Ashley Dudarenok is a renowned digital China expert, entrepreneur and bestselling author. She’s the founder of a China digital consultancy ChoZan and China-focused marketing agency Alarice. Ashley has worked with globally known brands such as Coca Cola and Disney and is helping brands learn for and from China, the world’s largest and most digitized market.
We chatted with Ashley about the importance of an entrepreneur’s mental fitness, her connection to China, and what she’s working on accomplishing for her two businesses in 2023.
You went from a corporate job to your own full-time hustle. Can you tell me more about how your mindset shifted for you, becoming a business owner?
I think everybody has their own journey into entrepreneurship. For me personally, it started with boredom. I was extremely bored in the corporate world. I thought, it’s quite slow, it’s safe, it’s kind of nice. But, you know, it’s like living in New Zealand. I spent some time in New Zealand and it’s great, but nothing ever really happens. I desperately wanted to experience something different in my life.
One way is to just change to another corporate and hope that something’s going be different. But as we know, hope is not a strategy. The other option is to just try, and do some business, and if it doesn’t work, what’s the worst thing that’s gonna happen?
The shift started with boredom, and then I was actively looking for opportunities. How can I venture out, and what can I do? It so happened that a client approached me to do some side projects, and indeed that evolved into the whole marketing businesses.
I was already well-versed in China before that. I knew that whatever business I’m gonna do, my superpower is I understand how things work in China. I speak that language, I’ve got networks, et cetera.
But then what kind of business? I was always interested in marketing, PR and how psychology helps advertisers sell and introduce new ideas. So I had an intent, China was my expertise, marketing was my interest, and this project helped tie it all together.
I understand that everybody has their own formula. At which point do you say, “You know what? I’m ready for business.” Timing is also an extremely important ingredient. For a lot of people, once you pass a certain timeframe, when for example your costs are super high – you’ve got children, you’ve got tons of different responsibilities – it’s very, very difficult. Or your salary is so high, you’re super high in the corporate world, so you just don’t feel safe because your opportunity costs are so high.
For a lot of people, either they wait until near retirement to say, you know what? I’ve got enough, and now I can do it. Or they need to be rather early in their career, typically, for timing to be right.
But of course, everybody’s different. For me, it was what it was. It was a fascinating journey, and it’s getting more fascinating every day.
You’ve talked about how important mental fitness is for business owners to be successful. What are the values you exercise as part of your mental fitness as a leader?
First of all, you need to learn positive psychology. That’s the foundation of everything. I think positive psychology should be taught at school and in business school. The way you think, the way you process information, the way you view challenges is paramount, because this is the lens through which we see the world.
Number two, you will understand based on these foundations, what are your current biases? What are your current limiting beliefs? What is your current limiting operating system of your own mind? Then you need to take action to correct that, just like resetting the system, be it through coaching, through programs; some people go to India to purge them. Everybody has their own route.
Step number three, you go and essentially inject this mindset into your organization. Because your business will never outperform your mindset, never. Your vision needs to be big enough. The way you do work, the way you think about challenges, you need to inject it. You need to make it your culture within the organization. You need to hire the same people. You need to fire people that are not the same and people who bring negativity. Will all that together, you will create a lot more impact in the industry for your clients and for the whole world.
If something in your business – it doesn’t matter if it’s money, the product being bad, the team (like suddenly everybody’s leaving or it’s difficult to find people) – whatever challenge you have in your business, you always start with yourself, and you go back to that starting point of your own mindset. Understanding your psychology and what is stopping you from being that leader who can create a culture of productivity and success.
I feel that also it doesn’t really matter what kind of business you’re in. Are you a leader? Are you just a manager, a leader within a large organization? Or you run your own business? Small or big, it doesn’t matter. This is the foundation. This is truly something that sets successful people and ultra-successful people apart.
Are you working on a particular goal in business in 2023?
The year 2023 is a year of China revival coming out of all the lockdowns. It’s a very busy, exciting year literally starting from Chinese New Year. We ultimately want to get back on track with balancing out a little bit of this geopolitical tension with business success.
Helping both sides of the ocean create business success, because politics is politics, geopolitics is geopolitics, but everybody wants to make money and serve their customers and add value.
We want to get back to pre-pandemic levels in 2019 when it comes to business relationships and business exchange and creating that value, be it our marketing business, creating more foreign brands, creating more success and sales, overseas clients that are learning from China or Chinese clients learning from the west. Also doing more kind of consulting, bridging, the trips to China now finally, when borders are open.
This is also a very big year on the media side for us, in terms of media marketing or building our community. China is on the naughty list for so many major media. There’s not a single positive thing that’s happening in China according to mainstream media, which is obviously untrue.
We are trying to bring the business angle to it and say that there are opportunities and basically it is an attractive market and still opening, and businesses are listening to that.
So that’s why we, for example, published a metaverse book about how the metaverse has been developed in China, which is coming out in one or two weeks (Editor’s note: “Metaverses for Business: How Companies in China and the Rest of the World are Exploring Web3” was released in late March.) We are also continuing to create our comprehensive reports about China and digitalisation. So we want to make sure that the content about the actual business topics in China keeps going out. It’s a year of content and a year of community for us.