THL Talks: Hulu Founder Brian Buchwald on Creating the “Daily Candy of China”


Brian Buchwald founded Hulu at a time when aggregated online television was nonexistent.  The entrepreneur knows something about creating something where once there was nothing — his latest project is a weekly online fashion and lifestyle discovery source for stylish Chinese women.  With a focus on travel and up-and-coming Western brands, the so-called Daily Candy of China, Bomoda, is the first in the market to offer its internationally-focused audience a private, social space to explore global trends and designers.  He talked to us about how it started and where it’s going next:

The High Low:  Can you tell us about your personal leap into this industry?  You helped to found Hulu.  How has that related to starting Bomoda?

Brian Buchwald:  Sure. In late 2011 I was chatting with a Chinese woman who had been living in London and noted to me the massive influx of Chinese tourists and expats flooding the city, looking for opportunities to shop, but not having great information available to do so.

It was one of those moments where I just felt supremely inspired to hear about a group of optimistic people traveling the world looking to explore and enjoy themselves. Contrasting that with the Western mindset in 2011 was jarring. As I pursued research on the subject and realized the extent of the opportunity I decided it was too good to pass up helping Chinese consumers learn about and access the Western market.

As for prior experiences, Hulu absolutely helped me in three large ways but it left me unprepared for a critical 4th.

1. Focus on big open opportunities — Hulu was all about white space, namely, premium digital video. At the time there was no aggregated marketplace for premium video content online, despite the fact that online video was predicted to become a multi-billion dollar industry.

2. Know your customer and iterate relentlessly on an amazing user experience. When Jason Kilar took over as CEO of Hulu many called it “Clownco.”  And they were right.  It was an absolute mess in the early summer of 2007. Jason came in, wiped away all of the prior designs and visuals, and promptly reimagined the experience.

3.  Execute, execute, execute — ideas are free and easy. The capability to build something that works amazingly well in solving a customer’s need is very hard. Hulu successfully did this.

What Hulu did not prepare me for is the actual entrepreneurial experience of starting entirely from scratch with no third party resources. At Bomoda we started with no capital, no team, merely an idea. With Hulu, there were billions of dollars worth of content available, a team and no shortage of third party organizations eager to jump in and help.

BomodaLeading fashion in a recent Bomoda newsletter.

THL:  Now that you’ve built it, who is your ideal target audience for Bomoda?

BB:  Bomoda focuses on Chinese women with a love of fashion and an international mindset. She is in her mid 20’s to early 40’s, lives in a Tier 1 or Tier 2 market and possesses an education and likely a passport. She understands that fashion is an exercise in self-expression. It is not reflective of the amount of currency in your wallet.

THL:  How much of Bomoda’s advice is split between tips for shopping trips abroad and finding out what’s new/great/fashionable, specifically in China?  Do you see your readers using the site one way or the other in particular?

BB:  We split this just about 50/50.  In a typical week we have four editions: the two focused internationally write to the retail tourism experiences in Europe and the U.S.  We provide a full lifestyle look at the cities Chinese travelers care most about. But we always do so with shopping and trends as the fulcrum.  So for instance, we may discuss 10 cool new restaurants in New York City, but include recommended looks from U.S. designers to wear to those restaurants.

Our domestic editions are titled Global Shishang and the Gifter.  Shishang is a term that loosely means “fashion” or “style” in Chinese. For us, we extend it to the larger concept of the “Beautiful Life.”  This edition is all about empowering Chinese women to build up their own style, gain confidence in their own tastes, to not follow the crowd.  We want them to live life to the fullest and leverage fashion in that pursuit.

The Gifter helps Chinese women decide on appropriate gifts for different people in their lives on different occasions.  Gifting is responsible for 25% of all luxury goods purchases and it can be a stressful exercise.  The Gifter makes gifting fun.

THL:  Choosing the right thing, fashion-wise, to put in front of Chinese consumers, and when to do it, must be a complicated process.  Can you tell us a little bit about it?

BB:   We have an editorial staff in New York and Shanghai. They work together to decide on topics and generally trends and timing. We then farm out specific tasks to our local Chinese fashion contributors in the key cities we cover (New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Honolulu, San Francisco, London, Paris, Milan, Rome, Geneva, Barcelona, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shenzen).  Once the pieces are written our editorial staff will harmonize the voice to ensure that the reader feels like they are receiving a unified set of recommendations and information.

THL:  We read about Bloomingdale’s partnership with Bomoda.  How did you establish the collaboration?  Why Bloomie’s, for example?

BB:  Bloomingdale’s was a collaboration first between their marketing department and our sales department. But ultimately it entailed our editorial team and our marketing team as well.

Bloomingdale’s is really the ideal Bomoda partner. They have a rich brand heritage, an amazing selection of product that Chinese consumers are looking for, and a convenience factor of finding them all under one roof.

However, the multi-brand retail model is relatively new to the Chinese, and well-known retailers in the West like Bloomingdale’s are almost unknown to the larger Chinese consumer set.

So our challenge and opportunity with Bloomingdale’s was to do three things that ultimately could benefit our consumer as well as our partner:

1. Establish the brand value of Bloomingdale’s to the Chinese retail tourist. Why is it special? How can they communicate that value back to their friends at home, when they explain the environment in which they bought their new items?

2. Explain the merchandise within Bloomingdale’s that is world class and on trend. While the name Bloomingdale’s may not immediately resonate, the brands they carry do…

3.  Convenience…imagine finding all your favorite brands in one place.  That is something new for the Chinese who either shop in mall experiences or in retail flagship stores.

THL:  Would you consider expanding what Bomoda offers to other countries with a growing population of luxury consumers?

BB:  We think China is a great place to start and likely to finish. There are more luxury consumers now in China spending more money than there are Japanese or Americans or Europeans. And the market is growing far faster. While the Brazilians and Indians and Russians represent an interesting opportunity for somebody, we are excited to focus on a group that dwarfs all other luxury buyers.

THL:  Any next steps for Bomoda you can share with us?

BB:  Yes, this fall we are launching the first true social luxury experience in China. It is a product that is built for both luxury brands and the consumers who love them. Brands can showcase their best products and communicate directly with their Chinese fans in a visually stunning manner. Consumers can build their own understanding of fashion and style, start to experiment and create their own looks, ultimately leading to purchase…

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