Shanghai is a city of entrepreneurship. In our new series, 'Shanghai Entrepreneurs,' we talk to entrepreneurs from different backgrounds and businesses about their motivations, experiences and what they have learned along the way.
A global citizen with an upbringing in Hong Kong, Vancouver and Shanghai, Jen Loong is making a solid entrepreneurial mark on Shanghai. Besides her full-time job as the China branding lead for for-profit lifestyle company TOMS, she also works on her passion for global citizenship and women’s empowerment through her own venture WanderSnap, and spends most of her free time traveling and following her fitness obsession. Named one of the “Top 20 Women to Watch in Asia” by media and marketing agency Campaign Asia, this is one entrepreneur who won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
Elevator pitch: Tell us what you do in less than 50 words.
I head up TOMS China by day; by night I’m building a booking community to connect travelers in Asia with photographers to document their wanderlust, many of whom are under-resourced women whom the WanderSnap team will train and profile. On the side, I am a die-hard fitness fanatic, and [also] advise various startups. I’ve previously worked at Alibaba in the Shanghai and Hangzhou campuses, in addition to launching lululemon in China.
Why did you choose Shanghai?
Even being part Shanghainese, the choice to return wasn’t always that obvious. The biggest motivator was in part guilt actually, where I could leverage [and take advantage of] my Chinese heritage and linguistic [skills], while watching foreign friends strive to learn either or both. As time progressed, it became obvious that Shanghai is in a golden era of change (similar to that of NYC’s glorious 20s, I presume). It’s a privilege to partake in [these] growth moments during special time in the country’s history.
What are the biggest challenges setting up a business here?
Through launching lululemon and TOMs in Shanghai, I had to learn, on-the-go, inevitable lessons in navigating systems of government and bureaucracies, compounded with fluidity with time and integrity. You learn to truly ‘expect the unexpected’ as the cliché goes, and build a flexible team who can adapt as needed. On the contrary, this flexibility attracts an otherwise fast-learning team of talents, with an eager appetite to deliver results like no other.
What was you’re ‘a-ha!’ moment?
I am perpetually a shutterbug in wanderlust. While snapping away at a women’s cooperative in rural Kathmandu in Nepal, I counted my rupees every night as a means to tire myself and to fall asleep (in the absence of electricity in a village where power is cut nightly at 6pm). Then the rude awakening – I’d spend no more than USD4 daily, which afforded me three curry meals, bottled water (to wash hair, drink and shower with), snacks and souvenirs alike. For every pair of stretchy pants I encouraged my team to sell at home, I’d effectively rob 30 kids’ daily access to these basic necessities. Everyone is moved by different sets of values; knowing mine, I vouched to spend the rest of my career championing for those [who don’t have] a lot.
Who is your personal business idol?
As controversial as this may be, I must say Elon Musk. While I too have questions around his demeanor and relationships, he is, in effect, one of the only bright minds of our generation to be leveraging the power of business to solve a systematic problem for humanity at a global scale – Tesla reallocates energy consumption, SpaceX looks to Martian exits for those fortunate enough.
You may not agree with the premise of the theses as a way to alleviate problems in humanity, but at least he is one of the few in Silicon Valley bold enough to take a stance, and wild enough to do something about it for the greater good. Business should be a force for good.
What would you say your biggest success has been?
Watching local talents grow and prosper, on and off their respective roles, has been every bit rewarding. They say the best leaders leave behind a legacy that runs on even in his/her absence. In particular, one of them has even gone on a round-the-world shoot-cycle adventure on her bamboo bike – the idea is to shoot local cultures while on the bike. Talk about living life to the fullest!
Give us three words that you need to make it as an entrepreneur in Shanghai.
Grit, kindness and non-negotiable. Grit, because we all know it won’t be easy starting a venture of any kind, anywhere, but grit will help you sail through all the uncertain risks and various business storms unique to the fast pace changes in China. Kindness, because contrary to dialogues you may overhear down the neighborhood alley, I’ve learned that one of the most respected qualities in businesspeople I admire here is ingenuity and kindness of intentions, even when all the lights turn off. Non-negotiable, because in any fast-changing environment, the ability to make split-second decisions is crucial, and clarity around one’s values is even more critical. My morals are my ‘non-negotiables,’ and under no circumstance would I waver on those.