It’s 7 am, but Li Jun, a 2013 graduate in international economics and trade from Hubei University, is already dressed in a suit and on his way to work. Li looks no different to other graduates, but the 23-year-old is already the CEO of a plant wall (see box) company that makes 2 million yuan in profits a year.
Li set up his company in early 2012 when he was still in college. With ambitions to start his own business, Li had already begun making preparations when he started university. He has been successful because he chose the right start-up direction, built an effective team and obtained an independent technology.
Early bird with lots of ambition
Coming from a family with little fortune, Li never concealed his ultimate career goal - setting up a business and making lots of money.
With this in mind, he looked into different businesses while he was at university.
“I once worked in six part-time jobs after school in exchange for 50,000 yuan. I believed that as long as I kept preparing, I would have a chance to start my own business,” he says.
Despite putting so much effort into part-time jobs, Li didn’t abandon his studies. Instead, he made the most of the economics and trade courses to equip himself with knowledge that is essential for a business manager.
Competitive differentiation, SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analyses, and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs - what seemed incomprehensible to most students became part of Li’s everyday life.
He even regarded Yu Minhong, founder and CEO of New Oriental Education and Technology Group and other well-known entrepreneurs’ biographies as bedtime reading.
Finding the right idea
The success of a business depends on the idea behind it. Li wasn’t sure about what he would do, until he discovered a business opportunity in building plant walls.
That was in his sophomore year when he went to the Shanghai World Expo.
Before that, his business ideas were confined to the university, such as selling bicycles to students. But the expo made him see the bigger picture — 80 percent of the pavilions had vertical planting, which meant that great importance had been attached to this technology.
He also realized that there was little competition in this field.
“I walked around Wuhan without seeing any plant walls. And I asked my friend in Beijing, who told me that there weren’t many plant walls there either. So I believe this is a promising business worth trying,” he says.
Building an effective team and technology
When it comes to setting up a business, selecting the most effective team and having a core technology are the most important things, says Li.
He was surrounded by a group of people who were also interested in setting up a business. So when he mentioned the plant wall project, many of them joined. Li chose several friends he trusted the most to form the core management team.
“I selected my partners based on their ambition, interests and behavior. I considered their personality and strengths carefully before assigning work to them accordingly,” says Li.
As for the technology, since Li and his team members were new to the field of plant walls, they spent half a year learning about them. They read foreign academic papers, learned from Chinese plant wall experts, worked out their own drip irrigation system, and finally found a suitable planting base, glue and plants.
It may sound simple, but grasping the technology required a lot of experience and research. “We finished all these tasks in a relatively short period of time not because they were easy, but because we were fully devoted to them,” Li says. With their devotion, he and his team members transformed their idea into a start-up company that made almost 2 million yuan in profits in the first year.
“As long as we have a great team and good technology, we’ll keep this business going,” says Li. “Our team members from the post-1980s and post-1990s generation are beyond ordinary. Running a business is not only a dream for us, but also good for society,” he says.