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Interview: Kunming entrepreneur Mimane Musa

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By any account, Mimane Musa is a busy man. He is the current director of the Dangsters Dance Crew, a studio which, over the years, has trained thousands of professional and amateur dancers. In 2010, the outfit was crowned champions of hip-hop dance in China.

He is also co-owner of O'Reilly's Irish Pubs, southwest China's first chain of taverns that will open a fourth location in Qujing (曲靖) April 20-21. He also works with Alliance Francaise in Kunming and the French Consulate in Chengdu, coordinating various cultural exchange projects between France and China. In the midst of this torrid list of responsibilities, Musa found the time to sit down with GoKunming and discuss doing business in the Spring City, once getting fined for hyperbole, and how what the future might hold for him and his companies.

GoKunming: Why Yunnan? Tell us the story of how you ended up here and what made you stay.

Mimane Musa: I landed in Shanghai 11 years ago as a student, as a part of an exchange program with my university in France. After a year there, I had to choose a second-tier city for the fourth and last year of my program. When presented with photos of Chengdu, Xi'an, and Kunming, the blue-sky photos from Yunnan University of Finance and Economics won me over. Shortly after I arrived I met members of a crazy dance crew, the Dangsters. They helped me discover another side of China and I decided to stay longer. Two years later, my childhood friend Tim came to visit, and we decided to invest in the Dangsters Dance Studios and start the O'Reilly's bar chain.

GK: You've got two very different businesses going on, do you have some sort of overarching philosophy for running them?

Musa: I think we need to be passionate about what we do in order to do it well. If you lose the urge to do it better, reach further, reinvent what you do and the way you do it, that's when things get boring. I hate boring. I'm still 100 percent passionate about what I'm doing, and I have the chance to be working along wonderful people, which is another extremely important part to achieving great things.

GK: Why do you run the type of businesses you do?

Musa: I've loved dance since I was a child. Being able to contribute to the development of dance in China alongside the amazing crew here in Kunming gives me all the satisfaction I need to keep me going for a while. And I love beer too! I've learned so much more about it after we started O'Reilly's. Beer culture is so rich, it makes me feel like I'll never finish learning about it. I love that feeling!

GK: What has been the biggest challenge to opening Yunnan-based businesses?

Musa: Well it's one thing to have great business ideas, but in China and in Yunnan it's the best place to experience actually doing things "hands on" in an environment full of surprises. For example, logistics in one of the most remote provinces in China can be pretty complicated. Scheduling and planning considering only the short term ain't simple either. Blurry administration procedures when you're one of the few registered small foreign businesses is another thing. And new laws and regulations popping up or changing quickly, and often without any official announcement can make things difficult. If there are two things you'll learn from this kind of experience, it's flexibility and adaptability.

GK: So you've had lots of challenges. What do you consider your biggest success?

Musa: I'm proud of what we've been able to accomplish so far, but I would not be so bold as to call it a big success. We still have so much to learn and so much more to improve.

GK: Tell us your favorite story from your time building up these companies in Yunnan.

Musa: Getting fined 50,000 renminbi for using a superlative in a website introduction. That's my favorite.

GK: We'd love to ask you a follow-up question on that one, but perhaps some things are better left unsaid. So Mimane, what plans do you have moving forward?

Musa: For the Dangsters, well I hope we'll keep growing and developing as one of China's largest dance education and exchange platforms. We want to build more and more bridges and projects with dancers and dance institutions abroad. At the same time, I hope this will help us build a strong dance company able to compete with the world's greatest.

For O'Reilly's, we plan to expand beyond Kunming and the new pub we're opening in Qujing is an important step in that direction. We hope to create a great and strong chain of pubs, bringing a different kind of drinking experience to Chinese people all over the country.

GK: Where do you see yourself and your businesses in ten years?

Musa: Whatever it is, I'll be doing things I'm passionate about with people I love.

GK: How do you see Kunming evolving over the next several years?

Musa: Kunming is getting more connected, more international, more convenient and I don't see that stopping any time soon. I hope the quality of life, and especially the environment, will remain a big concern for the people of Kunming and for the local government.

GK: You've been a member of the Yunnan Foreign Business Club since its inception. What do you think about the organization?

Musa: After many years here in Kunming, I'm glad foreign entrepreneurs in Yunnan have finally joined hands to build this platform for exchange and mutual benefit. I think joining the YFBC is a great way to learn and exchange ideas about doing business here in Yunnan. We also all sometimes face similar issues, but with the YFBC, we can face them together as a group. I'll do the best I can to contribute to this great initiative and its development. Long live the YFBC!

Bottom image: Yereth Jansen
All other images: Mimane Musa

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Comments

"flexibility and adaptability' is spot on and one of the reasons why this guy will succeed where previous western entrepreneurs in Kunming fail, and are failing miserably.

c'mon now, dude has a name like that and is Yunnan. some cultural literacy pleaaaazzzzz! He reminds me of my father coming to London back in the day and succeeded where many 'western' (code for white) entrepreneurs failed. My father of Hindi ancestry grew up in a latino caribbean basin. He said this made him 'flexible and adaptable' in his business dealings.

Label it cultural literacy, emotional intelligence etc. it's an attitude that important for 'westerners' wishing to set up shop in China, Dubai, Panama (wherever they are not the majority)

And not just 'westerners', 'white' or otherwise.

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