In China, Building a Startup: PengFei Chen of Atom, Based at Microsoft Asia Pacific R&D HQ

This is our first interview with one of the participants of one of Microsoft’s international accelerators, which is officially called the Microsoft Asia Pacific R&D HQ. We talk with PengFei Chen of Atom, who is launching an app called iTestin Suite (TestinMe).  iTestin (TestinMe) Suite delivers quick and intelligent function and stability testing to tell developers how their App runs. It makes it easy for developers to know where the problems are across releases, and most importantly, before users do. The app creates a detailed report with streaming captures, logs and device operating specifics.  

We asked PengFei to talk about the challenges of running a startup in China and how his group manages the failures that come from usability testing, formulation of the app, and developing a customer market for their work. 

Photo: PengFei Chen, Atom, developer of the iTestin app. Courtesy of the Microsoft Asia Pacific R&D HQ

Microsoft BizSpark: What was the most difficult challenge your business faced this year?

Chen: We grew from a really small team of 6 people to 15, which is still really small, but we’ve more than doubled. For the new people who came to our business, there’s a lot of re-education, bringing them up to speed, and also, you can’t be overly affected by them. You need to know what you want to do. When new people come in, they bring new expertise and can flood you with information. It’s easy to get confused, but as CEO, I know that managing a company and developing according to one unified vision is important. Growing too fast has its risks.

Microsoft BizSpark: How do you know when you are failing in product development and how do you make a correction – do you make the decision on your own, or do you consult your team?

You know you’re failing in product development when you try to explain to your mom or your friends, or people a little older, or 10 people at random, and 5 people don’t really understand it and another 4 are hesitantly like “yeah that’s a good idea.” That’s not good. And when you don’t feel excited about it, it’s definitely headed south.

I had an idea, and I’m not an engineer, I think more in terms of “how does this help my life” and then I hired a bunch of engineers, who said, this is a great idea, but this is how you should do it, and it became too technical and it didn’t really solve my problem anymore. And I just couldn’t get up in the morning, because you just don’t see the point. You know you see it, you understand it logically, but emotionally, you know that it’s not what you want. I got back on my feet, took a step back, asked myself ‘what problem are we trying to solve, what customer are we trying to serve?’ Now I get up at 6 in the morning, and I found my direction again by spending a lot of time trial and error and a lot of time thinking, if it was worth it or not.

The biggest thing that we’re investing, as young people, is our youth. I was talking to my investor and he was like “I want to give you more money” but I was like “I don’t want it. We don’t have a solid product yet; can you wait until we have some customers, some validation?” And he was like “Nah, we wanna get in right now” and I was like “you know there’s big risk right?” and he said, “well, compared to the risk you’re taking, a couple million dollars is nothing. You’re basically betting your youth, you can’t get that back. So if you’re willing to spend the better half of your 20s doing this, then I’m willing to invest.” So yea, the thing with startups is you gotta constantly think, “Is this worth my time, am I building something valuable? What impact does it have the on rest of the world? I don’t want to spend 5 years building something that nobody uses. It doesn’t even have to make money; it just has to be useful to even myself. So we were working on this really big project and I couldn’t really see the point. We were trying to disrupt a huge industry; financially it made sense, but there were too many assumptions. Those assumptions were too optimistic, and for me, it was betting yourself on hope and that wasn’t solid enough for me. If you spend enough time on talking to friends and thinking about things, then you’ll figure it out.

The Atom Team, Courtesy of Microsoft Asia Pacific R&D HQ

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