This is the third and final post in my series on Chinese studying abroad and the entrepreneurs serving them. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Danny Wang, co-founder of WeblishPal, a platform that connects Chinese English language learners with native English speakers. WeblishPal focuses on serving Chinese students who are interested in studying abroad in North America.
Chinese students are studying abroad in droves. In this series, I discuss some forces behind this trend. I will also publish transcripts of interviews I conducted with two entrepreneurs serving this ever-expanding group.
The trend of Chinese students going abroad seems unlikely to slow in the near future. The International Herald Tribune cites Global Times research data showing that “the number of [Chinese] students wanting to study abroad has increased by more than 20 percent each year since 2008”. In addition to ample job opportunities for returning graduates, the reverence for foreign degrees makes the payoff for returnees substantial.
This flood of students means there are plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurs to provide value, and profit while doing so. I recently interviewed two serial entrepreneurs targeting Chinese students studying abroad — this series will include transcripts of those interviews.
It had been a hectic week, and my back was not happy about it. My shoulders had locked up and my upper back was screaming. I decided to go to the spa across the street, a respectable chain with locations throughout Shanghai, for a 90 minute massage. They don’t offer the cheapest massage in the area, but it’s one of the best, isn’t shady, and is reasonably priced.
After my massage I stumbled to the front desk to pay; I was so relaxed it was hard to walk straight. With my defenses down, they decided to make the pitch I hear with surprising frequency in China: “Would you like to pay 3000 RMB today for a prepaid discount card, then we can give you 20% off this and future massages.” I gave my usual response, “Maybe next time.”
Creating a sustainable advantage in any industry in China is difficult, especially when competitors promptly copy anything that works. Hai Di Lao, a hot pot chain, uses extraordinary service to draw large crowds to its many locations and offers lessons for entrepreneurs in China on how to create a sustainable competitive advantage.
Hai Di Lao was founded in 1994 and now has over 50 locations throughout China. Due to their success in China, they are planning to expand into the US and Singapore. They are renowned for their high levels of service and high-quality food, and for customers waiting hours for a table on most nights.
Hot pot around every corner
Hot pot restaurants are as abundant in China as Starbucks are in the US — or as Starbucks are in most other countries for that matter. If you’ve never eaten hot pot (you may know the Japanese version: Shabu Shabu), I can offer a simple explanation: they bring a pot to your table, put it on a burner, and then you order vegetables, thinly-sliced meats, fish, or anything else to cook in the boiling broth. The most common style includes a pot with chicken broth on one side, and chili oil on the other. It’s delicious simplicity, and comes in many forms throughout China.
There are many challenges facing web and mobile startups in China, including an incredibly dynamic market, keeping your staff from leaving you for one of your competitors and taking your Intellectual Property with them, and copycats that will appear within days of you gaining any interest from consumers or the press. But even if you are able to overcome these challenges and are able gain traction with your mobile or web app, it can be very difficult to get Chinese consumers to pay for your product or service.