The Best Places to Work Out of in Sanlitun Village

I’ve had a lot of opportunities lately to work remotely and find myself hitting the Sanlitun Village area often. Since there are quite a few locations here to sit, eat, and use free wi-fi, I’ve become a frequent visitor to many of them. For those of you looking for the right place to work during the day, I present my very biased and personal reviews of each location. For the record, these are ranked by how often you can find me at one of these locations.

Best of the Best


I probably deserve an award for the amount of time I spend at Blue Frog. It’s not going to fit everyone’s style, but for me, it seems be my destination of choice more often than not. Of all the places I’ve been, their wi-fi connection has been the most reliable, with routers dedicated to each of their two floors. The amount of natural lighting is fantastic, which makes the place feel more open than it actually is. During the day, there are normally enough tables to use, but some are better than others. The big table on the north side is fantastic if you have a group, since the power plugs are built right into it. If you’re hungry, the food here is above-average, even if a tad expensive. However, their lunch special options (around 50RMB) are getting better, thanks to the local competition. If you’re a drinker, unlike me, you’ll find their Happy Hour at 4pm to your liking. The staff here is typically friendly and hard-working, should you have any issues.

The downside is that Blue Frog is not really built for working…it is well…an eating establishment, which makes some tables a bit cumbersome to work from. Worse, the best table is in the smoking section, so you may have to deal with the random cigar-smoking patron from time to time. None of these are Blue Frog’s fault, just an observation. They can control the music volume though. Whoever runs the boards, tends to like the music loud, even when there are only a few customers around. This can be a pain if you’re trying to concentrate or listen to your own music.


Of all the places in the Village, Union Bar and Grille has the strongest reputation for their work environment. For me, it’s pretty solid. The wi-fi is almost as solid as Blue Frog and their offering of unlimited iced-tea is hard to pass up. For some reason, they don’t get as many customers as other places, so it’s usually easy to get one of the better seats here. On a normal day, you’ll notice other remote workers floating around. Some of them have gone so far as to almost set-up a full office. With the way Union is set-up, it’s a perfect place to camp out, but then jump around the corner to another table if you need to have a more private meeting.

Don’t plan on eating here, the food leaves a lot to be desired. The one exception are their desserts, which should be avoided unless you enjoy your waist and wallet taking big hits. Their chocolate cake is awesome, but it’s just too big of a temptation for me to be there daily. As I mentioned, the wi-fi is fairly solid, but I have noticed some problems with the use of iPhone apps that require a network connection; some work and some don’t. I don’t know the cause, just be warned. The staff here is ok, but there a few bad eggs that just don’t seem to care. And if you’re someone like me who needs light, Union might be a bit dark for you. The dark can help keep you focused at times, but when you leave, you suddenly realize that you’ve been working in a cave.


Fisheye is a newcomer to the Village scene, but has definitely made its mark. You’re either going to love or hate this place, I’m not sure there is a middle-ground. As you can tell, I like natural light and these guys have it. With the decor being so “bright”, you’ll definitely feel as though you’re in a cloud at times. The wifi here is also really good. And while there aren’t a lot of power outlets in the wall, the management has realized who its customers are and have brought out some power cables to expand the number of available outlets. The location is smaller than many other Village locations, but it’s laid out fairly well for working. They also have a nice, large table in the center perfect if you need to bring in multiple people to work. And while this may be a personal thing, I like the ratio of seat height to table height better than any other location. And since this is a dedicated coffee-shop, you’ll see they take pride in their use of Ritual Coffee. I’m no coffee expert, but the fact that they give you small cupcake (from Lollipop) with your coffee is a nice touch. It hits the spot for that post-lunch sugar craving I usually have. Fisheye is definitely climbing up the ranks with me, possibly taking over Union.

I will say though if you like the variety of coffee options you find at a place like Starbucks, then Fisheye may not be for you. Their drink list is fairly limited. I’m listing that as a personal weakness, although the management here may be reducing their options on purpose. And as I said, you may just hate the color scheme here. I know some that just refuse to walk in this place with me due to over-use of white and blue. And even though I like the chair-table height ratio, I have to admit their seats are a bit uncomfortable after a while. And lastly, they use a registration system for their wi-fi that while not as annoying as some, still adds one little extra step to the process. It’s forgivable, as long as they don’t make it more complicated in the future.


