Hong Kong entrepreneurs decide to make a date in Beijing with startup
The allure of the thriving start-up scene in Beijing has enticed three young people from Hong Kong to quit their high-paying jobs to form a company in the capital.
Max Poon, Francis Sin and Sam Yip - all born in 1988 - used to work in Hong Kong's financial sector but decided to found Beauty Dates last year to tap into the mainland's fast-growing e-commerce market.
The company, launched in October, was one of the earliest to try its hand selling products on WeChat, the popular messaging application that is also quickly evolving into a marketplace and news source. The app has almost 400 million users.
The decision to sell red dates was mainly to test how the market would react to an everyday product on WeChat, instead of the desire "to be the king of red dates", Poon said.
"We weren't too sure what kind of products would sell best on this new mobile platform, and we thought consumer goods like snacks would do well, so we chose this snack which is popular in this part of the country."
After quitting his Hong Kong job, Poon convinced his two friends the business was worth a try, and so they gave up their jobs and came to Beijing in October. Their first product was put on the store within three weeks.
They sold only red dates, a fruit eaten as a sweet snack or added to soups or tea, in the first few months. It has since begun to sell some skincare products.
Tencent, the developer of the messaging app, last month expanded its function to let anyone set up an online store using the app. Before that, only verified vendors could sell items in the online store.
E-commerce is a battleground between Tencent and online titan Alibaba. Allowing major brands to open stores through WeChat is a threat to Alibaba's Tmall, and the inclusion of smaller merchants is a challenge to Alibaba's Taobao marketplace.
A variety of red dates from Xinjiang is available from Beauty Dates. Customers can pay using the app's own payment system.
The start-up had spent less than 100,000 yuan (HK$124,000) since it began and would break even in the near future, Poon said.
Business has slowly picked up as they tried to increase the firm's exposure by working with restaurants and supermarkets which carry advertisements and a QR code which takes customers directly to their online shop.
Poon, who used to be an actuary with a bank in Hong Kong, said he hit on the idea of running the store after a mainland entrepreneur, who ran a food and beverage management solutions company, said the WeChat marketplace might be the next big thing and was willing to invest money in the project.
"E-commerce is advancing at a great pace on the mainland, but it doesn't seem to be catching on in Hong Kong," he said. "Running our own company has let us learn much more than keeping a job."