Strategy is a laughing matter

How did Zhu Jinbo MBA2012 go from being a regular consultant to a social media star with two million followers in just six months?


Zhu Jinbo MBA2012 says he had “no idea” what he was doing when he uploaded his first 60-second video clip to Duoyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, in February this year.

The Beijing-based strategy consultant was taking his first tentative steps in professional social media just as the coronavirus pandemic started to make headlines around the world; within a matter of weeks, millions were confined to their homes, reliant on digital communications for both work and entertainment.

“That first video was very boring,” he admits. It presented Jinbo — who by day provides consulting services to senior managers of major companies — as a typically professional and approachable-looking consultant.

His blue shirtsleeves were rolled up and he was sitting in an office with a pile of books on the desk beside him and a plant on the windowsill. In the short educational video, Jinbo offered his thoughts on communication skills, on how to make others agree with your ideas, in a simple and straightforward way.

“I spent a lot of time preparing and editing it,” he says. Once he was satisfied with the video, he tapped the upload button on his smartphone and waited curiously, if a little nervously, for the notifications to roll in. It was by no means, he confesses, a lightbulb moment.

“The feedback I got wasn’t bad. People said it was a ‘truly useful’ video. But I wasn’t attracting any fans. Those first few videos are very plain and simple – solid, you could say.”

But it was an important first step. Within just six months, Jinbo had attracted a grand total of two million fans across Duoyin and Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter — and, he says, “I gain thousands of new followers every day.”

“I embraced my playful and silly side – I told jokes, I acted different roles and mimed my way through the videos”

So what changed between that first video and the ones he makes today, which now succeed in drawing in both fans and business opportunities? “I started to do something on knowledge sharing that nobody else was doing on the platform at that time,” he explains. “I embraced my playful and silly side – I told jokes, I acted different roles, such as the male and female boss, and mimed my way through the videos. At the same time, I shared valuable information on how to be more successful.”

His fanbase grew quickly and shows no signs of slowing down. “People said, ‘We’ve seen funny videos on this platform, and lots that are knowledgeable, but we never see videos that combine the two.’ The feedback I got was that I was helping people to learn in a joyful, silly way.”


Emotional intelligence is the key

With so many people competing to share their knowledge online, Jinbo recognised he had to find a new angle. “I thought about what I have that other trainers or teachers don’t have…” It came to him that his background in the arts and music, as well as his playful nature, could be avenues to explore. “I like telling jokes and making people laugh, and I’ve always performed music on stage. I remember thinking, ‘Why don’t I just combine those things?’” 

From that point on, Jinbo drew on his passions and interests, his hobbies and sense of humour, to bring something different into the videos he created. His aim was to make the viewers have “an enjoyable experience” while remaining focused on the educational core of his work: how to succeed in the workplace. “One of the key subjects in the videos is EQ – we can do maths and computer science very well, now how about EQ?”

Jinbo also advises viewers on how to interact with colleagues, deal with criticism and communicate more effectively. “I share information about how to deal with negative emotional situations. In China, there’s a huge demand for this kind of content.”

What began as a side project at the start of the pandemic has turned into something else entirely. “I originally wanted to share my knowledge and have fun. I didn’t expect that people would like it so much. But very quickly, I realised I had to give it my full attention.” 


New opportunities

Daily life before Jinbo’s meteoric rise to fame was very different. He graduated from London Business School’s MBA programme in 2012 (during this time, he was one of seven students selected to be part of a strategy consulting start-up, providing services to a range of clients, including Fortune 500 and FTSE 100 companies) and he went on to work in China for McKinsey and CFLD.

He would typically work 12-15 hours a day, conducting research and interviews, analysing data, problem-solving, testing solutions and presenting findings to clients. It was a far cry from the position he finds himself in today: “I now have freedom to act how I want, in my work and life.”

In 2018, Jinbo founded his own company, 其思 ThinkIN’, with the aim of providing training and coaching services to company employees. Career-wise it was a pivotal moment, and not without its challenges. “When I first set out on my own, it was a difficult period. There was no stable income. I didn’t have a lot of branding. But when I look back it was worthwhile. Without going through that, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.” 

Jinbo reflects on the opportunities that have influenced him. He remembers attending a course at LBS led by a woman who trains actors for the theatre. “She showed us how to become more open and attract people’s attention, how to use your voice and body language to become the centre of a big group of people. I really liked that. I remember vividly every detail that she told us. It’s very similar to what I’m doing right now.”

“Now it’s the video era in China,” he continues. “If you’re good at anything, you can be seen by millions of people. It’s not like 10 years ago.” Back then, he says, it was harder to share yourself with the world. “Now, if there’s something you want to say, many people can see it.” It’s important, he says, to be authentic, to stay true to yourself. “Don’t be shy. Show what you’ve got. In this era, that is hugely important: if you hide, you’ll lose.”


Be true to yourself

What happens if somebody isn’t confident enough to appear in a video? Jinbo laughs. “Whether you’re super-confident or whether you look good, I don’t think it’s very important. I’ve seen some people who are not comfortable in front of the camera. But that way of expressing yourself is also appreciated. As long as your content is interesting or useful. What’s important is that you don’t hide what you have.”

Naturally, an increased audience brings increased pressure. A single word can be taken out of context. “It was a shock the first time people were rude about my videos,” Jinbo admits. “There were comments saying things like, ‘He doesn’t know anything,’ or ‘This is totally wrong.’ Some even doubted if I was really a consultant. I’d never been criticised or treated in that way before.”

It was a hard lesson. “But later I thought, that’s the nature of the internet, right? Everyone has their own opinions. Now I’m ready for it.”

Jinbo’s advice for others is that success is not an overnight thing. “It’s accumulated skills and experience drawn from all areas of one’s life.” For that reason, there is no wrong path for people who are graduating now, or feeling lost in their careers due to the pandemic. “Any path will lead to a point where you feel you can fulfil yourself.” Just don’t forget to use new technology to your advantage: “No matter what industry or path you choose, you should embrace the new era of technology, embrace new ways of communicating.” 

Jinbo doesn’t know what he’ll be doing 10 years from now, how many followers he will have or what the world will look like. It’s all changing so fast. But he’s sure his message won’t change: “The key thing is to inspire people, to give them not only power, but hope.”


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