Meet the Nomads – Nomadesigners
We first interviewed Greg and Yoko of Nomadesign.jp in May of 2007 living in Tokyo (see Greg and Yoko Nomadesigners in Japan). Greg is French and Yoko, Japanese. Now two years and an economic crisis later these nomads are determined to maintain their international lifestyle. By pairing the maintenance of their own business with work opportunities in their new destination they are keeping afloat through hard times.
Hi Greg and Yoko, when we interviewed you a couple of years ago you were running Nomadesign.jp from Tokyo . Is this still your main professional activity or have things changed for you?
Greg: Let’s say it has “evolved” enormously since 2 years ago. I personally work in the same field (identity design) playing very different roles on the top of always being a designer & always using nomadesign.jp. The time-line could be described like this: 2006 setting-up of Nomadesign.jp in Tokyo , good, fast start. 2007 incorporation of Nomadesign in Japan , excellent yearly results, we buy our Tokyo apt. & get married. 2008 things slows down dramatically, the global crisis hits us in the teeth by focusing too much on the Japanese market. I revert back to my online logo design work worldwide while Yoko looks for work as a fashion design teacher. We rent our apt. 2009 Yoko finds work in Beijing , I follow her there & partner with the largest brand design company in China , ZhengBang which is our current situation.
Yoko: Doesn’t time fly…” For us, it sure has been like being on the roller coaster these years. Since we are still in the middle of the fast ride, I’m telling you that it’s not all fun. Professionally, I have very little to do with Nomadesign’s brand design business now, except when our business associates in Japan need me for mediation time to time. As Greg said, I am full-time at Raffles Design Institute Beijing, coaching fashion design students since January.
How did you choose Tokyo in the beginning?
Greg: Choosing Tokyo was a mix bag of choices & necessities. Yoko’s business, my desire to comeback to a city I have lived for 8 years already in the 90’s. The opportunity to create a business in Japan… all that made us stay a total of 3 years, with the first year still traveling between New York & Paris.
Yoko: I had my business in Tokyo since 2003, originally in apparel design, until Greg and I decided to transform it into the online brand design business. Before then, I spent 7 years in 5 different European countries, so it would’ve been just fine being back & based in Japan , after all it’s my home country, and I thought it must be easier to start & run a business there. In reality, the past 5 years had been pretty much struggling (except 2007), trying to make a smooth ride. Last year, we were slammed not only from the global recession, but also from taxes which were calculated from the income of 2007. It’s quite easy to incorporate in Japan as I suppose same in the U.S. , but the taxes are not, at least for start-up small businesses.
What caused you to decide to change locations?
Greg: Yoko’s opportunity. A true opportunity has we found out later on for both of us. I personally believe it’s one of the best move I have done in my life… but I did not decided this one… I just went with the flow.
Yoko: The application process with the school HQ in Singapore was carried all online for about a month in last December. I signed the contract around christmas and we flew to Beijing on the 2nd of Jan. I guess it was all possible because they do not celebrate the same holidays as we do!
So there was a job opportunity for Yoko, but were there other reasons for choosing Beijing as your next location?
Greg: I contacted someone in Beijing recommended by a good friend of mine, Roberto De Vido. She described Beijing & the opportunities there for people like us in a much better light than what we had imagined. She literally convinced us to come… & can not thank her enough to have given us an accurate description of what we could expect with a great welcome from her when we arrived.
Yoko: The school has many campuses in Pacific countries, so initially I was requesting to be located in either Shanghai , Singapore , Sydney , HongKong, Bangkok or HoChiMinh. We wanted to be in a relatively business-orientated capital with mild or hot climate. There was no position available for me at their campuses, so I said ok to Beijing , after talking with our new friend in Beijing . We had never been here and knew nothing more than what we saw on TV during the Olympics!
What were the challenges of moving your business to Beijing , if any?
Greg: Money of course… despite the fact that Beijing is 3 time cheaper than Tokyo , we still have to pay for things in Japan . After freezing the company we have been helped by Yoko’s parents, set up a budget & started renting our apt. The move happened January 2nd 2009 & by January 9th we were in our current Beijing apt… a very new & comfortable 100m2 in the middle of Beijing . We were set in just 1 week. We bought an electric bike for Yoko, which is the preferred instrument of locomotion here & adjusted with the neighborhood… which is a bit of a challenge when you come from Tokyo… these 2 cities are almost complete reverse of each other. I personally have not completely overcome the spitting on the street every 5 minutes by almost everyone… but the humor of Beijingers, the great food & the energy of the city help me overlook negative aspects. After 2 months in Beijing , Yoko found a chihuahua we named Sammie. After 3 months we both had to come back to Tokyo to settle our working visas. We came back at different times & I had to wait almost 1 month in Japan . In the meantime our tenant had to leave because the Japanese division of his company was cut for global crisis. It is now 1 month we have not yet found a new tenant & this is the only thing dragging us down financially right now.
