Being the son of a Swedish diplomat, Rurik Nyström has been used to moving from one country to another without knowing what to expect when he gets there. No wonder he has always had a passion for maps.
“Languages has never been my strength, learning Chinese properly has not come easy to me. In China you need a clear direction written down on a piece of paper or no taxi driver will understand you,” he said.
First time Nyström came to China was in 1998 as a project manager for the newly established Ikea in Beijing. His role was to teach the Ikea concept that was fairly new for the Chinese staff. By this time Nyström had worked in the Ikea family for more than 14 years all around the world.
“After one air-hostess used my initial language cards and gave them to fellow crew members when they landed in Beijing, I thought this was a winning concept,” Nyström said.
People today want something that fulfills their needs without being too complicated and giving too much unnecessary information. Many guidebooks need two or three days to study, and some people don’t have the time,” according to Nyström.
“You can be urban but still be completely lost when you come to a new city. Our maps are supposed to show you the best places in that city,” he said.
Rurik started redBANG International in 2000. After a few initial business hiccups redBANG has now grown to become Chinas largest supplier of hospitality maps, supplying customized guides to over 300 4-5 star hotels in 22 cities in China as well as 5 cities outside China. Other reputable clients include Starbucks, DHL, Air France as well as dozens of other service companies, schools and universities.
But the road has not always been so easy. When Nyström first started his company he sold his maps at bookstores. The logistics just didn’t work, they had to many outlets which took to long to navigate and collect the money, it was not easy or lucrative.
“That business model didn’t work at all. Expats in Beijing were not interested, since many came to China for business or tourism. These people either had assistants or guides that showed them around the city,” he said.
So Nyström tried another method to sell his maps to hotels around Beijing, the idea was to show the hotels that the maps were going to solve their guests domestic needs when they walked outside the hotel property. Unfortunately this didn’t really work either, since hotels in Beijing back then got traditional maps for free from the Municipal authorities.
“Their biggest argument was, why would we want to buy something that we get for free? It didn’t matter to them that these maps were old and hard to understand, not to mention that they were written more or less in Chinglish,” Nyström says.
More bad luck
However two years later, the local authorities stopped giving away maps for free, and Nyström saw his big chance.
If it had not been for Sars…
“I thought this was the end for my company. Nobody travelled to China, so hotels stood empty totally uninterested to buy maps.
“The unforeseen problems never seemed to stop. But I didn’t give up and worked more on my idea and when Sars was over I tried again,” Nyström said.
Saved by the Olympics
Little by little, the the bad luck turn around, however, and for the Olympic games the business was booming like never before. Every big hotel in Beijing wanted to use his maps.
Nyström’s business model is making theses maps a good tool for the concierge and give the hotel guests that extra service. For an affordable cost of 2 RMB a map, or even less depending on quantity.
“Many hotels stop giving any costumer service the moment their guests leave the hotel. By giving them a map that will help them in a strange new environment shows that the hotel cares about their guests. To put a piece of chocolate on a guests pillow is a nice gesture that is less helpful and can even cost a little bit more,” Nyström said.
Facts about the City
The pocket sized customized maps consist of interesting facts about Beijing and lists around 20 must-see places with useful Chinese words translated to English. According to Nyström its not supposed to be a traditional guidebook.
“We get rid of 90 percent of the places and things you don’t need to see. We try to make 80 percent of our customers happy. If you try to please everyone you end up getting those numbers the other way around,” he said.
The maps are well made, look simple and easy to read, they are almost a reminder of a perspective map with colorful identifiable monuments. But everything is particularly thought-out, even the size of the letters in the map.
“We asked the Swedish opticians association to give us the international font standards, the reason why our maps are illustrations instead of cartographic is because they are much easier to understand.”
Nyström doesn’t believe his idea would have been possible in Sweden, but that China has made it possible to expand.
“Next step is to expand the company, and develop an app to your mobile phone that people can download as soon as they get to a city. So you are never ever lost,” Nyström says.