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美国“海漂”的创业之路:从月薪五千人民币到身价上亿

Dinah Eng 2018年05月15日

每个创业者都有眼前一亮的时刻。科尔·扎克的时刻到来时,他的眼前真的是亮的。

在纽约的工作被炒了鱿鱼后,科尔·扎克买了一张去上海的单程机票。一句中文也不会说的他选择了到这个陌生的国度去冒险。三年后,他已经能说一口流利的中文,并且找到了一个商业伙伴。他回到美国创办了一家名叫Green Creative的商用LED照明公司。有一段时间,扎克在旧金山基本上是睡在自己的车里,整天提着一个样本手提箱挨家挨户推销他的产品。去年,Green Creative公司被海港集团收购,但这位创始人并没有拿钱走路,而是仍在向沃尔玛、棒约翰、J. Crew等零售商销售他的产品。

After getting fired from his job in New York, Cole Zucker booked a one-way ticket to Shanghai, in search of adventure in a country where he knew no one and spoke no Chinese. After three years, he became fluent in the language, found a business partner, and returned to the U.S. to start Green Creative, a commercial LED lighting company. Living out of his car in San Francisco, Zucker then went door-to-door selling the new technology out of a display suitcase. Last year, Green Creative was acquired by Harbour Group, and its cofounder is still selling its products to end users like Walmart, Papa John’s, J. Crew, and other retailers.

Creen Creative公司CEO科尔·扎克。图片来源:Brad Wenner For Fortune

我成长于一个普通的犹太裔中产家庭,小时候我想当一名医生,但很快我发现我的理想并不是行医。我祖父是做毛巾生意的,那时他很喜欢讨论中国与世贸组织的问题。2003年,我决定到北京交换一个学期,这段经历让我发现了世界之大,还有许多地方需要我去探索。

从富兰克林与马歇尔学院毕业后,我在纽约的保诚证券找到了一份固定收入投资管理实习生的工作。我大概是这个项目有史以来表现最差劲的实习生了,才干了一年就被辞退了。当时我银行账户里还有3000美元,于是我买了一张去上海的单程机票,全部家当只有两行李箱的衣服,然后我在一家旅馆定了8周的房,房费大概花了500美元。

在上海的头一个月,我四处应聘会计事务所和金融公司的工作。后来我通过我父母的朋友接到了一个叫盖瑞·高的人的电话,他开了一家名叫Everbright Engineering的公司,这家公司自己有工厂,主要向跨国企业销售环保建材。

他大概觉得让一个说英语的老外给他打工挺有面子的,于是他聘请我替他打开中国的国内市场。那年我22岁,起薪是一个月5000人民币,也就是大概8000美元一年。

那时我一句中文也不会说,上下班的时候,我就在地铁里背中文字典。周末我就尽可能地跟每个人聊天,教他们学英语,然后让他们教我说中文。

三年后,我学会了怎么在中国做生意,也做好了回国创业的准备。

那年是2009年,我在一篇文章中读到,未来10年,美国LED照明的市场份额将从2%上升至80%。我灵光一闪,心想,我一定要把LED照明带到美国。

在中国的时候,我认识了一个叫做吉列姆·威代尔的法国人,他也从事照明行业。有一阵我们经常见面,后来有一段时间,我们大概有半年没见。有天晚上我回到家中,屁股不小心坐到了电视遥控器上,结果竟然在电视里看到吉列姆在一个美食频道上当嘉宾。于是我又联系了他,打算一起合伙做生意。

当时我想回美国,他想留在中国。我想做销售,他想做研发。我们俩的中文都说得很流利,于是我们找到了一家供应商,签了一家工厂给我们供货。我开始向游说我的亲友们,但是他们都不想投钱。

