German-born Chinese Lisa Shiqi Yu moved to Shanghai in 2016. With a career footprint in marketing and beauty, in 2021 she founded brand incubator GENLAB, through which she invests in and incubates emerging beauty and consumer brands. We sat down with her to find out more.
What brought you to Shanghai?
I was born and raised in Germany, but my parents are both from China. As a result, I’ve always had a close connection to China, and Shanghai in particular. What has brought me here is love of a good adventure and the unknown, as well as the great opportunities here in Shanghai.
What is your career background?
I spent 5 years at L’Oréal – in both Germany and China. As the youngest head of social transformation across the group, I built six digital influencer tools, including an analytic library of 500+ Chinese celebrities and 75,000+ KOLs.
This experience allowed me to really deep dive into digital and social strategies that often determined the business success of a brand. Applying such strategic knowledge and insights, I went on a mission to help foreign beauty brands to enter the China market in 2020.
What I found was that Chinese beauty brands have a lot of expertise in early stages of their growth cycle such as initial market expansion. However, in later stage factors like branding become more crucial – this is where many Chinese brands fail to succeed and thrive globally (e.g. Perfect Diary).
In contrast, Western brands are incredibly skilled at story-based branding. By leveraging deep rooted values that do not change with market expansion, they are able to present a consistent consumer experience across the globe.
So, I always aim to apply a ‘best-of-both’ strategy, leveraging lessons I’ve learned from both Chinese and Western markets/brands. For example, I led the China expansion project for Germany’s biggest cosmetic group, Cosnova GmbH. Within one year, their China business grew at a rapid +216%.
How did GĒNLAB come about?
GENLAB is an extension of my consulting business; it is the investment and incubation arm. During my consulting projects for more established brands entering China, I realized that there was a gap for supporting emerging beauty and consumer brands.
With GĒNLAB, we use mixed methodologies and new business models to customize brand growth and effective road-to-market strategies.
How do you choose who and what to support?
I look for authentic founders who are building brands that exists to serve a meaningful purpose – and not just serve profits to shareholders.
For me personally, purpose defines the ‘why’ – why the brand or organization exists. This is incredibly crucial, because a strong purpose is like a promise or the fuel to constantly strive for something better – be it a better world, a better product for the people around you, or a better way to do something.
Essentially, what we look for can be summarized into: fun, purpose-led and sustainable brands with the ambition to go global.
Which brands have you invested in so far and why?
So far we have invested in ZEYA and Electro X. As I say, we look for authentic founders who are building brands that exists to serve a meaningful purpose.
ZEYA's mission is to create 'better-for-you' drinking options, giving an alternative to beer. I personally don't drink beer and very rarely finish alcoholic drinks in a bar. But when I tried ZEYA for the first time, Ii had 3 at once! I could finish them easily with no feeling of guilt because the hard seltzer is 0 sugar and tastes great.
With Electro X, I was immediately in love because it is has Electrolytes which are minerals that carry an electrical charge when dissolved in water. These minerals – such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium – are distributed throughout your body and are crucial for your health.
Since I moved to Shanghai, I had a crazy time with the local water here. My body could somehow not take this drastic environmental change and I had breakouts whenever I consumed local water.
It was then that a friend of mine, who owns a water production facility, educated me about the importance of minerals in water; it balances your body and moves nutrients into your cells.
For me this was not given with local distilled water; I wanted to invest in a really high quality water brand that promotes the power of balance.
What does ‘Made in China’ mean to you in the 21st Century?
I think there is a significant shift happening right now; there is a transformation from ‘Made in China’ to ‘Created in China.’
It is true that China comes from a very industrial background and that ‘Made in China’ is being perceived as cheap and low quality in some categories. But, from what I see from today’s Chinese entrepreneurs, it makes me strongly believe in a sharp shift towards the better, especially when it comes to brands that stand for innovation and quality.
We can already see this trend in the technology industry with TikTok going global. Just like TikTok has become an important anchor in the global social media landscape in just a very few years, Chinese beauty and consumer products also have the same potential.
Any more projects lined up in the near future?
In today’s fast-moving business environment, my personal purpose is more than just empowering international brands on a one-way stream. With my multi-cultural background, I also want to add value the other way: helping Chinese brands with the ambition to go global.
I recently published a book on Amazon, Chinese Cosmetic Brands Going Global, and got an incredible amount of feedback and shared interest. I truly believe that there is and will be a vast amount of need for expertise.
Hence, I am currently in the launch-process of a China brand accelerator in Europe – aiming to bring Chinese brands global.
For more on GENLAB visit www.genlab.group or scan the QR: