One person can’t know everything about any city. When expats arrive to their destination, it is only natural to want to wander their new home. Subconsciously, we are looking for something or someone familiar. Everyone is a stranger. All foods are new. While dabbling in new experiences has a degree of risk—of getting sick, harmed, or entirely disappointed— expatriates possess an element of discovery that pushes them to live with these uncertainties.

And thrive with them.

Shenzhen, like other major cities in China, is starting to feel more international. Through French restaurants, latino Christmas celebrations, European underground raves, and LGBTQ parties, the once-a-fishing-village of Shenzhen is proving to be fertile grounds to form unprecedented relationships between culture, technology, and business.

Local and international brands together to host successful tech crunch in Shenzhen.
Tech Crunch, 2017

The Question Every Shenzhen Expat Wishes to Avoid

“So what do you want to do tonight?”

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard this question asked. But I can tell you that almost 90% of the time it’s asked, the answer is usually a less-than-enthusiastic repetition of what was done the previous week. Don’t get me wrong, expats are used to making the best of their situation. But sometimes, a craving takes hold. It could be food, a genre of music, an activity, or an atmosphere. Whatever it is, there’s a longing that someone hopes to be recognized.

A few event organizers and merchants are attempting to fulfill these hopes. They see the potential in establishing a rich lifestyle inside China’s Silicon Valley. An enduring community is the goal. But it doesn’t happen in one event. Nor two. Nor three. It happens with through a series of experiences.

Experiences create long lasting impressions.
Beach Getaway Experience by ahaa, 2017

What is the difference between experiences and events?

At ahaa, this is an important distinction to make.

  • Events are one-time, one-directional instances meant to get a certain response. (ie. People attend a concert, watch the show, receive promotional goodies, and leave.)
  • Experiences can happen on multiple occasions, in many places, and requires the individual consumer’s participation. Experiences can yield varied responses. (ie. People attend a dance class, participate, returns the following week.)

These definitions highlight the difference in time, communication, and services that organizers need to invest. While events are used to achieve short term goals, experiences are meant to create impressions that last.

A snapshot of an ahaa experience done earlier this year.
Art and Boire night by ahaa, 2017

Experiences are key

Expats want to invest their time into something that enriches them. But are you investing your time into them?

It is never easy to establish a lifestyle, especially in Shenzhen. Businesses shut down quickly. Experimenting is risky. Getting a baseline of patrons is already hard enough.

But once that culture starts to develop, the rewards are endless. For the customer, they create longstanding memories, an eagerness to share with others, and a desire to come back. For the business, it can generate more revenue, a loyal fanbase,  and higher profiled opportunities. (Think of the Shady Monkey Hip Hop Crew)

To get to this stage, there needs to be a consistent supply of desired experiences, an easy way to find them, and strategic partnerships to organize them.

A group of people talking about solutions.
Mindfest by ahaa, 2016

The ahaa Difference- Winning Expat’s Trust

With the right people, business relationships, and technological tools, Shenzhen could truly become a culture of innovation. But we aren’t there yet.

We had to understand why expats weren’t finding and attending things they were interested in. After several years of using the same websites and online resources to find things to do around the city, we realized a few things:

  • Event posters were poorly designed
  • Event descriptions became wordier
  • Translations got sloppier
  • Purchasing tickets are a constant pain in the ass
  • Managers promoted events way too late, not giving potential goers the time to make plans

These issues are so widespread, it begs the question “Do these businesses even care”? And as more events and venues popped up over the years, the issues multiplied. The websites never changed.

Example of bad poster design. Too many steps are required to complete key actions. Overload of information isn't helpful.

The lengthier the descriptions, the less likely someone will read it.

While the original designs may have sufficed years ago, they don’t today. Why? Because being static is outdated and inefficient. Over the last 15 years, a sea change in design took place, shifting websites and applications from practical solutions to aesthetic-driven experiences.

So when we conceptualized ahaa 3 years ago, we knew it had to be dynamic, trustworthy, and enjoyable to use.

Gaining Trust is a Journey

Event promotion platforms have been at a standstill since their inception in China. This presented a huge opportunity to not only change the way events are promoted in China, but to help different lifestyles mature. It wasn’t clear to us at first. After months of mockups, testing, and surveying, we realized that this app has the potential to become the cultural lynchpin of a young and promising city.

So our founders spent years building a product to move the industry. There were five goals that guided the app’s development:

  1. Design an interface that people will love
  2. Build active communities to stay involved and encourage connections
  3. Collect and aggregate data to provide a tailored, personal discovery experience
  4. Provide high quality content
  5. Work with event organizers and merchants to improve events, experiences, and marketing

Gif showing how to find events using plans feature

The goals were simple. None of them were easy to achieve. It took over 2 years to create a design that people wanted to engage with. We still have a long way to go, but our foundation is set. Ahaa 4.0 is stable, beautiful, and ready to be loaded with features that allow merchants to make better informed decisions. We’ve worked with dozens of local and international brands, and look forward to more partnerships. Our team has grown from 3 people to 30.

Now, ahaa is ready to deliver the next 5,000 experiences to expats in Shenzhen, Hong Kong, and Guangzhou.

Interested in working with us? You can list your event, venue, or experience here. For other inquiries, please email us at