John Dodelande

Founder of Aloys

John Dodelande is a leading European collector of contemporary Chinese art. The substantial collection that he has built over several years includes many of the most noteworthy living Chinese artists, as well as up-and-coming young artists. Dodelande’s company, Aloys, also endeavors to forge ties between East and West and to thus establish a modern-day “Silk Road.”

Dodelande promotes Chinese art around the world through exhibitions in so-called Silk Road countries, including Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan. He has also sponsored monographs on leading contemporary Chinese artists, such as Zhao Zhao and Wang Yuyang. In addition, he has assisted He Xiangyu in putting together a contemplative book on the color yellow and founded a group that supports Chinese works of art at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris.

Dodelande is also the author of Chinese Art – The Impossible Collection and is launching an art-tech project that will use innovative technology to reproduce, own, and show works of art.

Where did the idea for Aloys come from?

My company, Aloys, exists to make great art available to a much wider public. The idea is rooted in my own love of art. I have a large collection of contemporary Chinese work, and the process of making the collection has enriched my life tremendously. But the hard truth of the art market is that it is only accessible to the few. I feel that is wrong. Culture – all culture, not just art – belongs to everybody. I think I have found a commercial way to democratize art and to completely disrupt the art market.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

For me, routine is important, so my days begin the same way for all intents and purposes After I wake up each morning, I go to Starbucks for the same exact drink—a venti chai tea latte with almond milk, extra hot. I take it to the office where I work on my emails. I do that early in the day because my team in Georgia is three hours ahead of me. If I have face-to-face meetings, I tend to do them in the afternoon.
As for being productive, the key thing for me is the food I eat. Though I eat out a lot, I listen to my body. I am careful not to eat things to which I am intolerant – and I don’t smoke or drink. That is what makes it possible to stay efficient, to perform well mentally and physically all day long. The main external obstacle to productivity, I find, is the European state of mind, which is slower and less urgent than in Asia.

How do you bring ideas to life?

First of all, the idea has to be a good one. You have to identify a need or see a way that you can disrupt the status quo. The question then is: how do you recognize a good idea? I judge my own concepts by the way that people react when I tell them what I have in mind. I speak to friends and contacts that I consider to be more successful entrepreneurs than me. If they say, ‘I wish I’d thought of that,’ – or better still, if they want to get involved – then I know I am onto something.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I am excited by three trends – the global fascination with new art, the advance of tech, and the rise of the Silk Road countries, principally China. The interaction between those three things informs much of what I do. New tech has been part of our lives for 20 years, of course, but I am now seeing a profound shift in people’s consciousness around it. There is a dawning awareness that tech is not an add-on to our lives but is something that will fundamentally change every aspect of how we live.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Traveling with my eyes open. Going to other places and making the effort to understand the culture. Too many businesspeople assume that the whole world is the same as the place that they know, the country where they were born. That is a great fallacy, and of course it is very short-sighted. The world is enormously diverse – and because it is diverse, it is full of opportunity.

What advice would you give your younger self?

To follow your instincts – though my younger self would reply: ‘Thanks, but I am doing that already.’

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

That China is the future – even now, no one in Europe sees it. Europe – like America – still imagines that it is the center of everything. I don’t try to convince people. As with technology, one day people will wake up and see that the world changed without their really noticing it was happening.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I try, then I fail. If I fail again, I try again. There is no end to the process of trial and failure – at least not until you give up entirely on your dreams and ambitions.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Thinking globally from day one. You know how I was just saying how the world is more culturally diverse that we imagine? Though that is true, the best ideas are the ones that will work anywhere in the world because they address something universally human. That is what I am always on the lookout for – the big global ideas.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

The start of my professional life was one long succession of failures, so it is hard to pinpoint a single instance. I set up businesses that didn’t work, I took risks that didn’t pay off. I had a very unpromising start as an entrepreneur – but now I look on all my failures as worthwhile experiments. And whenever something failed, I would dust myself off, shrug my shoulders, and turn to the next idea the following morning. You have to keep the momentum going.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I think NFTs are going to be huge. I know many people are skeptical about them – why pay money for a bit of computer code or a JPEG? – but the fact is that there is big stuff happening behind the incredulous news stories. It is not just about collectors shelling out cash for the latest novelty. For entrepreneurs with the right mindset, there is money to be made in businesses that can bridge the gap between the established art world and tech.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

All my luggage got stolen when I was traveling. It got left on the street in Paris by a taxi driver, and by the time anyone noticed, it was gone. Fortunately, there was nothing vital in the bags, but I had to buy a new suitcase in a hurry, so there went $100.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I constantly use voice notes in WhatsApp, a function ‘borrowed’ from WeChat. It is a habit I picked up from my Chinese artist friends – they all prefer to record messages, because the complexities of the Chinese writing system make texting tiresome. It saves me huge amounts of time, because I can do it on the move in twenty seconds, rather than sitting down for ten minutes to compose an email.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

There is a French book called La Chine E(s)t Le Monde by Sophie Boisseau du Rocher and Emmanuel Dubois de Prisque. The bracketed letter ‘S’ is a pun. Spoken out loud, the French title could mean either The World and China or The World Is China. For me, this is the book that best explains the reality of what I call the new Silk Road, or what the authors call the process of “Sino-globalization.”

What is your favorite quote?

“May the force be with you.”

Key Learnings:

  • Be curious about other cultures: that is where the true riches are to be found.
  • No failure is ever wasted: every experience is something that you might be able to make use of, somewhere down the line.
  • Embrace the world of tech, and make it work for you. You might as well because the world of tech is the world you live in.
  • Disruption is good because it makes people see things in new ways. It follows that disruption is creative – the polar opposite of destruction.