A Week in My Life: Jonathan Smith, CEO and founder at Hot Pot

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Hot Pot is a China-focused digital and commercial consultancy, specialising in the innovation required for brands to make an impact in China’s dynamic market. 

Hot Pot focuses on digital strategies to build brands in China, as well as reaching and selling to travelling Chinese consumers when spending overseas in the US and Europe. 

Here, founder and CEO and fluent Mandarin speaker Jonathan Smith tells us what his working week looks like…

Monday

At the start of every week, we kick off with a town hall meeting, where we focus on the challenges and opportunities within the business. With offices in London, Shanghai, and New York, it’s important to have these regular sessions to keep focus and consistency. We video call in the other international offices, and it’s our one time in the week when all team members are in the same room and we can catch up on priorities for the business.

I spent a couple of hours in the afternoon running an external lunch and learn. An agency we partner with invited me in to help educate them about the challenges of supporting clients in the China market. These sessions tend to go down well and lead to lively debate as people realise how different the formula for success looks in China. They are also a great way of building our network and bringing referred new business in. 

Tuesday

I ran the full 10k to work this morning, as opposed to my usual 5k route. It’s a life hack I’ve developed so that I have a healthy balance between the offline and the online. It means I arrive at work with a clear head and am ready to tackle anything the day throws at me. 

Today’s main priority is an important meeting with Fortnum & Mason – one of our cornerstone clients - to discuss their WeChat strategy. 

WeChat is a core market platform for the majority of our brands in China. Our meeting with Fortnum's was to discuss the creative angle for a new campaign initiative; namely, can we make Wechat social “stickers” work for the client in a brand-appropriate way? 

While Fortnum & Mason needs to play in this social space, Hot Pot’s core focus is on driving a sense of elegance and heritage for the brand in an online environment, while still creating engagement with the target market. This afternoon was about assessing our initial drafts and getting internal sign off on our work. 

The team at Fortnum's have been fantastic partners and have fully embraced all of Hot Pot’s guidance and advice on making a success of China. It was good to talk about all the great work to date and the next steps for this market. 

Wednesday

Each week we have an internal focus on one of our company’s core values so that they remain dynamic and relevant. They are hugely important to us - we recruit according to these values and everyone who works at Hot Pot has been selected because they are naturally in tune with them and can help us live and breathe each value. 

This week we focused on ‘cultural curiosity’ – we gave it a fun twist with the creation of a workplace playlist, which team members fed into with music from various genres and continents. Some might say I’m quite hard to please so I decided it was better for all concerned if I stayed out of contributing directly!

I ended up experiencing a whole host of new music throughout the week, but it was comforting to find that one of the younger members of our team added tunes from some of my favourites including Stone Roses and a real blast from the past, The Lemonheads. 

I finished the evening going for a work social with our long-term client Selfridges. It was great to see that they really value us as partners to the business. 

Thursday

One of my current core goals is to pull together an advisory board for Hot Pot China. I’m looking to bring in additional experience to help feed into the strategic direction I have set for the company – and so, alongside client work, I spend my morning reaching out to contacts in the tech, agency, and financial sectors to assess their potential to be involved. 

We are also recruiting at the moment – with all candidates going through a rigorous three-step interview process, which tests for the cultural values and expertise we’re looking for. In the afternoon, my COO Cat Navarro and I had a third stage interview with a promising candidate. 

By design, the final interview is less about testing applicants’ competencies, and more about their values. We look to find out how they might respond in a range of work scenarios as a way of understanding what lies beneath. 

Cat is a strong believer that there’s not much point in having core values at the heart of the business, unless you’re willing to hire and fire by them. As a founder, it can be hard to interview someone who has all the competencies you’re looking for, but isn’t the right cultural fit. Ultimately though, culture trumps all and it’s great to have an exceptional COO in place who shares the same ethos on this.  

While the interview process might be rigorous, people who end up working at Hot Pot tell us that they really enjoyed it and remark how different it was to anything else they’ve experienced in the sector.

In the afternoon, we had a meeting with one of our biggest clients, a global sporting property, looking to boost its presence across China. We’re twelve months into the relationship and the meeting was about discussing the next year of their China strategy.  

There’s a huge appetite from the knowledge-hungry Chinese fans to have more access to global sporting properties and championships, and so it’s a really exciting project to work on.  

Friday

I ran into the office again this morning. At this time of year you’d normally find me training for a triathlon, but this year I’m focusing on preparing for a mammoth cycling trip across Kyrgyzstan so it’s important to keep my fitness levels up. For me it’s important to have goals to focus on outside of work as a sense of perspective is great for mental health. I also find myself much more efficient as a result.

The first task of the day was to prepare for a high profile speaking event coming up next week. We’re sharing the stage with a client, and we’re using our work together to show how a Western brand needs to position itself to target Chinese consumers. 

The rest of the morning was spent sitting down one-to-one with the heads of the client services, operations, and projects teams, helping alleviate any roadblocks they needed senior support on. We have a great team in place so this is typically looking at possibilities and creative solutions that allow the heads to go off and execute.