Ashley Dudarenok is an award-winning expert on China’s digital landscape, a successful entrepreneur, and a bestselling author. She is the founder of ChoZan 超赞 (www.chozan.co), a digital consultancy firm specializing in immersion into digital China, and Alarice (www.alarice.com.hk), a China-focused marketing agency. She is globally recognized for her expertise and impact on global businesses by envisioning and implementing China-inspired business and innovative technology solutions by Fortune 500 brands, tech giants, and unicorns. Her expertise is highly valued by some of China’s leading tech companies, such as Alibaba, Tencent, Jingdong, Pinduoduo, and others.
Recently, in an exclusive interview with CXO Outlook Magazine, Ashley shared her entrepreneurial journey, the inspiration behind establishing ChoZan & Alarice, personal source of inspiration, future plans, words of wisdom, and much more. The following excerpts are taken from the interview.
Hi, Ashley. Can you give a brief insight into your entrepreneurship journey and what inspired you to establish ChoZan & Alarice?
Absolutely. Currently, I have several businesses from agency and consulting firm to hospitality and real estate, but my entrepreneurial journey began in China almost 16 years ago when I travelled to Chongqing to study. During my time there I was inspired to create connections between China and the rest of the world through business and innovation. Later for some time, I tried to pursue that dream through a corporate job, however, I left mainland China not only fascinated about the country’s future but empowered as a young girl. Back then the majority of small businesses in mainland China were being managed and operated by women. So I was willing to try on my own. That’s how I founded my first business Alarice, a digital marketing agency focused on China.
Over time, it evolved into multiple brands, as China continued to harness emerging technologies. I witnessed firsthand the end of copycat from the West and how transformative business innovations and technological advancements were emerging in China. And I believed it was important to share these best practices and solutions on a global level. So in 2016, I founded ChoZan, China experience-driven strategic consultancy to help companies do successful business not only in China, but take best business practices and innovative solutions to their domestic markets.
Nowadays I’m intrigued by the future of retail and human-centric approaches, so committed through my new businesses and initiatives to raise the industry standards and to build a more connected and a better world.
As an award-winning serial entrepreneur and retail marketing expert, could you share some insights on the most significant challenges you have faced in your career and the strategies you employed to overcome them?
Relocating to Hong Kong and moving from a corporate job to establishing my own company became a crucial turning point in my life. The first few years were undoubtedly challenging.
As an entrepreneur, I had to face and overcome many uncertainties that demanded a lot of resilience and strategic thinking. Starting a company from scratch, overcoming financial hurdles, and establishing a foothold in a niche market are some of the most significant challenges for any first-time company founder. These challenges can test an entrepreneur’s passion and commitment. However, these obstacles can also provide valuable learning experiences and opportunities for growth.
To overcome these challenges, I believe that a few key approaches are necessary. Firstly, making the decision to venture into uncharted territory requires a shift in mindset, where an entrepreneur must accept risks and learn from failures. It is essential to recognize that failures need to be treated as valuable lessons and contextualized to inform future decision-making. The more context an entrepreneur has of different situations, the more solutions they can come up with. The tough early years of entrepreneurship can provide a foundation of experience and adaptability, which can contribute to future success. An entrepreneur must be resilient and persistent in the face of adversity, as it is through these challenges that they can develop essential skills and knowledge. Embracing a growth mindset and being open to continuous learning and improvement is a key.
Secondly, for me business is about joy. Ultimately, finding joy in business is about creating a meaningful and fulfilling life that aligns with your values and passions. The excitement of developing a new product or service, building a brand, and growing a business can be incredibly fulfilling. Seeing the impact that my business has on people’s lives and being able to make a positive difference is a source of great satisfaction, which can help to overcome any difficulties.
Thirdly, building connections with like-minded people is a very rewarding experience. Having mentors and peers who can provide guidance, support, and feedback help me grow, both professionally and personally.
What encouraged you to start writing? As an author, you have published 10 books, could you share what challenges you have encountered in the artistic process of writing a book?
Back in 2017, I started to be a member of the so called “Alibaba’s Global Influencer Entourage” and meet like-minded people, passionate about China and innovation. They shared their knowledge via books. It was during this time that I realised the importance of creating a knowledge base for the industry, as China’s digital landscape and consumers are very different from the Western markets.
However, the challenge lies in conveying complex concepts in a way that resonates with the audience. The process of writing requires a deep understanding of the subject matter and the ability to keep it interesting and relevant in the fast changing modern world. As a writer I strive with each of my books to make niche industry information accessible, understandable and valuable for a broader audience.
I would say that the main artistic challenge in writing for me is that there are so many interesting things I want to share with my readers, but time and reader’s attention span is always limited.
In your opinion, how do you see the future of retail shaping up in terms of marketing, customer centricity and tech? What do you think are the top three mistakes that organizations make today when it comes to being prepared for these changes and leveraging digital marketing?
The world of retail is currently undergoing a significant transformation. In my opinion, the future of retail will require businesses to stay agile, innovative, and customer-centric while keeping pace with the ever-evolving technologies.
Saying that the future of retail will be customer-centric, most of the companies put in priority focus on seamless and personalized experiences. However, organizations need to move beyond transactional relationships and focus on building emotional connections with customers, meeting and exceeding their evolving expectations. Customers are increasingly seeking out brands that align with their values and demonstrate a commitment to social responsibility. The future demands that organizations integrate eco-friendly practices, demonstrate transparent supply chains, and address the growing awareness and concern for ethical sourcing.
Technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data analytics will enable organizations to gain insights into customer behavior and concerns. With the right strategies it help organizations to optimize their supply chain, improve inventory management, and create efficient last-mile delivery solutions, thereby reducing costs and improving customer satisfaction
The top three mistakes that organizations make today when it comes to being prepared for changes and leveraging digital marketing are:
- Slow Speed of Digital Transformation: Many organizations fail to embrace digital transformation quickly, which hampers their ability to stay competitive and meet customer expectations. A slow pace of adapting to evolving technologies can put them behind their peers in the industry.
- Upskilling Talents: Organizations often overlook the importance of nurturing and upskilling their workforce to keep up with technological advancements. Failing to invest in talent development can limit innovation and the organization’s ability to leverage new technologies effectively.
- Neglecting Enhanced Customer Services: Some organisations in their pursuit of adopting cutting-edge technologies tend to overlook the foundational element of enhancing customer services. A lack of focus on customer service, whether through personalized interactions, efficient query handling, or streamlined post-purchase support, can erode customer satisfaction and loyalty.
In the face of upcoming digital transformation, businesses must adopt new technologies and innovative strategies to stay relevant and thrive. As an expert in this field, can you share three digital tools that you believe are crucial for businesses to embrace in order to thrive in the digital age?
Certainly, considering the evolving landscape, businesses in Western countries can draw inspiration from China’s digital advancements. I could say that there are many trends and tools companies should consider, aligning their strategies with the omnichannel approach, prioritizing mobile optimization, utilizing data analytics for insights, improving touchpoints through the whole customer journey, and focusing on sustainability. However, if we had to choose three, the most important ones would probably be: 1. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) Integration: Companies can embrace AR and VR technologies to offer immersive e-commerce experiences, such as virtual product try-ons and visualizing products in real-world environments, ultimately leading to enhanced customer satisfaction by reducing returns. 2. Personalization and Hyper-Targeted Marketing: Leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning, businesses can offer personalized product recommendations and tailored marketing campaigns. This can enhance customer engagement and drive conversions, as seen in China’s success in this area. 3. Social Commerce and Influencer Marketing: Western businesses can collaborate with influencers, leveraging user-generated content to drive sales, and transform social platforms into shopping destinations. This approach blurs the lines between social networking and e-commerce, following China’s successful integration of social media and e-commerce.
Why do you think it’s important for entrepreneurs, marketing professionals and students to learn Digital Marketing today?
I believe it is important to learn Digital Marketing today because digital channels are now the primary means of communication and information exchange. With Digital Marketing being a constantly evolving and dynamic field, staying up-to-date with the latest trends and techniques is essential to remain relevant in today’s business world. By analyzing data from various digital channels, marketers can identify patterns and trends that can inform their decision-making and campaign optimization efforts. Additionally, having knowledge of how digital marketing and the latest technologies work can help individuals keep their critical thinking skills sharp. This is especially important in the coming era of AI, where people will need to rely on their ability to create and interpret information. Furthermore, with human behavior and customer psychology being a fast-developing aspect of digital marketing, those understanding it can stay ahead of the competition resolving better pain points of the audience.
Is there a particular person you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? How has this activity helped your business?
Yes, there are several people that I am incredibly grateful for helping get me to where I am today. I have been fortunate to have family, mentors, and collaborators who have provided guidance and support throughout my journey. I believe that building relationships with mentors and collaborators is critical to success in any industry. With their help, you can avoid common pitfalls, learn from others’ mistakes, and accelerate your own growth and development.
But if I need to choose one person. In particular, I would like to mention my husband, Marius. As a woman building a career in the business world, it is important to have a partner who shares and supports your vision and aspirations. Marius has been an unwavering source of encouragement and support, and his belief in me has been one of the driving forces behind my success.
In addition to the emotional support that he provides, Marius has also been a great business partner in helping me scale up my business and find new opportunities.
What does the term “authentic leadership” mean to you?
To me, the term “authentic leadership” means creating a working environment that takes into consideration the diverse needs of the team and supports individuals to reach their highest potential. It is about having a fit mindset as a leader and continuously leading through a vision of making people successful within the organization.
This involves understanding that everyone has different circumstances and actively working to create a supportive and inclusive workplace culture, be it for women, men, or any other minority or majority group. It’s not about ticking the box of what is expected from the leaders or organization, it’s about operating the business in a way that truly supports and empowers the team.
What are your plans for the future? Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
As I look ahead to the future, I am excited about the continued growth of my businesses and the opportunities that lie ahead. One of my key goals is to expand the impact of my businesses globally, with a focus on driving positive change in the industry – demystify China and shape the future of retail in a more positive and sustainable way.
I have several key values that guide my work and shape my approach to the new business which I’m currently building in: be passionate and curious, create impact, and keep rising standards. In addition to growing my businesses, I have a personal goal to serve as a member of the board of directors for an organization that aligns with my values and mission.
In addition to growing my businesses and serving as a board member, I am very curious about human psychology and creativity. Over the next five years, I plan to continue exploring these topics and deepening my understanding of how they can be applied in the business world.
What is your advice for newbies who are looking at starting their own business and building a career in the Digital Industry?
My advice is to develop a growth mindset, commit to continuous learning. This means being open to new ideas, seeking out opportunities for growth, and constantly expanding your knowledge base. Don’t be afraid to challenge assumptions and seek out different perspectives.