This is a guest post by Ville Majanen, the founder and CEO of E-Ville, a large internet store located in China.
Ni Hao from China!
I was 22 years old student in Mikkeli, Finland when the question about an exchange came. Should I do an exchange semester abroad? Why would I go? Where to go? I had heard a lot of stories from other people about all the cool parties, backpacking trips over the school holidays and generally the freedom of being in a foreign country all by yourself.
These were a good start to give it a further thought. I’d probably want to take the chance…
Change of plans, its gonna be China instead of Germany
I had been an ambitious business student. Getting good grades and learning the things in the classrooms was important. I wanted to get all the things out of my school that it had to offer. Then would be time for getting a good job. My initial plan was to go to Germany for exchange. I wanted to learn the language and culture and then get involved in a trading company doing business between Finland and Germany. However, the semesters there started in March and the course selection wasn’t very interesting. My study counselor suggested me to go to Asia for an exchange instead. I didn’t know much about China or Hong Kong, but I knew the economy had been very strong and growing rapidly. I thought maybe there is a little piece of that economic growth for me… I said goodbyes to my friends and family. I told them I’ll be back in 3 years. I would do my exchange, get an internship (to learn how business in China is really done) and hopefully be employed by the same company for a couple more years. Then I would come back to Finland and be a China trade professional with pretty good education and hands on experience to continue on my career.
In Asia I got to learn a lot about how to do business in China. I got to visit many Chinese factories also to learn about making of products.The exchange semester in Hong Kong was full of culture and learning – and the start of my own business
Things went according to my plan and my exchange semester was really awesome at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. There were about 100 foreign students there and we had a very lively dorms to live in. I think we went out every single night. A perfect mix of school, culture, friends and free time. I met friends for life and learned tons of things about Asian and international people and their culture.
During the studying months I bought a webcamera so that I could stay in touch with family and friends back home. It cost 80 HKD (about 8 EUR). It turned out to being really good quality. A kind, that would cost 5 times more in Finland. I went back to the same shop and bought 3 pcs more. I thought I would sell them one way or the other.
The exchange semester went on and I kind of forgot the whole camera purchase. Meanwhile I managed to get an internship place, which I had planned. I got it at a German department store KarstadtQuelle’s sourcing office. It was time to move out of the student dorms…
While moving to the new apartment I found the now dusty webcameras that I had bought. I was a bit annoyed about the whole purchase. What to do with these now? I remembered my brother having sold stuff on Huuto.net (a Finnish version of ebay). I put the cams up for sale there. Within days they got sold for 24 EUR per piece. Wow, I though, this was easy math: clearly a profitable deal! I rushed to go back to that same shop and bough 5 pcs more of them. They got sold and I went to buy 10pcs more. With those extra units I also bought an MP3-player thinking if it doesn’t get sold, I’ll use it myself. On the first month I sold 27 items, the second month 300 products and the third month already over 1000. I had struggle working day time at my internship place and evening times with my online business.
Towards the end of the internship, I send a job application to my internship employer. Just as I had planned 9 months earlier. I didn’t get a job, but I had my camera business. I decided to put up my own company in Hong Kong and launch my own webstore at www.e-ville.com (e-ville = electronics city or e-city). I would give it a shot. I was 23 and I didn’t have anything to loose.
3 years later I had a big business of my own – Did I think about going home?
At the time of 3 years when I was supposed to return back to Finland I was still selling webcameras and no intention of going home. Today, 10 years after my decision to do an exchange semester, I’m still in Hong Kong. I run my own online shop with 20 employees (of whom 2 are now interns) and send about 10 000 webcameras, Chinese branded cell phones, power banks, GoPro-style action cameras and other products per month with a turnover of about 4 million EUR / year. We also offer internship positions in China to students!
Take the shot if you are given an opportunity to go for an exchange
This is my story from an exchange student to entrepreneur. Alone in a big city in a foreign land with no money, much idea or experience of what I was doing. With nothing to loose I jumped into the opportunity that was there. 10 years later I could think what I might have, if I never left Finland. That I’ll never know, but what I know is that I can always go back or go anywhere else in the world too. I have done it once, so I can do it again any time. Maybe I’ll go to Africa next :).
If you are considering to do an exchange or start any other life adventure, my advice is: Jump!
Ville Majanen firstname.lastname@example.org