Horan told Rugby World magazine that it was in the wake of his decision to step down from his New Zealand job after the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janiero that he was approached by China to build a Sevens programme in their country.
Part of his negotiations involved allowing a foreigner to bring in outside staff and to build a relevant programme.
"I wanted the challenge of building a programme. Not just be a gunslinger there but actually put a plan together, get some resources and for the Chinese to trust what we’re doing. And it isn’t just about rugby, it’s also about a culture," he said.
Horan said the situation in China was unlike any of the other mainstream rugby countries, and also the United States and Canada.
There wasn't a large playing population to choose from and the infrastructure was nothing like other countries enjoyed.
"There’s not a lot of real support outside of a couple of strong provinces. So there was a lot to consider. A rugby ball is very foreign to a lot of Chinese people, but then on the other side there’s 1.4bn people there.
"The union genuinely want to grow the programme and have funding from the China Olympic Committee to give it a crack. We must be smart around how we make it happen. There was no leadership on how to take a team to a different space. Quite a bit needed to be done," Horan said.
Identifying talent, looking at strengths and weaknesses of players and creating support structures around them were necessary while all the peripheral back up of sports medicine, nutrition, training camps and tournament routines all needed attention.
While China were on the World Sevens Series, Horan convinced the authorities that they were not ready for it and attention had to be paid to working on their foundation. But they had got better.
"We then came through the Asian series and also played against Russia. It was all about the hard work and then we got to the Olympic qualifications. When we made it, we had a good night and a good celebration. But the next day, it was back to work. We’ve made it to Tokyo but the bigger challenge is how we perform in Tokyo," he said.
Some cultural change, in the widest sense had been necessary but having players grow, laugh and be genuine had been a big part of their success, he said.
"We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved and what has changed, but there’s still a long way to go. And that’s the beauty of this challenge, trying to wake up the phoenix.
"I don’t think growing rugby in China will be hard at all.
We’re already at Tokyo, we just need a system in place that gives these young athletes who see rugby for the first time the opportunity to play the game," he said.
After Tokyo, he would be looking to develop a programme New Zealand employed in 2011-12 or identifying athletes from other sports who could come into the Sevens programme.
He felt that could result in phenomenal growth once implemented.
"We’ll put up a pretty good fight in Tokyo. But as I keep on reminding everyone, for China to grow we have to grow up properly. In our way.
"We don’t want to be a flash in the pan. We’ve just unlocked the door really. We want to storm through the door, slam it behind us and have a bloody good party!"