This sandwich, soup, and salad place is also a growing favorite of mine primarily due to their reasonable lunch options. It’s just too easy to grab a bite here and then settle down into some work. Of all the places, I think this one really tried to cater to the afternoon Village worker. The wi-fi works, the food options are there, and the tables are arranged in such a way to make working for groups and individuals easier. Even the design of the place, which is kind of bare, seems to tuned in to working.  I’m starting to see more and more remote workers camp out over here. I suspect the networking possibilities here will begin to exceed Union’s soon.

The main problem I have with this place will hopefully get ironed out over time. Other than the managers, the staff just lacks any real engagement with the customer. I’ve seen them botch up quite a few orders over the past few months and generally don’t go out of their way to make their customers happy. I’m not even going to let myself start my “why can’t I switch my Coke for an iced tea” rant here…

Best to Avoid


I know what you’re saying, “How could I put Starbucks in a list of places to avoid?” Well, it’s simple. The place is a foot-traffic monster that makes it difficult to stay focused, much less find a seat conducive to working. And if you do find a place to sit, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a power outlet to use, which means you’ll be constantly worried more about your battery conservation than your work. And even when you get all set-up, you’ll need to go through a ridiculous wi-fi registration process that requires you to put in your mobile phone number to get a password. That’s right, good luck travelers without Chinese mobile numbers! And then once you get online, you’ll discover it’s slow…molasses slow. If you’re a frequent VPN user, you’ll find yourself borderline insane by the quality of their connection. There have also been a few instances where their connection didn’t work with Apple products, which is almost a cardinal sin if you see what the majority of expats are carrying nowadays. Overall, it’s just not worth it.

But on a positive note, it is Starbucks. So if you’re looking for a place to do a meeting where you can get a cup of coffee that reasonably meets your expectations, then why not come here? And of all the places in the Village, it’s prime people watching territory, which makes for a great diversion when you do actually need a break from your work. Sadly though, these just aren’t enough for me to consistently visit.


I don’t really want to knock on Element Fresh, I enjoy their food and the general atmosphere of their restaurant. It’s a great place to grab a meal with friends. However, this is not a working environment place. The wi-fi is almost as bad as Starbucks and they also suffer from a lack of power outlets. It’s not their fault, I know. They’re just being a restaurant…and that’s ok. It’s just not a place I can recommend for working.


Now how awesome is an ice cream shop for a working environment? Well, it’s pretty awesome if you actually want some ice cream. They even have wi-fi! Well…I mean…they have wi-fi when someone remembers to turn it on and get it working properly. Most of the time I can’t find it and even when I do, it’s hardly usable. I find myself stealing wi-fi from Olas restaurant next to it. I’d really love to work here one day, but they need to get the basics right first.

Needs More Investigation


I just recently re-discovered this place. I’ve always enjoyed their food, especially the salads. I’ll have to do some afternoon camp outs here and report back on this one. They do have wi-fi, so it looks promising. I just hope they fix their nice, but wobbly tables.


I’ve honestly only been here once. I’ve heard good things about it, but primarily from Chinese friends, which could be indication of the clientele. That’s not a bad thing, but if you’re looking for more foreign expats, this may not be the right place.


I only know about this place due to the guys I’ve been working with over at Let’s Powwow. That’s right, a location-based startup who enjoys going to Sweetmap…get it, get it?!? Anyway, I need try this place a bit more before I can give it a real review. It could be a potential contender, despite their overly “sweet” decorations.


The Mobile Developer Journey

I have not abandoned this blog. I have in fact been helping a local company here with their product development. I’ll write further about them in the future, but for now, let’s just say I’m on what Vision Mobile would call the Mobile Developer Journey. The graphic summary of this journey was good enough for me to share.  I wish they had spent a bit more time discussing the monetization challenges, but maybe that’s just my fault for not yet reading their report.

I’ll be back soon with more about my work. In the meantime, enjoy the pretty pictures.

The Mobile Developer Journey

The Real Customer

I enjoyed reading Steve Johnson’s post on who the real customer is over on his Product Marketing blog. I’m not sure if Steve has a Telco background or not, but his comment regarding the person who uses your device being your customer, is spot on for this industry. The  manufacturers who maintain direct contact with their end users tend to be the most successful. There are some who attempt to make their living catering to operator (distributor) wishes like LG and ZTE, but none ever seem to really garner significant mindshare.

Let’s review those that do.


