By JOHN GRAHAM & ZHOU LIJUN
NANJING — On Oct. 7, 2014, alumni and careers columnist John Graham and Zhou Lijun went to interview the two of the founders of MyDocumate, Sherry Xu, Head of Marketing (Sherry@MyDocumate.com), and Raymond Huang, the company’s Chief Executive. They started their company several years ago and since then business has been booming. Here is what they had to say about their success story.
What does your company do, exactly?
We help students who want to apply to universities overseas polish their resumes and personal statements. Chinese universities don’t require any kind of personal statement, only test scores; and so, many Chinese students don’t know how to write a good English language personal statement for a university applications. Many of them seek the help of professional agencies, who then write the essays and resumes for them, and even file the applications on their behalf. The problem is that some students let the agencies do all the work for them, which is seen by western universities as fraudulent. We’re different because we polish students’ resumes and personal statements, but don’t do any of the writing for them. In that sense, we’re rather like the writing center at HNC.
How did the idea for MyDocumate come to you?
While I was at Nanjing University, one of my classmates asked me if I could help him find some foreign friends to improve his personal statement. I referred him to Andrew (Andrew Daum is the third founder) for help and afterwards his essay looked much better. After he got accepted, I asked Andrew if we could turn this into a business, since many other Chinese students needed similar help; thus began MyDocumate.
How easy is it to start a business in China?
To register a company in China you have to have an office where your business is physically located. Originally, you also had to have a minimum of 30,000 RMB in seed-capital to register your business. Fortunately for us, the central and provincial governments are eager to encourage new startups. They abolished the 30,000 RMB requirement a while ago, and we also received an office rent-free for three years in an “incubator”, sharing floor space with a dozen other startups. Another advantage of starting a business in China is that regulations are flexibly enforced, especially since we’re a tech-company rather an industrial company, so most safety regulations are not an issue for us.
What help did you get from the HNC?
Our professors and classmates in the center encouraged us to develop our ideas and offered much help. We received legal consultation from Professor Fengchuan in particular, who also introduced us to a lot of useful resources. In addition, many of our classmates contacted friends and acquaintances in other universities so we could expand our client base beyond Nanjing.
How big is your business now?
We have five full-time employees, a dozen or so interns, and 400 consultants at different universities who provide specialist knowledge on different universities and how to apply to them, in addition to advertising our business by word of mouth. Through this network, most of our clients come to us from universities in Shanghai, Xi’an, Beijing, Nanjing, and Guangzhou. We also organize events at various universities about applying to universities overseas; last month, six of these were at universities in Nanjing alone. Last year, our business grew by about 400%, and we’re still expanding.
What is your long term plan?
It’s more of a goal than a plan. I guess you could say our goal is to change the way Chinese students apply to foreign universities. For now most of them use agencies to apply for them. These agencies are well-entrenched in the sector, so it’s been a challenge to carve out our particular niche; but there is growing demand for our services. We don’t think we’ll be the next Alibaba any time soon, but we’re pretty bullish about the future.
What suggestions would you give to current HNC students who want to start their own business?
First of all, any student interested in working at MyDocumate is welcome to join us. As for starting a business, the only piece of advice you need is if you have an idea that you think will be successful, just try it, don’t think too hard about whether it’s worth doing. If your idea is good, simple grit will take you a long way.