How Entrepreneurship Becomes an 'Addiction'

Economic development and rising living standards have aggravated the problem of obesity among Chinese people. The number of overweight people in China surged five-fold between 2005 and 2011. According to statistics released by leading medical journal The Lancet in 2016, about 90 million people in China were obese, with 12 million suffering from severe obesity.

Mr. Lin Weihua, a tri-disciplinary Ph.D. and CEIBS Global EMBA alumnus, decided to start up his business in China after having worked in Wall Street for several years. His start-up initiative is engaged in helping users reduce body fat and manage chronic diseases such as diabetes. Chronic diseases are a major theme in both rounds of his start-up experience. Here is his reflection on the pitfalls in his entrepreneurial journey and his thinking regarding the healthcare industry.

“I just could not give up,” Lin says. “It keeps stirring my mind. For many afternoons I just strolled in Central Park in New York, mulling over what I could do and realized what is in me.”

This is Lin’s explanation when asked why, after working in America for more than 10 years, he gave up his life there, returned to China with his family, and set out to start his own business. Seen from the outside, his anxieties were all unjustified. We was highly academically qualified, with a Ph.D. in Mathematics, Finance and Computer Science from the University of Oklahoma; a Wall-Street elite, senior risk analyst and quant at Millennium Management, a world-class hedge fund; and living in relative prosperity.

But in his eyes, his life was not nearly imaginative enough and offered little promise for the years to come. He yearned for a constant flux of new possibilities, which, at first sight, seemed in stark contrast with his image of a timid, scrupulous ‘science geek.’ Nevertheless, he does not regard caution and adventure as mutually exclusive. Everything may involve risk, but what matters is the size of the risk and its probability. With sufficient forecasting and calculation, adventure is not necessarily something dangerous.

“There is a flame in me and I wish to live a burning life,” he says.


From a Wall Street elite to a start-up entrepreneur

In 2005, Lin Weihua completed his Bachelor’s at Xi’an Jiaotong University and went to America to study mathematics. But one year later, he decided to change direction because he felt the career prospects of his predecessors in the field were somewhat bleak.

So, he began to actively participate in various academic conferences and learn about the prospects of various fields, and applied for a tri-disciplinary study in mathematics, finance and computer science in his second year at university. The university president told him that he was the first student to pursue tri-sector study in more than 30 years.

The background for making such a choice is that he wished to enter the finance industry. In the fourth year of his Ph.D. study, he began to take internships at financial institutions and finally entered Morgan Stanley as a full-time senior analyst. He consulted with his tutor and chose to work in the daytime from Monday to Friday and do his research at night and on weekends. Under such heavy pressure, he still managed to obtain his Ph.D. in 2013, two years after joining Morgan Stanley.

After he left Morgan Stanley, he went to New York and joined a financial software as a service (SaaS) start-up company, but his department was soon dissolved. So, he joined Millennium Management, conducting modelling and data analysis for various financial products and derivatives and optimizing portfolios for traders. The portfolio optimization platform to which he was assigned helped Millennium to become the top global hedge fund for two consecutive years.



In 2016, after working with Millennium for three years, Lin got an invitation from an old friend in China to join a big data start-up project in the healthcare industry. At the time, he had a nagging feeling that he had reached a career bottleneck, and so he developed an interest in the new project. He went back to China to meet with the partner, and having confirmed the project’s feasibility, he became the co-founder and CEO of Weijian Technology. He then personally organized a small-sized app development team in China and went back to America, directing team development online while preparing to eventually permanently settle in China.  

The Bianla app was soon launched and in less than half a year its usership exceeded one million people. In the latter half of 2016, Lin went back to China and launched his start-up journey “mixed with gains and pitfalls.”


The “expensive” first start-up experience

Specifically, Lin’s start-up project was to tailor-make fitness plans for users based on analysis of their body data, helping them to lose weight in a healthy manner.

Seen from the macro-economic environment, Lin’s project was well-timed: as the economy has developed and people’s standard of living has risen, obesity has become a growing problem. Between 2005 and 2011 alone, the number of overweight people in China increased four-fold.

Lin’s team managed to address users’ needs precisely and their customer base soared. According to official data, by the end of 2018, their platform had over five million users in 63 countries, making it one of the most influential enterprises in the fitness industry. Starting from weight-loss, the company has since continued to expand its scope of services to cover items such as diabetes management.

“Obesity may lead to chronic symptoms, including diabetes, and it is very necessary to start prevention and monitoring at an early stage,” Lin says.

The company’s goal is to create an intelligent platform for health by providing customized healthcare products and intelligent services. In January 2019, Weijian Technology was granted the top award at the 12th Assembly of Innovation in the Collaboration among Industries, Universities and Research Institutions in China.

Despite its great market potential, the sector is also highly competitive. Many competing products have emerged, plagiarizing the functions and business models of the company.

“Competition in this sector is very intense. Some products disappear after being around for one or two years,” he says. “This project has lasted for four years and this is not easy to come by.”


Apart from external pressure, the enterprise was also disrupted by mistakes that are typical of start-up enterprises.

“Not to exaggerate, we have made mistakes both at the mathematical, the strategic and the execution level. Each time it can cost thousands or even billions of RMB,” Lin explains. “For example, we used to spend millions in advertising, only to find the conversion rate fell far below our expectations. We have also invested in too many erratic product lines, which adversely impacted our customer loyalty.”

