Former PLA engineer nurses big ambitions with nanny service
Birth of son inspires former army researcher to put IT skills to set up post-natal nanny service
Huang Jian has been a telecommunication engineer for 17 years, first at a military research institute then a multinational company's Beijing office. When his son was born in 2012 it not only changed Huang's family life but set him on course for a new career. Putting his information technology knowhow to use, Huang set up an agency providing post-natal nannies - who typically care for mothers and their newborns for the first month or so after birth. Over the past year, the business created by the 42-year-old entrepreneur and his partners, who are also former IT professionals, has become the number one player in this burgeoning industry in the capital.
What made you give up your career to enter this type of business?
I majored in telecommunications technology at an army college then worked at a military research institute in Beijing for eight years. After leaving the army I joined Nokia Siemens Network, a global mobile broadband service provider, as an engineer and worked my way up to regional manager. But after nine years I felt my career path was becoming limited. So I decided to do something on my own. It was not until 2012 when my son was born that I found my real career direction. As you know, it is a tradition in China to hire a yue sao (confinement nanny) to take care of a new mother and her child (in the past, before the one-child policy, a relative often performed the duty). But when I wanted to hire a yue sao for my wife, this industry was in its infancy and quite primitive. Most companies rely on sales staff to introduce confinement nannies to customers. It's hard to meet customers' needs. I instantly thought there was an opportunity there for someone to do it better.
What was so "primitive" about the industry at the time?
For example, a couple of years ago, people could only find information about such services over the counter at maternity hospitals or at nearby shops. There were only a few websites. You made a phone call and a salesperson would arrange a nanny for you. Customers could not get first-hand information about the nanny until they met her in person. It was just like going to shop but not being able to see the real product until you paid for it. There were no industry standards for confinement nannies' salaries or even what services they must provide.
So what does your company do differently?
At first, we simply set up a website, Ayi800.com , to show more detailed information about each nanny on our books, including their photos, copies of their training certificates, work experience and an introductory video. But we soon found that this was not enough. What was more important was the services we offered. So we established standard operating procedures for contacting customers, sales promotions, customer interviews, explaining the services provided at the home, and after-service feedback. Apart from customer interviews, which must be conducted in person, we made every step more efficient with the help of IT technology and the internet.
Can you give some few examples?
Yes. When the nanny starts working for the customer, we send tips to her mobile phone from time to time, reminding her of what she needs to achieve and what areas she must pay attention to when cooking for mum or bathing the baby. We've also developed a phone application for our nannies. This gives us real-time information on who has jobs on hand or not, or how many days or weeks she has been working with a particular family.
Your team are all men from the IT sector. What attracted you all to this work?
We all worked at IT companies like Sina and Sohu - one even worked at a start-up in Silicon Valley. We all believe that the internet has transformed many industries and thought confinement nanny services would be the next one. Most families experience a birth. It's not like the IT industry where the demand for certain products diminishes as new technology evolves. The confinement nanny service is a big and stable market, where at present only a few are really doing a good enough job. As a male, I did have some awkward moments on the job. On a few occasions I accompanied our nannies to interviews at new mothers' homes. I admit that it's not one of my strengths talking in detail about issues involving babies and mums. I could tell that some of the customers felt a bit uneasy about it as well. So now one of our team members is an experienced nanny who manages all our nannies.
How much it does it cost to hire a confinement nanny in Beijing?
We now have three grades: 7,800 yuan, 8,800 yuan and 9,800 yuan (HK$12,300) a month, depending on the nanny's experience. This is within the industry's average price range. From this we charge a commission. As mainland cities relax the one-child policy from this year, allowing couples to have two children if either partner is a single child, the demand for nannies will rise. In addition, more young people accept the idea of hiring professional help in the first month after the birth instead of relying on their parents.
How is business today, and what are your goals in the long run?
We now seal more than 100 deals a month, more than any of our rivals in Beijing, and have several hundred nannies on contracts. We have already broken even, and are in talks over venture capital as well. My hope is to establish a benchmark operating system for the industry that can apply to cities other than Beijing one day.
What life experience helped you most to start your own business?
The most important thing the army gave me was executive skills. And at the multinational firm, I learned how to plot a clear and feasible path to achieve certain goals. Both have helped me a lot.
Huang Jin spoke to Celine Sun