By Lei Na
The first time I met Wang Xusong, the founder of Heart Touch, was at a donation ceremony last year, where he was the youngest of three alumni making an investment in CEIBS. Wang graduated from the school’s MBA programme in 2014. His remarks during the ceremony drew understanding smiles and laughter from the crowd, as he compared CEIBS to a mom. I caught up with him several times afterwards as he would return to the Shanghai Campus for the installation and debugging of the Heart Touch smart terminals he donated to the school. He mentioned last August that so far he had taken over 70 flights in 2015. When he returned again last November that number had climbed above 90; counting high-speed train rides and car trips it’s fair to say he spent the last year on the road. “With a new business, you have to get up early, and you need the advantage of being young, especially when it comes to physical strength,” the 30-year-old entrepreneur told me.
The 10 smart terminals on the CEIBS Shanghai Campus from Wang’s Wuhan-based company are now operational, most have been installed near the dorms and have been customised to strengthen functions that students use most such as poster creation, forum registration, and curriculum access. There is also the white board function which allows students to write a message on the touch screen, send it to their phone by scanning the two-dimensional code generated, and then save and share it as they wish.
After three years of consistently hard work, Heart Touch’s smart screens are helping to develop the Smart Campus concept across China – they have now been installed at more than 100 colleges around the country where they are used by more than 1.8 million students. Wang’s initial concept for the business was to create a sort of campus version of Focus Media, which is known for its digital media screens in office buildings across China. But after discussions with CEIBS professors and fellow students during his MBA studies, he realised that in today’s Mobile Internet era, media that is outside the home need smart capability and interactivity to stand out. He gradually realised that his initial plan was not going to be feasible. “In the Mobile Internet era, everybody’s looking at their own cell phone screen while in the lift or the subway. It’s very difficult to draw their attention to ads on another screen. So, we have to attract them with great content,” he said.
Developing a start-up company requires a lot of research and trial and error, and sometimes you have to throw away the ideas you love the most. As Wang was honing his business plan, Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship Gong Yan provided him with a lot of valuable advice. He remembers Prof Gong saying, “New companies are different from established ones in that they are searching for a new business model while the latter already have one.” Wang describes it as, “standing alone in a bleak desert, knowing where the destination is, just not knowing which way to go”. During his ups and downs, he came to understand that “getting back to basics is the best shortcut”.
Though at times he may be confused about which path to follow, he finds his entrepreneurial journey exhilarating. “Didi Da Che once used Big Data to analyse who was working the latest. They found the first to leave work were people in 4A advertising agencies, second was media companies and finally the last to leave were employees at the Big Four accounting firms. I used to work at one of the Big Four, and am now focused on media work with the Internet generation – you can just imagine my working conditions now,” he joked.
Wang and his team focus on the needs of college students. Things like dormitory repairs, student group and campus information services are important to these users. Once they got those basics down they added new functions such as hospital appointments, exam result queries, and WIFI access. The company began to collaborate with strategic partners at the schools where their terminals were installed. For example at one school they created a popular “Say you love” campaign that enabled 523 students to use the terminals to express messages of love over 11 days. They also began collaborating with brands such as Coca Cola and Dangdang.com, creating a book festival with the online book retailer. Some projects have been less successful. They began a partnership with Yunda Logistics on a package delivery service campaign called “The Last Campus Mile”, but they had to abandon it when the costs proved to be too high for the small early-stage start-up to digest. They also abandoned plans to develop e-Business platforms on their terminals after user testing showed that students used the terminals for queries and price comparisons but would not use them for purchases. They view their failures as valuable learning experiences.
“A new project must first fit the main business objective of the company, and then it must have potential,” Wang said, explaining the company’s approach to developing new applications for the terminals. “We’ll do it in a ‘MVP (Most Viable Product) manner, release an idea quickly for testing, track background data, and if the results are good, we’ll upgrade and improve it, and build up our tech barrier by applying for patents. If usage rate is low, we’ll have to give it up.”
China’s recent economic transition has added to the challenges of today’s fast-paced business environment. Though the Internet sector is still growing fast, many established P2P platforms have failed, as have many online-to-offline Apps. “Every start-up that survives is a miracle,” said Wang.
I recently heard him speak again at the launch of the Chinese edition of CEIBS President Professor Pedro Nueno’s new book Emails to a young entrepreneur. As Wang shared his start-up experiences with the audience, I began to realise how much he had grown as an entrepreneur, and that he and his company were now facing a new set of challenges. Now he was thinking about how much taxes his company would have to pay, how many jobs his company can create, how much economic return his company can provide to those working with him and, of course, the company’s core business proposition: how many problems can the company’s products solve for college students. In weaving these threads together, he seems to have found some new approaches to development. For example, he requires companies on Heart Touch’s terminals to price their products lowest for college students and that their campus events include talks by successful business people to help provide students with successful role models. He continues to work on making Heart Touch’s terminals more user friendly; they now have auto-volume control which increases the volume when there are more people and louder noises nearby, and lowers it when the surroundings are quieter.
When we last spoke, he shared some advice Professor Nueno gave during his book launch, “Entrepreneurs must respect others and stay humble.” After many mistakes and false starts, this CEIBS entrepreneur says he no longer expects quick success, nor does he fear failure. “There is no such thing as a failed entrepreneur, only those who give up,” he said, adding that the most important thing is the creation of value – the very essence of business.
Educational Background: Earned a Dual Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting and Financial Business from Monash University, Australia; CEIBS MBA 2014; CPA in Australia; CIA (Certified Internal Auditor)
Professional Experience: Worked at EY, BHP and Wisco (Australia), before founding Heart Touch in September, 2013.
Hobbies: basketball, painting
Motto: Stay hungry, stay foolish
Honours: “Top 10 Young Entrepreneurs of Hubei” Award in January 2015; Eighth “3551 Light Valley Talent Plan” Corporate Innovation Long-term Talent Award