An idea and an education: what it takes to start your own company

Successful entrepreneurs need to be obsessive about their goals, comfortable with risk, and continuously educated according to Sinorbis co-founder & Professor of Practice at UNSW Business School, Nicolas Chu.

Nicolas Chu

Nicolas Chu, Professor of Practice at UNSW Business School

Nicolas identified a market gap which led to the creation of a global and multi award-winning digital marketing solution.

The gap was in a sweet spot: a Venn diagram cross-section of globalisation, digital technology, the rising affluence of China’s massive middle class and their strong demand for Western products and services.

The problem is China’s internet regulation makes digital marketing near impossible for foreign organisations. Channels traditionally used to promote businesses, such as Google and Facebook, are banned.

“What people don’t realise is your (online) presence is almost invisible to China,” Nicolas said, adding that your website would usually be blocked.

“You need to recreate your foundations and have a website that is visible. You have to optimise not for Google but Baidu, Sogou, 360, Shenma… WeChat.”

The solution to this marketing problem was so obvious to Nicolas that he looked to invest in an organisation that already provided the service. Unable to find one, he decided to make it himself. Sinorbis was founded in 2016 and its marketing platform launched in 2017.

Sinorbis now counts Australian universities and several consumer brands among its clientele. It recently saw a 567% revenue growth and attracted in total $8M in investment funding.

So how did Nicolas, a man with a master’s degree in History from the Sorbonne University in Paris, become the international digital marketing maverick he is today?

As a child, Nicolas’ passion for history was rivalled only by his interest in computers. By the age of 8, he’d taught himself to code, then as a young adult completed a master’s degree in computer science. The Sinorbis co-founder applied his knowledge to developing online businesses.

Professor of Practice Nicolas Chu is a global digital thought leader with extensive experience managing technology businesses, from start-ups to large corporations in Europe, the US and the Asia Pacific.

Nicolas’ passion for people and the digital environment developed into an obsession with digital marketing. This obsession eventually led to global executive roles, including Managing Director for Expedia Australia and New Zealand and global President of both HotelClub and eBookers - two leading online companies operating in more than 30 markets with an annual turnover of more than $3.5 billion.

“Sinorbis was a great leap of faith, to give up the career that I had and start from scratch. I think you have to be a bit crazy to do that… but each time I took a risk, it led to something great,” he said.

Nicolas clarified his appetite for risk with the comparison of someone he admires deeply: Richard Branson.

“Branson will risk everything, his whole fortune on one idea. I take a lot of risk, but it’s one thing to take risk and it’s another to put everything in one basket,” he said.

Nicolas has an aptitude for calculated risk and spotting opportunities that rises from continuous learning.

He takes inspiration from books such as Sapiens, The Sixth Extinction, Enlightenment Now, TED Talks, and research papers. He spends on average two to three hours daily cross-referencing topics from various sources, including Le Monde, The Australian Financial Review, Harvard Business Review, The Information, and The New Yorker, among others.

Nicolas’ formal education includes an MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM), which he completed part-time while adapting to parenthood and his MD role at Expedia.

“It is crucial to keep learning because things keep changing and you can’t know enough... If you haven’t learned this skillset, to learn by yourself, be curious and understand things, then that is going to be problematic,” he said.

Nicolas recently became a Professor of Practice with UNSW Business School, an experience that he has found to be “extremely enriching and intellectually stimulating”.

As a Professor of Practice, Nicolas uses his breadth of industry experience to advise what relevant information to include in postgraduate Marketing Analytics courses, along with other industry board members including Sameer Chopra (GoDaddy, eBay), Vicky Falconer (Amazon, Oracle) and Sidney Song (Publicis Media Group China).

Nicolas will also be involved with the School of Information Systems and Technology Management (ISTM) and AGSM. His work with students, industry and academics will involve a continuous exchange of ideas on future opportunities and challenges within the global digital marketing environment.