Dive into entrepreneurial crucible and grow

Ni Tao
How philosophical can an entrepreneurial journey be?
Ni Tao

How philosophical can an entrepreneurial journey be?

The answer is very much so, according to educator and entrepreneur Yang Baocheng.

Yang, who teaches at the Huanghe Science and Technology University in central China’s Henan Province, recently spoke at a forum held by the University of Virginia’s China alumni community on the enthusiasm for entrepreneurship that has gripped the country.

Entrepreneurship has become a buzzword since China’s top leadership issued a clarion call encouraging citizens to innovate and pursue their dreams.

As Yang sees it, the motivation for many to set up shop on their own is threefold: to satisfy one’s material needs, psychological needs and social needs.

“People will see further, develop a stronger character, and show their true colors by pushing themselves out of their comfort zone into the crucible of entrepreneurship,” Yang said.

He also bemoaned shortcomings in China’s education system. It’s no secret that the traditional Chinese emphasis on education has fostered a market worth hundreds of billions for services such as after-school tutorials or cram sessions. In their blindness to label education as a business like any other, many industry players are quick to justify their success by citing metrics such as per customer transaction and repeat customer rate.

But Yang believes education isn’t comparable to the sale of mundane goods, as it is intended to have a lifelong influence on a person’s values and beliefs.

Education is for whole life

“Soulless education treats the imparting of knowledge as a one-off transaction,” said Yang. “Good education seeks to leave an indelible mark on one’s character.”

Zhang Zihua, founder of a management consultancy focused on the beverage business, said entrepreneurship can be uplifting and frustrating in equal measure. He did not flinch from revealing lessons he had learnt the hard way.

Despite enjoying a head start in China’s now booming bubble tea industry, he said a lack of focus on growth strategy has cost his company its early-mover advantage in the competition against HeyTea and Nayuki, the two biggest rivals in the field.

“The key to entrepreneurial success is the intensity of your efforts,” said the young entrepreneur, who was named in Forbes’s 2018 “30 Under 30 China” list. “If your resources and energies are stretched too thin, intensity will weaken dramatically.”

Therefore, it’s incumbent on company founders to decide where to put their focus in order to optimize results. Zhang added that a prized quality of entrepreneurs in a world of distractions is to be able to cut through the cacophony and resist the temptation to expand before the time is right.

AI transforming retail

Li Jie, founder and CEO of a tech startup Shenzhen Zhiyi AI Co, said that as a result of big data in China’s online e-commerce sector, a retail revolution is sweeping China’s offline business landscape.

Central to it is the use of technologies such as artificial intelligence, which can play a big role in “bringing down decision-making costs to almost zero.”

Li’s company started out in the field of developing platforms that make AI accessible to all users, even if many have no knowledge of coding or programming.

After analyzing data gleaned from different clients, ranging from industrial companies to mom-and-pop stores, he decided that retail was the area he should target to fulfill his AI ambitions, as it was where “the greatest value can be unlocked.”

One needs to look no further than crayfish for evidence, as demand in China for this popular delicacy has pushed the industry’s value to a staggering 400 billion yuan (US$58 billion) a year.

As heavyweights such as Alibaba and Tencent lock horns to acquire brick-and-mortar retail outlets, in the hopes of further tapping into user data and offering an integrated online-offline shopping experience, smaller companies such as Li’s are also trying to redefine retail and commerce by using AI algorithms to mine consumers’ shopping data.

“Five to 10 years from now, AI will completely overhaul the business landscape of China, much in the same way as mobile Internet did with the advent of smartphones several years ago,” said Li.

He added that benefits are already manifest as tests show store owners enabled by AI can predict sales with a higher rate of accuracy than even the most experienced shelf managers, leading to smarter logistics and inventory management.

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