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Dreams of glory drive youthful startup trend

Updated:2022-04-19 10:11:24   China Daily

Wang Jin (left) visits a construction site related to an educational project he founded in Gongqingcheng, Jiangxi province, last year. [Photo provided to China Daily]

A growing number of people are opting to strike out on their own before middle age arrives, rather than continuing to work for others. Yang Zekun reports.

Having turned his back on life as a data analyst and become the owner of four bakery stores, Li Zheng believes that people who lack strong determination and the ability to work under huge pressure should not start businesses.

After graduating from college in 2010, Li worked as a data analyst for several large internet companies in Beijing, including Sohu, Baidu and Tencent.

To survive the fierce competition, he constantly learned new skills and worked around the clock. By the time he left the capital in 2016, he was a senior manager at Didi Chuxing, China's biggest ride-hailing company.

"At the time, I often communicated with the bosses of many businesses, and I gradually felt that I was one of them. Influenced by them, I always wanted to attain financial security, and I regarded 10 million yuan ($1.58 million) in disposable income, plus a house and car, as the sign of having reached my goal," the 35-year-old from Xingtai, Hebei province, said.

"However, I quickly realized that all my highlights were sparked by the company I worked for. Working for other people would probably never help me reach that goal, so I decided to start my business while I was still young."

Li's baking business was inspired by the experience of buying a cake to celebrate his daughter's birthday. He searched many stores and eventually bought a suitable cake, but at a high price.

"I thought a business in my hometown, offering stylish cakes at reasonable prices, had a chance of success. Also, my daughter doesn't have Beijing hukou-official household registration documents-so she can't take the national college entrance examination in the capital. That reinforced my decision to return home," he said.

Li Zheng chats with an employee at one of his bakery stores in Xingtai, Hebei province, this month. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Opposition, ambitions

Many people around Li opposed his idea of quitting his highly paid job and starting a business in Xingtai. When he shared his thoughts with his wife in 2015, though, she fully supported him.

So, they drew up a plan. His wife traveled to France to study baking, and in July 2016, Li returned to Xingtai. The couple invested about 200,000 yuan to further their ambition of opening their first bakery.

"I spent several days looking for a good location. After I signed the contract, I discovered that the rent for my store was much higher than the local average. The biggest difficulty wasn't anything tangible-rather, it was dealing with the psychological change," he said.

Unlike his previous job, which involved meeting people who shared a similar educational background to him, running the bakery meant he had to try his best to serve all sorts of people who might be potential consumers. The need to switch roles so quickly made him uncomfortable.

Moreover, business was not good in the first few months. Li only earned 6,000 yuan at most per month, while his costs reached 50,000 yuan. Even worse, the couple had invested most of their savings in the business, so their cash flow was severely constrained.

In addition to taking care of the store's business, Li used different social media platforms to constantly expand his brand's footprint in the hope of attracting more customers.

"That period was hard. Every day when I woke up, I started thinking of the costs and how to survive, which made me anxious, and I even felt it was 'hard to breathe'. The pressure didn't beat me, though, and even during the most difficult time, I had strong faith that I could be successful," he said.

It was a year and a half before his store began to turn a profit. Now, he has four outlets in Xingtai, and in addition to reaching his goal of financial independence, he dreams of opening more than 10,000 chain stores across the world, both for himself and succeeding generations of his family.

Wang Jin (front left) introduces a business incubator program in Gongqingcheng last year. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Faith, perseverance

The firm faith and perseverance to achieve something and prove his worth have also motivated Wang Jin since he started his businesses in his hometown of Jiujiang, Jiangxi province, in 2015.

The 34-year-old was deputy head of the investment department of a company in Beijing. Starting a new business was not his first choice of career change.

"At the time, I felt I had reached a plateau in my work, and the company had failed to fulfill its promise of giving me a promotion for a long time. Also, my father was seriously ill. As his only child, I needed to look after him, so I decided to return home," Wang said.

He didn't want to be idle after returning to Jiujiang, so he kept looking for opportunities.

His family encouraged him to become a civil servant, which would bring in a stable income, but he rejected the idea because he thought the work would not be suitable for an active, outgoing person like him.

Later, he met some friends who also just returned home from other cities. They realized that there was a large market for fresh fruit in their area, so Wang and his three friends started a business.

"When we opened the first store in May 2015, it was two months after I returned home. After eight weeks of downtime, I put all my passion and savings into that first adventure," he said.

In addition to using traditional retail techniques, Wang and his partners used methods such as instant-messaging services like QQ and social media platforms to attract customers. Both the founders and their staff members worked as delivery personnel to ensure that the fresh produce was delivered to customers on time.

One day, when he was delivering fruit by bicycle during a rainstorm, Wang met a client. The man invited Wang into his home for tea after noticing that he was soaked through, and praised his courage in starting a business.

"His encouragement meant a lot to me at that time, and he became an investor and good friend," Wang said.

At one point, durians became very popular, so Wang and his friends pooled their money and traveled to Thailand to order a container of the fruit to sell in Jiujiang.

Since the fruit is known to spoil quickly, they took a gamble that their move would pay off as they could easily have lost their money.

"If we succeeded, we would earn both money and more customers, but if there was a lot of bad fruit, all our efforts would have been wasted. Luckily, we bet correctly. Entrepreneurship is sometimes a compromise, but also a gamble-the key is how we treat the matter," Wang said.

"After I started my businesses, I rarely took a break. My wife and parents took care of most of the family affairs, but it was still difficult to balance my time and energy between family and work. I often felt that I owed my family."

In April 2016, Wang and his friends sold their fruit business because larger brands were constantly encroaching on their market share. After the sale, each partner received 400,000 yuan.

"In the following six months, I was at a loss and had no idea about a career. However, in late 2016, I started my second business, a company related to overseas study services in Jiujiang," he said.

Although the company's trade has been affected by the COVID-19 epidemic, Wang continues to explore several new directions, including helping more college students start businesses.

"Regardless of success or failure, these entrepreneurial experiences are good for me. When I am old, I can tell my daughter that her father at least fought for his ideals," he said.

Keywords:   China Startup trend