幸好我当时已经存了10万美元,我把这些钱都投到了我的公司里,然后搬到了旧金山,力图打开美国市场。

我们大概订了6万美元的货,我还发现了一个特别划算的公共仓库,第一个月使用只需要交1美元。于是头6个月,我找了好几个朋友,每个月换人注册一回,一个箱子到期了就换另一个箱子,每个月都只交1美元。

我在打销售电话时经常遭到拒绝,于是我打算自己创造需求。吉列姆弄了一手提箱的LED灯泡样品,我提着这些样品挨家公司拜访,告诉人们这些灯泡能让他们的商店看起来更漂亮,而且还能替他们省很多钱。

写字楼里是有很多灯的,大楼的工程师一般凌晨四点上班,所以我一般凌晨四点半就出现在写字楼的停车场,在他们喝咖啡的时候跟他们招呼,让他们看看我的灯泡。我会把灯泡插在灯座上,然后把手提箱跟电源插座连起来,好给他们做展示。

第一年快结束的时候,我通过登门推销已经赚了30万美元。有些之前拒绝了我的灯具经销商也听说了我,并且表示,如果我不再直接向他们的客户卖灯,他们愿意从我这里拿货。我就知道,我的生意已经实现了重要突破。

第二年,吉列姆搞出了一种经销商喜欢的创新的LED照明阵列。我们在旧金山湾区的销售额一下子攀升到了200万美元。我祖父给了我一辆老款的马自达3轿车,为了省钱,我经常把衣服挂在后座上,晚上就睡在车里,洗澡、刮胡子都是趁健身房营业前在他们的洗漱间里解决的。

我们的销量继续增长,后来我们拿到了125万美元的贷款,并获得了天使投资人25万美元的投资。

2013年,我们开始在全美各地招聘销售人员。我们作为一家体量虽小但创新性强的LED灯泡品牌,开始逐渐闯出了名堂。

我们公司现在已经占据了商用LED灯泡市场5%左右的份额。我们的客户主要是批发商,他们的下游客户则是棒约翰、富乐客、沃尔玛、J.Crew等大零售商。我们的灯泡不仅体积小,发光率还很高,适合高端零售商店使用。

大约一年半以前,我们开始将业务重点向照明器材转移,去年它已经占了公司业务额的26%。几个月前,我们把公司卖给了海港集团(Harbour Group),并将业务与ILP部门(即工业照明产品)进行了合并。今年公司的销售额预计将达到1.5亿美元。

一开始,我们连怎么做资产负债表都不知道。我们挺笨的,但我们愿意承担风险。事实证明这是值得的。

加快研发

Green Creative公司联合创始人科尔·扎克

传统灯泡的产品生命周期大约是10年,但LED技术更新换代得很快,产品的上架周期大约只有一年。大型照明公司要建一条产品线,就要有国际客户,有研发部门,有搞产品认证的人。新产品一般要18到24个月才能上市。

我们大大加快了产品研发流程,将它缩短到了6到8个月。我们雇人来做研发、认证和市场,这三个部门是在一起工作的,所以我们在研发的过程中,他们就会将材料送到“能源之星”(美国能源部和美国环保署的一个认证项目)去做认证。等产品研发结束了,它就会直接投放到市场上。(财富中文网)

译者:朴成奎

I had a middle-class Jewish upbringing and thought I wanted to be a doctor, but I quickly realized that wasn’t me. My grandfather was in the towel business and loved talking about China and the World Trade Organization. In 2003 I decided to do a semester abroad in Beijing, which made me realize there were a lot of places to explore in the world.

After graduating from Franklin & Marshall College, I took a job with Prudential Securities in New York as a fixed-income investment management trainee. I was the worst management trainee in the history of the program and got fired after the first year. I had about $3,000 in my bank account, so I bought a one-way ticket to Shanghai, packed two duffel bags of clothes, and booked an eight-week stay in a hostel that cost $500.

I applied to accounting firms and finance offices for a month, then, through my parents’ friends, got a call from Gary Gao, the owner of Everbright Engineering, which had factories that sold sustainable building materials to multinational companies.