Yoko: Not many locals speak English, so it seems better to know some Mandarin. But if you have a good translator, they are very inexpensive to hire (full-time around $500/month) and you will be fine most of the time. You might have to give up on having total control in communication though. We didn’t find it’s amusing to have communication problems each time we took a cab, so we bought ourselves electric scooters to travel. I never ride a scooter in other countries including my own, but the electric ones need no fuel, no license and run as fast as the ones with gas, fantastic!
Had you had many Japanese clients and if so, how did they react to your move? How did you handle their reactions?
Greg: We have made more than 150 clients in the past 2 years. The logo design business is often a 1 time business… especially during time of economical struggle. When we started Nomadesign, it was during a boom of individual entrepreneurship in Japan … something new in this country. But when the economy started to tighten up, small businesses started to fall very fast & entrepreneurial ambitions faded away even faster. But we managed to keep attracting some clients, especially about naming. Knowing I was now working in Beijing , several clients asked me if I could mediate works to create Chinese names for their businesses. It is one of the best opportunities & a major advantage I have found in doing this move.
How has it been so far trying to conduct business in Beijing ?
Greg: The word “great” does not begin to describe it. People I am working with at ZhengBang are absolutely fantastic. We have been lucky to meet a lot of very good people in a very short period of time. Because of my situation as a foreigner in Beijing doing a job very few people do in this country, I have been working on major projects from day one being placed in front of leaders of major/historical Chinese corporations & institutions… something that would have taken me 20-30 years to achieve in Japan or in Europe. Beijing represent a real lucky break in my career at this time. 70% of the top 500 companies in China have made significant moves this year to expand their presence abroad, seeing the global squeeze as a major opening to introduce their brand. I currently play a major role in avoiding cultural gaps & pitfall, making their offering & image relevant to a brand savvy audiences in foreign countries. I also give seminars at ZhengBang to explain certain ways of working & some strategies they have often heard about but never really applied or deeply understood because it does not make sense with a Chinese audience. Chinese people have been cut out from the “global brand story” for the last 30 years. I sometime feel spending my time connecting cross-cultural nodes to give them an accurate picture of the western & Japanese market place… while learning everyday about China & Chinese society which sometimes looks like a parallel world.
Yoko: The opportunities are certainly here, but unlike in other western orientated cities, they might not be well-packaged and so obvious. You may initially feel less comfort and convenience, because Beijingers are still in the process of discovering many things that we are familiar with, including good service and work ethic. That means the opportunities are still raw, but I heard it is not so anymore in Shanghai , for example.
In the west we hear a lot about the many restrictions and censorship of the internet in China . Are you affected by this? Have you had to change anything about the way you do business? For instance, I notice you now have a blog. Are there any issues for you in posting from China ?
Greg: Apparently my blog has not been censured yet…which is not the case with most of my friends. I do not post much since I arrived in China … just not enough time. Coming to China I made the decision that I would not debate politics with anyone… & apparently the general Chinese population made the same decision with me, because no-one has asked me what I think about the latest ruling coming from the party. You see plenty of ridiculous stuff… one of the most funny situations was to have a meeting with a dozen brave “comrades” in charge to judge my logos for a major national company they were carefully “minding”. I found myself drinking tea in a massive communist style amphitheater too big for the 20 of us, speaking through a table microphone to the other side of the room with valiant farmers, villagers & school teachers looking at my PPT presentation with a bit of amusement due to my “foreignness”. But the really annoying part is the “great firewall”. I use hotspot shield to go behind it but it slows down my browsing greatly. Since June 4th I feel I am back in 1999… no 1989.
Yoko: It can take longer to upload/ download and we gave up to see YouTube (not only because of the speed problem but the government banned it). It is really annoying that the government controls information here but I felt the same kind of “propaganda” when I visited book shops in France and saw what they wrote about the U.S. few years ago.
Do you have any thoughts about how long you will remain in Beijing ? Do you have a next location in mind?
Greg & Yoko: Yoko’s contract is for 2 years. I think we will stay as long as we have comfortable living & fun doing what we do. I also believe, both of us are in position to be traveling a lot for our business, so the base could be China or Japan … but our general life may bring us in various part of the world. Right now, there is no better location for business than being in Beijing .