Being a consumer in Taipei is very interesting because you get a much fuller experience of all the businesses around your neighborhood.
I live in the Songshan District of Taipei. It’s just north of the main downtown area, so it’s busy but not to the point where you can’t have conversations with the shop owners.
From the delicious Taiwanese breakfast cornerspot that I visit everyday, to the fruit stand where I like to buy my pre-cut cantaloupe, and the barbershop that’s been open since 1987. I get to see all stages of every business around me from the moment they open all the way until they close.
They’re not soulless entities where I go in, give them my money, and get out. I get to talk to the workers. Ask for their advice. Directions. Where there’s good food. What I should do on the weekends. In addition, I also get to see what they’re up to. I see their children running around. I see them packing their bags and hopping on their scooters to go home. I see them taking breaks and eating lunch at the same local noodle spots that I go to. It’s comforting in a way that I’ve never experienced being raised in a big city like San Francisco.
The businesses I visit on the daily basis are not faceless corporations. They are run by people just like me. They need to grab coffee in the mornings. They laugh. Sometimes are in a bad mood, and often need a break to sit back and maybe even smoke a cigarette. I’m not being told that they are human. I’m not being tricked with clever copywriting or a fancy website. In fact, most these places don’t even have a website. And forget about Yelp, they don’t use it out here.
They are human, not because they choose to be, but because that’s just how business is done out here. The city of Taipei is way too cramped to keep the messy bits of life tucked away. Everything’s out in the open. (All the way to the meat and cabbage you see being prepped on the side of the road. Unsanitary? Maybe. Honest? Definitely.)
This is rather humbling and also quite comforting because growing up I’ve always been inspired to run my own business. But I’ve always felt a little bit at odds because I didn’t major in economics or anything of that sort. I majored in film. Storytelling. And I’ve tried to make up for my lack of business education via reading a ton of books, spending thousands of dollars on online workshops on how I can double my income while working remotely. I read clickbait articles about how my copy could be getting in the way of conversions. How the color of my newsletter subscribe button could be the reason my list hasn’t grown in 2 years. How maybe I should switch from using Squarespace to Wordpress, or how my content isn’t fully optimized for SEO.
They’re all great techniques, I’m sure, but living here in Taiwan and actively participating in the commerce here, I can’t help but think that maybe I’m just trying way too damn hard. Because most these shops don’t have fancy storefronts. In fact, I’m quite annoyed of their adamant use of overhead fluorescent lighting (I'm a photographer, it's a very unflattering type of light), and how almost everywhere I eat, there's a TV blasting the news 24/7.
They show their guts.
And something about that makes it trustworthy enough. Something about that makes me want to come back and tell all my friends about it. Something about that makes me feel like all this time spent creating a fancy website, catchphrase, and what not is just a waste of time when really I just need to focus on one thing and one thing only. Solve a real problem that people face every day. If you do that. Nothing else matters. Forget a minimalist logo. Forget a fancy website. Forget SEO optimization and what not. Show me you’re human. Because if you have my trust, then you’ll have my business. And in a world full of fancy packaging, bright colors and false perceptions of perfection. I find comfort in knowing that you’re not that perfect either.
by Jason Lam