private club and restaurant in Shanghai. Even if the investment would not pay off (something I do not expect!) it is nice to be part of this club, and I already spent quite some time there over the past months.
A top class atmosphere, cool people, perfect cocktails and an excellent fusion kitchen – and that all while overlooking the Bund and the Pudong skyline. And when the weather’s getting warmer I already look forward to the rooftop jacuzzi!

2008 was a good year in the online gaming space and Spil Games Asia did very well over the past 12 months. The growth of our online game sites and was amazing, especially during the first part of the year and also our revenues were much higher than we had budgeted for. We added quite some new functions (among others multiplayer games site and a mobile gaming site) and have a lot more waiting to be released in 2009. Zlong Games, our game studio in Shanghai, also had a good performance, with an average output of up to 2 good quality flash or shockwave games per week and hardly any staff changes during the year.

China’a online video space had more turbulent year, but despite many rumors saying negative things about the company, Tudou managed to get through it quite well. Not only did the company close a USD 57 million dollar round, but it also got its SARFT license after the Olympics. The future looks good for Tudou, with most competitors gone bankrupt or changing their business model by now and others weakened by lack of funding and not enough advertising income. Tudou has a great product, a large user base and a huge amount of money in the bank, so I think the future looks good. But for the online video industry 2009 will be another interesting year for sure.

I have been in the media a lot over the past year, not only on blogs and websites (and on my favorite social networks Twitter and Facebook), but also in the traditional media. In Holland articles about me have been published in almost every major newspaper and in many magazines. I also did quite some radio interviews and had 2 TV interviews this year. I like to give my view on entrepreneurship and doing business in China in the media, and I also gave some talks at universities about this. During the past year I spoke for example at CEIBS, East China Normal University and even at my alma mater Maastricht University.

All in all it was a very eventful year again. As usual there were some downs, but most of the time my roller-coaster life went up. And as the final minutes of 2008 tick away it’s time to go from reflections about the old year to looking forward to 2009. I hope it will be as eventful as the current year. I have lots of plans already for the new year and look forward to it. I want to wish all my readers a very happy and healthy New Year, and see you on this blog in 2009!

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  1. I’ll make sure the investment pays off. Yesterday M1NT Hong Kong declared an 18% dividend for its shareholders there up from 16% in 2007. Thanks for your support and i’ll see you soon at the club in Shanghai. Alistair Paton

  2. Good to hear Alistair. I look forward to a good year at M1NT, both financially and in terms of a great atmosphere. See you there, Marc