Developing Business Ideas

It is about the middle of my three-month China trip since Nov 12, 2009. This is my third time stepping on Chinese soil, and like the previous two trips, this trip is just as significant. As a climber, climbing steep limestone, surprisingly, is my secondary purpose of this trip. My primary objective is to perform reconnaissance for my adventure travel business, LittlePo Adventures (a working title), and therefore I have been actively investigating aesthetic areas in China for active exploration and ultimate adventure. In the meanwhile, I have been making connections with local businesses and proposing collaboration projects with local residents.

I have been incubating the idea of launching a China adventure travel business since 2004. It was the fourth year of my PhD study at University of Pennsylvania and the second year since I started engaging in outdoor endeavors. Many of my outdoor friends who have strongly related to my passion towards nature and technical skills often asked me what the outdoor environment is like in China and Taiwan. I often was able to amaze them by enumerating geographical facts I acquired from textbooks, literature and historic novels; however, I was not capable to describe any deeper connection and appreciation people usually feel after physical exertion, i.e. hiking, climbing, and paddling etc. I left my friends hanging, longing for adventures and exploration in China’s mountain ranges, scenic rivers, and rich culture. The only difference is that I have been feeling the void for a couple decades and they have perhaps for only a few years. I made up my mind then – someday, I will bring my English-speaking friends to experience China and Chinese speaking friends to awe the natural wonders in the States.

Since then, I have actively accumulated my credentials. I became an active volunteer backpacking leader for the AMC. In order to acquire technical skills in a systematic way to speed up the learning process, I took several NOLS courses on glacier mountaineering and rock climbing. In May 2007, I defended my thesis and secured my PhD degree in computational linguistics and a month later I was in Alaska attempting Denali, the highest peak of North America. Denali climb was, and still is, the most exhausting expedition I had ever endured; I also learned a valuable lesson on Denali: I had to turn around at 19,400 feet because of acute mountain sickness. After I arrived home safely, I realized that while I like computer science, I have to do what I love. It is like when nature calls, you just ought to act upon it. “Like” is not enough to push me far in life; “Love” can and it brings enlightenment along the journey. I practice a near dirtbag lifestyle to climb at various climbing destinations to build up a solid foundation and to familiarize with different type of rocks in order to become a better climber. I work for several outdoor education organizations, including NOLS, and now I dare to call myself a competent outdoor educator and climbing instructor.

Last winter, I spent a month climbing in Yangshuo, one of the most developed rock climbing destinations in China. The experience struck me that it was time to put forth my five-year-old baby into reality. And these three months scouting in China will be my springboard for a well thought-out launch.

Like all small business entrepreneurs, I am always thinking of my niche. What are my strengths? What can I provide? Who are my potential customers/clients? What is my mission? All these questions formed a gigantic spider web and at times I felt anxious and stuck. I went back and forth trying to escape from the phantom threat of this imaginary poisonous spider. Finally, resorting to my original motivation gave me the answer. I wanted to bring my American friends to experience China and that is it. I want to guide a small and intimate group from the States to enjoy what they love to do in the outdoor in foreign terrain. The foreign terrain provides excitement and healthy risk for them to endure and I can enrich the China experience not only because I am a native Chinese speaker but also I am well educated in Chinese literature, history, geography, and philosophy. In addition to my outdoor expertise, my clients who are also my friends can have the safety net in a foreign land.

My plan is to consult with every single client with what they need and what they want to accomplish and work hard towards fulfilling them. My clients will be with me and my local friends from the very first second till the last second and they will not be thrown around between random outsourcing companies. Every trip will be personal and completely customizable.

So far, I plan to present three types of adventures (all the names are working titles):

1. Dirtbag China Climbing Series – suitable for rock climbers who look for maximum time of rock climbing in amazing scenic destinations, are willing to sacrifice some physical comfort in exchange of cost reduction, and are excited to enjoy cheap but delicious street food for most meals.
2. Active China Trekking Series – suitable for hikers or backpackers who appreciate trekking in pristine mountain ranges or hard-to-get-to historical sites to experience way beyond what ordinary tourists can endure.
3. Recon Trip Tag-Along – suitable for anybody who wants to tag along with me on my scouting trip and is okay with only figuring out a few days ahead at a time, and can tolerate the unexpected. The benefit is to explore a totally unknown territory with an experienced traveler and native Chinese speaker.