I think we all know this story already. They are the poster child for making operators look like “dumb pipes”. Having completely flanked operators with their retail stores, music and app business, and line of personal devices, they’ve been able over the years to develop strong ties with their consumers. Globally, they’ve never been market share leaders, but those they served were passionate users. Their message rarely has been distorted by middle-men. What is the result? Operators bending over backwards to access that user base, breaking their internal rules and giving up revenue streams.


For years has been the de-facto choice for business users, offering services that other manufacturers either avoided or refused to compete on. So while they are struggling now, they built their success around “Crackberry” addicts. Operators couldn’t help but stock their products for fear of user revolts at their enterprise accounts. Even in the midst of their current troubles, the press and consumers still follow them without fail.


Obviously this story has not finished, but they do seem to be gaining traction at a rapid pace. Whether they continue to do that is still up for debate, however, their recent success is built once again on having a dedicated user base dependent on services that were not developed on the operator level. A “semi-open”approach  versus the walled gardens that operators are famous for have served them well recently.


I hesitate to put them here due to their recent issues with delivering a compelling smartphone. However, they still command close to 40% of the global market. And in markets with less operator control, Nokia is still the standard. Their broad portfolio, targeted to multiple income levels and consumer segments, still has them as a force to be recognized. While not obvious in the US, there are still Nokia fanatics in plenty of other countries.

Manufacturer success is never guaranteed, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason to believe that devotion to end-users will be any less successful in the future. It’s sad to think how many operators consider themselves the most important person in the value chain. Obviously they have their own roadmaps to manage, but more often than not, it appears as though they forget who they actually while frustrating their manufacturing partners in the process.

Will Mobile App Subscriptions Affect App Revenues?

I was reading a Wall Street Journal article last night about how the New Yorker is attempting to publish paid apps on Apple’s app store. In it’s current form, visitors to the store must download each issue separately, incurring a $4.95 charge each time. Obviously this will be annoying to many consumers, especially in this age of content delivery. As such, the New Yorker is pressuring Apple to create a subscription like feature. And at that point, a really weird thought popped into my head.

Would the introduction of subscription apps affect the ability for single-pay applications?

Give me a second, let me walk through my thinking:

  1. Consumer “Joe” is an active iPad user and spends about $10/month on applications, music, etc. He’s grown accustomed to seeing bills of this size from Apple.
  2. Joe now sees two of his favorite magazines are now offered via a subscription online for $4.95/month and decides to sign-up thinking, “This is great, more stuff for my iPad. And it’s such a great deal, as this is usually too expensive in print.”
  3. Now, his monthly spending at the iTunes store has doubled, making Joe worry he’s spending too much for this device. He now thinks he should cut back a bit.
  4. Not wanting to give up his magazines, Joe cuts back on other “silly” or “frivolous” games for his iPad, bringing his monthly spend back to it’s pre-subscription norm.

So I guess my question is this? Do users who fit under this or similar scenarios already unofficially pre-budget how much they’ll spend on downloads per month? And if so, will subscriptions quickly eat into the share of pocket that consumers like Joe would be willing to spend?

Obviously the content would have to be compelling enough, but subscription-based content has a long history and may seem “easy” for some consumers to quickly sign-up for on some platforms. Whether  these subscriptions will make it just as easy to opt-out remains to be seen.  If consumers get locked into long-term commitments like we see today in print versions, we might see an interesting blip on the radar of other application providers.

Product Managers Need Skills

While short, the Accidental PM’s post on 3 Skills That Most Product Managers Are Missing is spot on the mark. Two of these areas hit home, so I consider this a must read for new Product Managers.

The first was communication. I completely agree with the author that this is far more than just giving a speech here or there about your product. Communication for a PM is about dialogue and informing. While the post covers the former, I’d like to add a little to the latter. A PM must understand who his or her stakeholders are at all times.  They should be the hub that connect all groups, but more importantly, should proactively inform the right key stakeholders with relevant information. I can’t emphasize the importance of this, especially in preventing issues from popping up late in the development process.

Secondly, make friends whenever possible. As a long-term expat, I’ve let some relationships wither on the vine because of distance or time zone issues. Some of these relationships could have been extremely valuable had I continued to develop them. Instead, I let myself take “control” of things under the impression that no one was there to help. As such, I almost burnt myself out. Had I just reached out, I probably could have saved myself a lot of stress. So my advices is to take the time, even if it’s a little inconvenient, to keep your contacts fresh. You never know when you’ll need them.


May 2024