According to Lin, there must be incentivizing and exit mechanisms during the start-up phase of partnership businesses. If they are not settled in the very beginning, they could trigger more problems as the company grows larger. Many partners merely think it is necessary to determine the share of equities, but actually there are many more factors to specify, such as the proportions of decision rights. Apart from matters between partners, things such as incentives to senior executives and entry of investors also needs to be stipulated.

In addition, many start-up companies are prone to being overly confident when they are on their fast growth track and launch new products without enough research and proper understanding. These will harm the customer loyalty and their brand perception.

Finally, start-up companies need to specify their mission and values in the early stage because it will determine the way the company operates. Any small changes in the company’s mission statement will lead to huge gaps or even about-turns from the initial aim when they are finally executed.

Since the first round of his start-up experience, Lin has increasingly realized that the lack of willingness to learn on the part of entrepreneurs may well impede the development of their enterprises. Therefore in 2018, he enrolled in the Global EMBA Programme at CEIBS.

“After I came here, I learnt a lot about management and markets,” he says. “In my discussion with my classmates, I have realized that many pitfalls could have been avoided.”

During his studies at CEIBS, he reviewed the first round of his start-up experience and decided to start up again on new terrain, to test his business understanding and sensitivity, but also to apply his learning and thinking.


Second start-up experience: Concentrating on the health industry

This past August, Lin became an entrepreneur for the second time in his life. This time, however, he wanted to be more independent and autonomous.

“Anything done not well is worth redoing properly. I wish to personally participate in everything from strategic management to talent recruitment to product marketing and apply what I have learnt in to practice,” he says. “For example, in the first round of the start-up my company recruited a highly homogenized talent pool whose opinions were very likely to hold sway over those of others. This time, I would pay more attention to the team’s diversity and inclusiveness.”

The first project at his new start-up is a game called “Getting an Egg Every Day”. The game was previously an internally incubated project and had been run for a year, with elderly people being their main customers. Its mechanism is to have them playing a virtual hen-raising game and reward them with real eggs when they reach a certain score. Its aim is to alleviate their psychological and physical hardships.

As to the reason for choosing to do this project, Lin says: “I always create my products based on the needs of those around me. I have elderly parents at home and they are rather lonely. Such games with socializing features can give them a chance for online socialization.”

In addition, the eggs are purchased from poverty-stricken counties in Guizhou Province. At present, the game’s usership has exceeded 6 million people, with the ability to monetize its traffic in the form of advertising and e-commerce of farm produce. The project has a projected annual operating revenue of around 20 million RMB.

Based on the success of “Getting an Egg Every Day”, Lin’s team has come to think about copying and expanding their operation capacity elsewhere, such as creating software aimed at small-to-medium-sized enterprises in the health industry. The team will be positioned as a service provider of healthcare industry solutions.

“The first time we started our business, we engaged ourselves not only in healthcare-related big data, but in e-commerce-based socialization and in healthcare products as well,” Lin says. “Such a variegated model involves too many risks, so we think developing an SaaS system to empower SME start-up entrepreneurs is a good choice.”



Their software has now generated some seed customers. Apart from serving SMEs in the healthcare sector, Lin’s team also hopes to fully utilize their experience to delve deeper into this area to explore energy management and ageing prevention. He believes that the combination of technology with healthcare will be a future trend, especially with the development of distance diagnosis and treatment that has been accelerated by COVID-19. Hence, he hopes that an innovative model of “AI + chronic disease management” could be realized in the future.

Doing three projects simultaneously means huge pressure. Lin admits that he feels nervous sometimes, but he keeps his faith firm.

“Every one of us has invested their own money in the project and gets the lowest salary, because we do not want to let go of our dream,” he says. “We wish to prove to ourselves that we can be who we can be and create social value.”

Lin’s focus is on the strategic management side, including system building and marketing, and he has core members of each project to share his burden. He says: “There is a limit to everyone’s energy. But we can go further by uniting our energy together.”


Starting up a business is like freeing up one’s energy

Lin has two daughters, with his eldest aged six and the younger daughter aged four. When he returned to China to start up his business, his younger daughter was only 100 days old. Lin smiles when he talks about them: “I owe a lot to my family through the start-up phases. They have sacrificed a lot because of me.”

So, are all start-up entrepreneurs egoistical? Lin has posed the question to himself many times. In his view, entrepreneurs are commanded by a faith that they cannot part with and the means to free up their inner energy. In the view of his Global EMBA classmates, he is an unassuming person of humility. But in his own mind, he has a burning flame within, and he plays basketball and other sports. For him, gathering a team with the same dream and forging ahead together is another way of letting the flame burn.

It has been almost ten years since Lin first made his entry into the business world as an intern. He thinks that he has become a completely different person since then. His work experience in America has made him aware that he does not enjoy living in lockstep with routine norms.

“I do not like waiting passively. Rather, I like acting proactively,” he says. “If you don’t design a life of your own, you would be led by the herd.”

After his first start-up, he believes even more fervently that starting businesses is his passion. “It is addictive. Once you have started, it becomes so enticing that you can hardly stop,” he adds.



He says that apart from acquiring new knowledge, his greatest gains in the CEIBS Global EMBA programme have been making a lot of entrepreneurial friends while discovering his leadership potential – something which has given him the courage to start up a business for the second time.

“After rounds of group discussions and comprehensive leadership capability assessment,” he says, “I have realized that I’m capable of leading the team to achieve a goal.”

Regarding his second business start-up, all three projects are still taking shape and the mission of the enterprise is still being clarified. Hence, Lin plans to leave some aspects open for the future. But one thing is certain: he will continue to focus on healthcare, keep his passion going, and lead his team further on the path of trial, error and iteration.