He thought it would be prestigious to have a non-Chinese employee who spoke English, so he hired me to expand sales inside China. I was 22 years old and started on 5,000 renminbi a month, which was about $8,000 a year.

I didn’t speak any Chinese, so I’d memorize the Chinese dictionary on my subway commute to work. On the weekends I’d talk to everyone I could and teach them English while they conversed with me in Chinese.

After a successful three years learning how business was conducted in China, I was ready to go home and start my own company.

It was 2009, and I’d read an article that said in the next 10 years, LED lighting would grow from 2% of the U.S. market to 80%. That was my light bulb moment. I said, I’m going to take LED and bring it to the U.S.

While in China I met Guillaume Vidal, a Frenchman who also worked in lighting. We hung out for a while, then didn’t see each other for about six months. One night I came home and accidentally sat down on the TV remote. Guillaume was on the TV, talking on a food channel, so I got back in touch with him, and we started planning a business.

I wanted to move back to the U.S. He wanted to stay in China. I wanted to do sales, and he wanted to do R&D. Both of us spoke Chinese fluently, so we found a supplier and got a factory to give us a chance. I started to pitch friends and family, but no one was willing to invest.

I’d saved enough to put $100,000 into the company, and I moved to San Francisco to open up the U.S. market.

We ordered about $60,000 of inventory, and I found a public storage space where you paid only $1 for the first month. For the first six months I’d register under one friend’s name, change it to another name, and move from one expiring storage locker to the next, paying only $1 a month for the space.

I was getting rejected on sales calls so often, I decided to create the demand myself. Guillaume had a suitcase of display LED light bulbs made, and I walked into businesses, telling people these bulbs could make their store look better and save them a ton of money.

Office towers have a lot of lights, and the engineers get in at 4 a.m., so I would show up outside a parking garage at 4:30 a.m. to approach the engineers while they were having coffee and ask to show my light bulbs. I’d screw the bulbs into the display sockets and plug the suitcase into an outlet for the demonstration.

By the end of the first year I had made $300,000 selling door-to-door. Lighting distributors who had rejected us earlier started hearing about me and said if I stopped selling directly to their customers, they’d take our products. That’s when I knew we had broken through.

The second year, Guillaume figured out how to build an innovative range of LED lights that distributors loved. Sales went to $2 million in the Bay Area. My grandfather got me an old Mazda 3, and to save money, I’d hang clothes in the back seat, sleep in the car overnight, and go to a gym to shave and shower before starting to sell each day.

Sales continued to grow; we secured a $1.25 million loan and $250,000 from an angel investor.

In 2013 we started hiring salespeople around the country and became known as a tiny but innovative brand of LED light bulbs.

We now have about 5% of the LED commercial light bulb market. Our customers are wholesalers who sell to end users like Papa John’s, Foot Locker, Walmart, J. Crew, and other big retailers. We’re known for making smaller light bulbs that create the most amount of light for high-end retail stores.

About a year and a half ago we shifted the focus to lighting fixtures, which was about 26% of our business last year. We sold our business to Harbour Group a few months ago and merged operations with ILP (Industrial Lighting Products), which manufactures lighting fixtures. We’re projecting sales of $150 million this year.

In the beginning, we didn’t even know how to do a balance sheet. We were stupid, but we were willing to take a risk. It’s paid off.

Streamlining Development

Cole Zucker, cofounder, Green Creative

The product life cycle of older light bulbs can last 10 years. But LED technology is changing so quickly, the shelf life is about a year.When large lighting companies build out a product line, they have an international customer line, an R&D department, and certification people. It takes 18 to 24 months for new products to come out.

We built a speedboat and develop products in six to eight months. We hire people to do R&D, certification, and marketing, and all three teams work together so they all send material to Energy Star while we’re in development. When the product is ready, it goes directly to market.

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