Stephen’s mini-autobiography

Stephen Wang

I was born in the United States in Toledo, Ohio to Taiwanese parents, but eventually landed in Columbia, Maryland where I grew up. As a child, I would spend summer in Alhambra, California (near Los Angeles) where the primarily Chinese-American community stood in stark contrast to the mostly white Columbia. I developed an early interest in programming primarily from my Commodore 64 where I initially began writing computer games in BASIC.

As a young, nerdy teenager I was able to hide my social ineptitude by transforming into a punk rock, liberal flag-waving youth. Some of my more memorable achievements as a teenager include helping to organize one of the first public performances by punk rock gods Fugazi during freshman year of high school, spending multiple nights protesting the first Iraq War in front of the White House, and directing multiple high school plays as part of being a theater geek. I was addicted to the music of the Violent Femmes, Smashing Pumpkins, and The Smiths.

As a consequence, it shouldn’t be a complete surprise that my next step was to go to the University of California, Berkeley, once the home to liberalism and protest. However, upon entering Berkeley, I actually became much more moderate and my passions shifted away to more pragmatic goals. I entered Cal in 1993 initially with a double major of Computer Science and Political Science, still split between whether wanting to be a computer engineer or a lawyer like my oldest brother. I really enjoyed my political science classes more than my computer science classes, but became hooked on the World Wide Web after seeing someone using the early NCSA Mosaic browser for the first time in 1994. I immediately began devouring materials on HTML and CGI programming and became a resident expert about the Web amongst my friends (who, at the time, were mostly interested in playing Doom). Luckily, this personal passion became a part of my professional life.

Furthermore, my other primary passion was movies which I had watched endlessly and can debate like any proper film geek. My middle brother has a similar passion which has resulted in him pursuing his passion as film producer, while I have applied my interest in work like Rotten Tomatoes and Alive Not Dead.

After college, I remained in the San Francisco Bay Area until 2005 and took part in the Internet boom by co-founding companies Rotten Tomatoes and Design Reactor.

I eventually decided to move out to China at the end of 2005 because I wanted to improve my Mandarin Chinese and to take part in the huge change and opportunities. I stayed about a year in Xiamen, Fujian which is a beautiful coastal town across from Taiwan and still my favorite city in China. In late 2006, I moved to Hong Kong to start my current venture, Alive Not Dead, and stayed for about three years. I then moved to Beijing in October 2009 and lived there for three years before returning to Hong Kong in August 2012. I’m currently living in Guangzhou.

To read more about my professional life and other autobiographical tales, be sure to check out my About Me page.

Xiaban.com (2005-2006)

Xiaban.com and XMFish.comNote: This post is part of an extended auto-biography which is collected in my About page.

After leaving my role as head of the recently acquired Rotten Tomatoes and a VP at the even more recently acquired IGN Entertainment, I rejoined my frequent business partner Patrick Lee in the Chinese coastal city of Xiamen, Fujian province, where he had teamed up with his original business partner from his first company, Jimmy Zhuang (庄振宁). Jimmy, a college classmate of ours, was originally born and raised in Xiamen prior to moving to California for high school and, eventually, university at Cal.

Our initial web site in China, Xiaban.com (下班网), was initially a customer loyalty platform for merchants whereby customers could swipe a loyalty card at hundreds of different participating stores and receive points which could be redeemed for prizes and discounts. Merchants could sign up to receive powerful, aggregated data about their customers including demographic data, spendings statistics, and comparison data with their competitors. Furthermore, we provided a way for merchants to target SMS-based ads to their customers — every time the card was swiped, the customer would receive an SMS confirming their points along with an advertising area for merchants that could be targeted by neighborhood, customer demographic, or store category. We rolled out this powerful platform across nearly a thousand stores throughout our Xiamen with plans to expand nationwide. When I came into the company as Chief Operating Officer (COO), I was additional tasked with redoing Xiaban.com as a Yelp-like web site that would help us rapidly expand our brand throughout China. Like Yelp, our site allowed users to find the best places to eat and shop from a comprehensive, nationwide database of merchants and share their reviews and tips with other consumers and friends. We further tied in these member services with data accumulated by using the Xiaban loyalty card so members could check and redeem points and prizes online. Unfortunately, the site’s traffic was leapfrogged by our rapidly growing competitor, Dianping.com, and at the end of 2006 we decided to pivot away from the capital-intensive loyalty card platform. Instead, we acquired XMFish.com (厦门小鱼社区), a rapidly growing local community web site in Xiamen. XMFish.com’s traffic was on a phenomenal growth path in the local Xiamen area and was already becoming the most important online destination in Xiamen. As part of the new company, we grew XMFish to become the most trafficked website in the province and a vital and positive community in the Xiamen area. By building online ad sales on the site, we were able to grow both the web site and company stably.

At the current time, XMFish.com has expanded to included neighboring cities and has even begun offering our loyalty card again in partnership with local banks including ICBC. The site has become the primary online platform for local advertising and has been extended to include services like group buying and an online shopping of local merchants with same-day delivery.

While I departed from my full-time position in December 2006, I continue to frequently return to Xiamen.