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Behind the Scenes Startup Mastermind: Chen Ren-bin Boldly Charges into Silicon Valley

By Ding Yu Shan
Published: Feb 10,2014

On a late autumn afternoon in a well-known restaurant tucked away in a Tienmu alleyway, while the air at “Good Cho’s” is filled with a thick ambience that flirts with the international, all of the products on sale were created in Taiwan. This kind of clashing feature is also reflected in the life of US founding member and former chief strategist for eBay’s Taiwan division, Chen Ren-bin. With his left hand holding a paintbrush and his right hand playing with a computer, he is both an artist and serves as a specialized executive at numerous technology companies. Even more, he is the living embodiment of an entrepreneur.

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On the day of the interview, Chen Ren-bin is dressed in a leisure sweater that is unlike the typical image of an executive in a business suit with leather shoes. Just in time for the Silicon Valley Internet startup era, he speaks with fervor about the Internet, investment, mergers and acquisitions, capital financing, and business know-how for Internet startups. It is not easy for people to imagine that he is actually a fine arts graduate who had no foundation in the tech industry and only later became a first-generation Internet pioneer.

A magnificent volume of work can be written talking about Chen Ren-bin’s experience. He has taken on multiple roles as a powerful talent behind startup enterprises, a chief strategist for international business firms, a company boss, an artist, and a university professor. In Silicon Valley he still runs “Hacker House” to assist entrepreneurs who have skills and ideas and seek to establish a foothold in Silicon Valley but have no workspace or housing, and he provides them with transitional short-term accommodation.

Accumulated experience: He wants to do his own startup

When fine arts graduate Chen Ren-bin started to enter this field, he used both his computer and fine arts skills working as a 3D animator at Sony. Half a year later, by stroke of fate, Chen Ren-bin met one of the new wave of Internet pioneers, Jiang Xian-bin, and he joined in with the new wave of contemporary student groups in America’s Silicon Valley. Joining this new wave became one of the first turning points in Chen Ren-bin’s life, and he was henceforth closely bound up in the pioneering work of Internet startups.

Figure I
Figure I

In 1996, the high value of America was in its prime, and a period of upheaval among Internet industries pervaded Silicon Valley. The tech industry was filled with change and all kinds of possibilities. “There were cases of major tech companies, such as Google, Intel, and Apple, circling around to buy up equity,” says Chen Ren-bin. Every day you could open your eyes and see unknown people become important figures. On the other hand, everybody thought about merging and acquiring popular companies, and then their actual market performance was downgraded. This opened up his field of vision and allowed Chen Ren-bin to later face the rapid changes in startup enterprises, and to keep a level head during times of good and bad.

What he learned in Silicon Valley was not limited to just this. Because startups were in their initial stages, they lacked laborers, and this afforded him the opportunity to enter in the position of a designer and to cultivate a diverse range of skills. “I became familiar with a wide range of tasks, such as business and planning etc.,” says Chen Ren-bin. He was taught to be the type of figure that would be needed in startup enterprises, and he did not just do single jobs. These kinds of experiences enabled him to add a position at a major business enterprise to his career trajectory –chief strategist for eBay’s Taiwan division.

Chen Ren-bin’s experience in startup companies, allowed eBay to abandon the convention of hiring talent from Harvard Business School, and they called upon Chen Ren-bin to take up the post of chief strategist for eBay’s Taiwan division. In order to share the market with the portal site, Yahoo, he promoted a collaboration between eBay and PChome to allow the two companies to jointly establish an auction site.

At that time, when it looked as though he had reached the peak period of his life, Chen Ren-bin decided to temporarily relieve himself of his technology job and once again, pick up his paint brush. However, just because he had left the technology profession, the spirit of entrepreneurship in his heart did not fade away. In the field of art, that he long been away from, together with his friend and founder of Toko University, he established The Department of Animation and Computer Game Software Design. At the time, this created a great fervor on campus and it allowed numerous other schools to follow this example and establish similar departments.

In 2010, Chen Ren-bin returned to his beloved tech industry and during the past three years he has participated in four different startups, from electronic gift certificates and social e-gift certificate gift services to cellphone television; in Silicon Valley, in China, and in Taiwan. In the midst of this, some of the ventures are still continuing operations, while some have already failed. “The change is very rapid with a minimum time of only seven months; however I am not capable of controlling all of the situations that occur with these startups.” This kind of understanding allows Chen Ren-bin to recognize that “believing in other people is not as good as believing in yourself. It’s time to make my own startup!”

Looking to the international: integrating advantages

This is not Chen Ren-bin’s startup; however, it is the first startup that he completely controls.

As for what enterprise is being created, Chen Ren-bin is keeping it a secret for the time being. However, as it is the first time he is the boss, Chen Ren-bin has great expectations for his company. Although the scope of the startup is small in the initial stages, he has established a small-scale transnational corporation; “I hope to combine the advantages of both Taiwan and America to build a model successful global startup.

In spite of spending many years in Silicon Valley, Chen Ren-bin does not feel that the pastures are greener in the west. On the contrary, he believes that the talent in Taiwan is plentiful; furthermore, in terms of specialized skills, level of professionalism etc. the conditions are actually very good in every respect and at no loss to the west. It is a pity that there is often excessive localism, and because of the impression of a small market, the salaries can only be one-third of those obtained in large markets in Europe and America.

“Take these kinds of salary standards and quality talent and put them into the global market for startups, and Taiwan’s advantages will immediately become apparent!”

He takes Berlin as an example. Due to the commodity prices, low cost of living and the support of government policies, Berlin has recently become a paradise for startups. “Many people find that doing startups here is relatively easy; therefore, they stay. Taiwan has many opportunities to develop and become this kind of place.” He states that Taiwan’s talent, aptitude, and culture can integrate with the international. Furthermore, the flexibility of e-commerce and the maturity of the supply chains are also advantages here.

Currently, Chen Ren-bin is not only working in Taiwan but also is also employed as an engineer in Silicon Valley. He lets his Taiwan team live in Silicon Valley for a fixed period of time each year, and every year he also lets Silicon Valley engineers spend some time in Taiwan so that they can experience and exchange their respective cultures.

“The Internet is the kind of thing where you just have to go online, and no matter where you are working, it is not a problem.” Chen Ren-bin hopes that in the future, his team will be extremely mobile, and stay not only in Taiwan and San Francisco, but also in London, Beijing or other locations. “I hope that the team can always be on the move and can stay in any location and fully experience the local atmosphere.” Chen Ren-bin want his team to go outside of Taiwan and let them come into contact with opportunities that are not limited to just Taiwan, but are also opportunities in America or even global opportunities.

He doesn’t have this way of thinking just by chance, and during the time period when he was in Silicon Valley, Chen Ren-bin was around when companies rose and fell abruptly, and when companies entered the market they were merged and bought up through investment. In the Internet world, each month cases like this may have numbered in the hundreds. In comparison, in Taiwan because the market is small, in an entire year even a few cases like this are hard to come by. “Taiwan doesn’t have the momentum,” he says; therefore, from the start, he sets his goals on locking down larger markets.

“I want to make global startups, and I’m already doing it.”

Figure II
Figure II

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