I am very excited and committed to make it happen. I am also willing to take input and suggestions from any of you to help me refine the plan. Feedback and a different perspective always helps, and that is especially true because the following principle is what I will always apply when conducting my business – “your friend is your guide.”

Stone Forest, Yunnan China
Stone Forest, Yunnan China
Alberto Bolting a new route in Fumin Yunnan China
Alberto Bolting a new route in Fumin Yunnan China

13 thoughts on “Developing Business Ideas”

  1. I’m inspired! All of your ideas sound appealing to me – but I do fear that I may not represent a good market. Still, I sincerely hope for your success so I can take a trip with you someday. My father was born high on the Nu river. I doubt it’s a climbing destination, but trekking perhaps? I’ve always wanted to visit his birthplace.

  2. @Dave, thank you! I’ll visit you when I am in Yangshuo for sure. 🙂

    @cyberhobo, in which area was your father born? Tibet or Yunnan? It’s certainly a great trekking area for sure as far as I know. The area I am now (which is very very close to Nu River) has many trekking options. The borders between Tibet, Yunnan, Sichuan. The scenery is amazing; I don’t even know how to start to describe it. I myself, want to retrace the famous Tea-Horse Trail and climb many peaks in this region!

  3. On other thought/idea (which I believe you had mentioned to me before): maybe promote a trip that’s light on the trekking/climbing while heavy on cultural experiences (cuisine, historical sites, etc). This might bring in more $$$? I dunno…

    Also there’s a lot of US folks these days interested in Chinese medicine/healing & martial arts, including QiGong/Tai Chi etc. Maybe you could incorporate that somehow?

    So glad your vision is taking OFF! =)

  4. I don’t know the exact location, actually, but it is in Yunnan. My dad remembers the village name as Mali Ping – a Lisu village until 1949 at least. The pictures I’ve seen are of an incredibly deep valley with a few peaks peering down from high above. I hope you get many opportunities to explore and climb there!

  5. hmm… I know there is Nu River Lisu Automonous County in Yunnan. the village might be in that region. I also know there is this famous Nu River canyon too, perhaps I’ll be able to locate that village if I can find a more detailed map somewhere. I haven’t been that region yet but perhaps next trip; however, I did find many great trekking and climbing in Yunnan already!

  6. Ting Ting! You are a dream! I dont know if you have heard, but I have resigned from Passages and I plan to continue developing my massage business to expand and include climbing and yoga instruction/ guiding and travel services. We are on the same path! I have SOOOO much I want to talk to you about. I see you are asking the fundamental questions for your business. The marketing part feels like some of the trickiest- who are you marketing to? how do you package it? present it? I am exploring those same questions. You are much further along- looks like your vision is clarifying itself right before your eyes. I am definitely interested in climbing with you again SOON. either here or in China. I am planning to spend the better part of March down in Indian Creek. Any chance you can meet me there?

  7. LittlePo – best of luck with your wonderful journey and businss plan! I really hope you achieve your dreams, since you are obviously so passionate about purusing them! Keep your focus and vision! When asked what could possibly be worse than being blind, Helen Keller replied, “Having sight without vision.” Go for it! Realize your dreams! (PS: I manage academic programs at UC Berkeley Extension and am developing an entrepreneurship curriculum, so I was impressed to know of your plans!)

    Gambolin’ Man

  8. @Jenny, your plan sounds cool too. I’ll definitely talk with you more on the business subject when I get back to the States. I’m interested in Indian Creek. I’ll keep in touch!

    @Gambolin’ Man, thank you so much for your comment. I am always excited to hear encouragement and new ideas. Just like what you said, I’m really passionate about my dreams and I think they are good ideas and realistic goals as well. I’ll keep moving along and push things forward!

  9. Pingback: LittlePo: An Outdoor Blog » Blog Archive » China Rock Climbs - Fumin, Under the Shadow of the Spring City

  10. I like your initiative and I definitely encourage you to do it!
    I would advice you not to be disappointed if you have no traction in the first couple of months or even longer. Work on ideas and keep refining. Don’t set out with big clear goals !
    Instead be a reactionary entrepreneur – start small, do something that works and grow from there.

    I can envision the “Dirtbag China Climbing Series”! 🙂 As a climber i know this service will suit me.


  11. @Constantin, thank you for your encouragement. Yes, it seems that the starting is always the hardest part, but I am determined to keep moving towards my goal!!! I have big dreams and I also want to move towards them step-by-step realistically. I hope that your business is doing well too!

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