Monday, 8 December 2014

Youth on his Side

Yu Jiawen boldly challenges conventional China
Yu Jiawen is 24 years old and brash. But he can be because he's one of China's youngest internet tycoons.

He created a mobile social networking app called Super Curriculum two years ago which attracted more than 10 million mainland university students.

Last month the Guangdong native sparked an uproar last month when he appeared on CCTV's Voice of Youth where he encouraged his peers to rebel from society's expectations and embrace the internet.

He said the web offered opportunities to those who were brave and creative. But what really got viewers' attention was his boast of thinking of handing out 100 million yuan in bonuses to his staff next year.

Needless to say reaction online was swift. "Why is this little kid so arrogant?" one person wrote on Yu's microblog. "A 100 million yuan bonus for employees? That can only be a lie."

But the young entrepreneur is unrepentant. "I spoke on the show because I wanted to encourage Chinese people my age who do not have rich or powerful parents. I wanted to share my story, to let them know that we too can succeed without a strong family background," he said. "We just have to be creative and brave to catch the trend of the era."

On the show Yu explained he was born into a poor family in Chaozhou, Guandong in 1990. His parents were pork sellers, but he wasn't interested in following them and at 14 set up his first enterprise, an online social platform for local students. Two years later he sold the website for an undisclosed sum.

Then in 2012, while studying in third year software development at the South China Institute of Software Engineering, he launched Super Curriculum.

The app allows students from more than 3,000 universities in China to connect and share information about their courses, notes and other study materials. It was the first of its kind in the country and became an instant hit, drawing 10 million users. The app is now ranked fourth place of free apps in China's Apple Store.

Some venture capitalist firms have invested, including Alibaba Group; he wouldn't say exactly how much, but said it was less than $30 million.

Yu calls himself a "wild child" and demands that his employees be like him and channel their boldness to beat their rivals. He said few companies could do this because their leaders lacked audacity.

While some appreciate his confidence, others are skeptical, wondering if Yu can really be as good as his boasts.

But Yu doesn't regret what he's said. "If I had to do it again, I would repeat my speech without changing a word... Society and adults impose too many shackles on the post-90s generation. We have to have a decent job, an expensive apartment and follow various social rules. We must break free of these shackles. Only then can we be young and fearless, to have more freedom to do what we really want to do.

"The true value of Super Curriculum lies in our [potential] users -- tens of millions of college students across the country. There are millions of freshmen each year, many of whom will use our app," he said. "Our success lies in the fact that my team and I are all young and creative people and we know what kinds of apps and services the young really need. Young people will look for friends and job opportunities, pay loans and spend money through our app."

There are many post-90s young people who talk big like Yu or think they have every right to push their agenda or think they know everything.

But they are not like Yu, who backs up his audacious words with an actual service millions of students enjoy using across the country. He is entitled to say what he wants and adults should be listening to him.

However like every other person though, he too will age and it will be interesting to see how he can continue to make himself relevant in the next 10, 20 years.

Nevertheless, for now he deserves his moment in the spotlight because young people in China need someone like him to look up to and see it's really possible to be successful without guanxi. How refreshing.

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