Are you interested in building your own business in China, but feel too overwhelmed to get started? We talked to three successful foreign entrepreneurs in China about their journey to making their dreams come true, from coming up with a simple idea to developing a business from the ground up.
Rachel Gouk - Nomfluence
Rachel Gouk grew up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and went to college in New Jersey, USA. She originally planned to do journalism in the US, but discovered that jobs were scarce. She took her first paying offer in Shanghai in 2011 and has called it home ever since. After working her way up in the Shanghai lifestyle publication scene, she began freelancing and ended up working as the Deputy Editor for City Weekend (closed in Jan 2018). In May 2018 she started Nomfluence, a blog about the local food and beverage scene in Shanghai, and continued to develop it over the following year. In May 2019 she started her own company to do PR, marketing and photography, and run Nomfluence full time.
Working for Yourself
“I’m much happier and my lifestyle has changed for the better. I work from home most days churning out articles and helping my restaurant clients with their communications, media relations, social media postings, and branding. It’s stressful at times, working for one’s self, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The blog certainly brings a lot of joy and satisfaction.
"Creating recipes is something new I’m exploring on Nomfluence. This one is with products from The Good Food People, sobrassada pasta with parmesan." Photo by Rachel Gouk
I have a few stable clients for PR and marketing, and I supplement that with creative content on Nomfluence. Nomfluence is a platform where I share my views on where to eat and drink in Shanghai, but also to share information about deals, new openings, and help businesses kick start their venues. I’ve been writing about F&B since I got here, and I’d like to think I’m able to tell a holistic story of each place I write about. There are so many channels out there for this, and the market is saturated, so growth of Nomfluence is slow but steady. For now, the blog isn’t my main source of income, but it does require a lot of time and effort on my part. Thankfully, the reception for the content has been good!”
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help
"If I was to give advice to someone that wants to start a business in China, I would say that you need a business plan and long-term goals, and business partners. I didn’t really go into my business thinking of growth or to build something scalable. Thankfully, it’s adding up to something. But yeah, definitely think about long-term goals and how you can achieve them. And do sufficient recon about the sector you plan on going into. Oh, and don’t be afraid to ask for help! Someone will pipe up. The popularity of WeChat groups has created these micro digital-only communities. People are very willing to share, that is, if you manage to spot a question you can answer in a sea of groups."
Check out Nomfluence below!
Katie Tarrant - NAKED拿颗酱
Katie Tarrant is originally from the UK and moved to Beijing in 2010 after graduating from university. In 2016 she met her future business partner Meredith Sides, and together they began NAKED拿颗酱, a thriving nut butter company with its own factory in China. The company produces nut-based products, like almond butter, cashew butter, and peanut butter, and all products are completely vegan and all-natural (naked).
Origins of NAKED拿颗酱
“After Meredith and I became roommates, I discovered she had (and still has) an obsession with nut butter. At the time it wasn’t possible to get the all-natural varieties she was used to buying in the US, so she would bring jars upon jars back with her each time she made a trip back home. I knew how to make it from scratch so together we started making it at home instead and laid to rest her days of smuggling nut butter across the Pacific.
After we started making it for ourselves at home a friend suggested selling our homemade product at some craft markets and we thought we’d give it a crack. Turned out that we had made the nut butter equivalent of crack and after that first market we had far more orders than we could handle.”
Developing the Business
“About a year later we obtained our business license and started talking to a Chinese NGO about cooperating with them on a project in a small village called Laohegou, in northern Sichuan. Shortly after we registered a WFOE, together with the NGO we started renovating an unused building that sat on the edge of a nature reserve into a small nut butter factory. We hired and trained some local villagers to work with us in the factory and the NGO helped us to work with the local farmers to grow the peanuts in an ecological way.
It has been a very tough road so far and there is still a long way to go, but we are confident and most importantly we are still enjoying what we do. After setting up the factory, the first two years we focused on manufacturing and operations and now we feel confident in that side of the business so this year we are more focused on marketing and sales and bringing out new products.
I told myself that I would just spend a year in China to top-up my Mandarin proficiency before embarking on a career back in the UK. Nine years later - and I am still here! The reasons to stay being so much greater than the ones to return home."
Follow NAKED拿颗酱 and shop their nut butters on WeChat by scanning the QR code below.
Olivia Cotes-James - LUÜNA naturals
Olivia Cotes-James is the founder and CEO of LUÜNA naturals, a social impact period care company. The company now has female-driven teams in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Singapore and London. Their mission? To make periods better; for our bodies, our planet and our sisters in need.
"Our company is supported by three pillars. Firstly, the creation of healthier, more sustainable period products like our line of organic cotton tampons, pads and liners, as well as our 100% medical-grade silicone menstrual cup.
Secondly, we deliver taboo-free educational content to corporates, schools and universities to empower girls and women with knowledge about their bodies.
Lastly, with our social impact business model, every purchase funds the donations of products and education towards lifting vulnerable communities out of period poverty. Period poverty is when girls and women are unable to afford period care or have to use poor quality products for long periods of time. This means those from low income communities miss work and school every month or are exposed to the significant health dangers of unhygienic period care."
Do Your Research
In 2016, when I found out that typical adoption rates for tampons was only 2% in Asian countries, I wanted to ensure more women could find the products that were right for them, unhindered by myths and taboos.
What I came to learn is that for 1 in 4 women I spoke to, they did want to explore other options to pads. So I launched 'tampon workshops,' which were on one hand about busting the taboos around products like tampons, but also evolved into wider discussions around periods. To date, I have held more than 500 of these workshops, which are now given at schools, universities and corporate offices.
I completed a year of research into menstrual stigma and product design before obtaining my business license in Shanghai in 2017. After this was done, I was able to launch into product design and concept testing, using my savings to fund this stage of the launch. After a bumpy ride, I finally closed our seed round at the end of 2019 and was able to bring my products and brand to market.
Having the Shanghai startup ecosystem to support me during this time was invaluable. Whether it was for advice, connections or just other founders to listen to your tough moments, I will always be grateful for the close-knit community here who joined me on this journey. As a founder, there will always be personal lessons you have to learn on your own, but when it comes to navigating the necessary processes of setting up a business in China, don’t waste time – lean on those who have been there for advice and guidance."
Last month LUÜNA naturals donated 7,000 organic cotton pads directly to medical staff across hospitals in Wuhan. For more information and to learn about how you can support, follow LUÜNA on WeChat by scanning the QR code below, and shop their products on Baopals!
Feeling inspired to start your own business? Baopals Business Services is our solution for expats in China who want to create and operate their own businesses, open online stores, obtain visas, and more. Please contact us today for more information!