Standing under the stage lights with a confident smile, 18-year-old Zhou Bangwei tried to persuade a full-house audience that the new mobile app he designed would rejuvenate his father’s declining business.
Metersbonwe, a major home-grown fast fashion brand whose profits have shrunk in the past few years as Western brands and e-commerce platforms flooded the market, is now pinning its hopes on the mobile internet. It’s new shopping app allows users to start their own shops where they share “dress collocations” – or how people match clothes to improve their appearance – and get commission from the company if the outfits are picked and purchased by others.
Targeting young consumers born in the 1990s, the app avoids “stiff” business procedures and allows them to “create beauty, share and spread it, and make profits while benefiting others,” said the son of Wenzhou billionaire Zhou Chengjian at the company’s 20th anniversary celebration in Shanghai last week.
Many contemporaries of the junior Zhou, the so-called post-90s generation known for their tech savviness and individuality, are playing a increasingly important role in the transformation of traditional industries by utilising the internet, a strategy that Premier Li Keqiang raised in his work report last month.
Called “internet plus”, the strategy focuses on internet-powered start-ups and how new technology can be applied to traditional sectors as the world’s second biggest economy looks for an effective way to restructure itself.
“I’m combining the resources of a post-60s and the mindset of a post-90s, who has the internet gene flowing in his blood,” said Zhou Chengjian, who was forced to close some 800 stores last year in an effort to restructure the company, once one of the most popular brands among young mainlanders.
“If we don’t know how to use the internet to refresh our experience and knowledge, there will be absolutely colder winter, and if we do, then the spring is approaching,” he said.
Others may not have a billionaire father, but they are also adding renewed vigour to old industries.
Daxiang, a condom manufacturer co-founded by post-90s college classmates Liu Kenan and Zhao Chuan in Beijing just over a year ago, became popular among young internet users overnight and won investment from several venture capital firms for its novel business model.
Unlike other condoms that are typically sold in supermarkets, pharmacies and convenience stores, the company sells its products only online without a bricks-and-mortar distributor.
Its condoms are also designed to improve the sexual experience for women, instead of the industry’s stereotyped focus on men.
“We vowed to ‘overthrow tradition’ because we’re the youngest in this sector and have a better sense of entertainment,” said Zhao, who leads a team of fewer than 30 members who are mostly in their twenties.
Liu Yongjie, a senior student in Guangzhou’s South China University of Technology, has also seen business burgeoning at his Western-style restaurants that were started with online crowd-sourced funding.
He opened his first Bepotato restaurant near the Wushan campus with an investment of 850,000 yuan (HK$1 million) a year ago, of which 350,000 yuan was funded from Liu’s school mates via WeChat, the mainlands’ most popular social media platform.
With two other outlets opened recently and two more being fitted out, each of the restaurants has more than 160 shareholders with an aggregate investment of 1 million yuan, said Liu.
He said what also made the restaurants different was that they allowed students to participate, whether in terms of decoration, participating in offline weekly events or even waiting on tables.
“We serve for college student start-ups. Our shareholders are at the same time our most important customers,” he said, adding that three restaurants now operating have all started to make a profit.
Zhou Meihua, head of Shanghai Yingzhi Investment Consulting that advises young entrepreneurs, believes more students will launch businesses by embracing new technology, thereby changing traditional industries.
“I’m confident that the cultivation of youth’s creativity and entrepreneurship will make a group of outstanding business people in the future,” she said.
Young people today have characters that encourage entrepreneurship, she explained, adding that the growing number of organisations providing support for start-ups would also help.