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From milk tea shop to group buying website – a career tale

Bai Weijing, founder of Chinese group buying website, Bangzhufu (棒主妇), meaning good housewife. Photo: Carol WU/Sino-US.com

Prior to founding her own group buying site, Bai Weijing, 28, had obtained a Master’s degree in Computer Science in Beijing, and done R&D, planning, marketing and content editing jobs in several Internet companies, including Sina, the largest Chinese-language infotainment web portal; had taken the civil service exam; and run a milk tea shop…After all these experiences, she finally knew what she wanted to and should do in her career.

"I think I prefer to control things from scratch. I like being in a dominant position,” she said clearly.


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"The ideas that you come up with are often what you achieve in your life," Bai said, adding that she did not know anything about business operation, nor did she have any family members engaged in business who she could go for advice, so she started a milk tea shop in 2010 to learn how to run a business.

Before opening the shop in Beijing, Bai spent months doing market research. For example, she would pay attention to how many cups a milk tea shop could sell in a day. "They keep the count by the sealer, so you can buy a cup in the early morning and another one in late afternoon and you will know the sales figure by a simple calculation. And you could also notice that there was only one person working in the shop at one point but later there were three people in shifts, which means it is making money. You can estimate the costs, the rent, and calculate the profit,” she said.

However, Bai’s shop didn’t survive the competition, the business failed to return a profit, but taught her the most valuable lesson, as she concluded, “I would never let my business descend to the bottom of the business community.”

"In the bottom of the business community, such as vendors and snack bars around my shop, there are no commercial standards at all. They make money to live, not to pursue a dream of life.”

“I believe if I want to win in a business competition, I should try to do better than others. But these people would think, well, ‘if I am not dong as well as you, then I will drag you down by whatever way I can take’.”

“So now it’s up to you. You can either follow their way of doing things, or expose them, or, you just quit.” Bai chose the third way.

“In the end, you will find that you were not doing business, but surviving by intrigue, which will not bring any long-term value to your career. And sooner or later, you will end up defeated by others if you follow their way.”

In Bai’s business venture, her husband Yu Qiang became her best partner.

Yu graduated from Tsinghua University with a Master’s degree and worked for Morgan Stanley. Half of his salary of the first year was invested in Bai’s milk tea shop in Beijing.

With the other half of the annual salary and a venture capital funding totaling 1 million yuan, Yu left Morgan Stanley in March 2010 and started his own company in Shanghai with his friends.

On March 15, their website icoupon, a group buying website, the first ever in Shanghai, was launched, with Meituan (美团), the first group buying website in China, having been launched 10 days earlier on March 5. However, the website faced enormous competition from its very birth.

Bai starts a day's work in the early morning in her office. Photo: Courtesy of Bai.

"In June 2010, the number of group buying sites began to surge, suddenly increasing from 20 to 2,000. By the end of 2010, the number of the country’s group buying websites reached 6,000."

As the company has been losing money and failed to re-finance, Yu’s team eventually had to shut it down. "It was our own lack of experience that caused the failure," said Yu.

“My initial idea was wrong, I only focused on the size and the influence of the site," Yu said calmly.

"At that time we were both ‘unemployed’, but in fact, I never worried about money and our future. I am always an optimistic person," Bai said.

Drawing on the lessons of Yu’s icoupon, Bai set up her group buying website “Bangzhufu” in Beijing. And Yu became her advisor and technical support in Beijing. Bai’s sister came to help her with customer service for Bangzhufu. On November 8, 2010, Bangzhufu went online.

“Within the first 20 days, I made over 2,000 yuan, without any promotional activities, which was beyond my expectations. I told myself I would carry on with this business,” Bai said firmly.

Bai’s Bangzhufu mainly sells women’s wear and household goods and recently opened a new office in Hebei province, starting to recruit web designers and customer service staff.

“The next thing we need to do is to cooperate with some traditional production enterprises. I have talked with one company recently and we will sell their organic food and some forest and mountain products they provide.”

Bai has a clear understanding of the market positioning of her site. “To be honest, I do not care about whether our product partner is a well-known brand or not. What I value is the good quality of the products and their offline marketing prospects. And our partners should be reliable in doing things.”

“As for my clothing business, I’m planning to have our own brand when I am 35,” she said with a smile. 


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