China / Post-90s entrepreneurs in China

Cafe doesn't just deal with small potatoes

By XU JINGXI (China Daily) Updated: 2015-04-27 09:33

Editor's Note: A start-up frenzy has gripped China since Premier Li Keqiang encouraged people to innovate and start their own businesses last March. The country's "post-90s generation" of entrepreneurs — a term describing those born in the 1990s — has come of age. They are bold digital natives brought up in the founding era of Internet giants like Tencent and Alibaba, and unafraid of failure. Products of the Internet, and rapid economic growth and globalization, these young entrepreneurs have their own stories to tell.

Cafe doesn't just deal with small potatoes

Liu Yongjie has big plans for his chain of cafes after using crowd funding to turn his dream into a reality. The 22-year-old college student launched his new venture in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, in August 2014, and has since earmarked outlets next to universities in a rapid expansion program.

Ambition and drive have been key to Liu's success. "I want to be the Wang Jianlin of the post-1990 generation," Liu said in a telephone interview, referring to the Chinese real estate tycoon. "You must have big dreams to be successful. You must have something to strive for. Although we are small potatoes now, we believe that we will become big potatoes in the future."

With that sort of bullish approach, it is hardly surprising that Liu has named his chain of cafes BEPOTATO. So far, he has opened three outlets in Guangzhou and is planning to move into Beijing later in the year.

Each outlet is aimed at students, providing them with good food at reasonable prices, close to the campus. Investment has come in the form of crowd funding, much of it from college students.

Liu's team advertised for shareholders on WeChat, a popular messaging app in China. In the space of just two months in 2014, Liu raised half of the startup capital of 1 million yuan from 166 people.

After that, it took him only six months for his idea to take off with the initial cafe making more than 300,000 yuan ($48,000) per month.

The secret behind such rapid growth has been the use of crowd funding. "Many students are adventurous, sociable and eager to prove that they can make a difference," said Liu. "And it's not difficult for them to find a few thousand yuan, from money they have been given as holiday gifts, to become a shareholder."

The student shareholders also know who the cafe's target customers are-themselves. So word of mouth is the most effective form of advertising for the brand.

More importantly, the shareholders identify with the cafe's function as a public space for young people to get together. The outlets have become great meeting points.

From book clubs to smart phone try-out events, BEPOTATO has carved out a niche market and is more than just a cafe.

Liu now hopes to repeat his success by moving into other crowd funding ventures which could transform more traditional industries. This is in line with the central government's policy, which called for the integration of the Internet and traditional industries through online platforms and IT technology.

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