Alumni Stories
Liu Nan

From Full-Time Mother to Founding a Billion Dollar Company

Frustrated with the lack of quality products available for new mothers, Liu Nan founded Mia.com in 2011, a Chinese e-commerce platform that specializes in imported maternity, baby and infant products. Since then, she has grown her Taobao shop into an independent company valued at over USD $1 billion. Liu was named by Forbes in the “25 Top Entrepreneurs in China” list.  

Liu Nan is a graduate of CKGSB’s Chuang Chuang Community Program, a start-up incubation program jointly run by CKGSB and tech giants like Baidu, Tencent and JD.com. In this new alumni series, we track down CKGSB’s most influential graduates, many of whom have gone on to lead unicorn companies – privately held companies valued at $1 billion USD or more. According to CB Insights – a global platform which provides authoritative and up-to-date information on the world’s billion-dollar private companies – China has created a total of 217 unicorn companies between 2017 to 2021. Thirty-nine (or 18%) of these companies are run by CKGSB alumni, including 35 companies where CKGSB alumni are founders or co-founders, and 4 companies where they serve as the chairman, CEO or president.

As China’s leading business school, it’s not surprising that CKGSB has been able to produce so many business leaders playing a pivotal role in China’s economic development. More than 18,000 successful entrepreneurs, industry leaders and executives of multinational corporations have chosen to study at CKGSB for the original China insights, world-class faculty and peer-to-peer learning with China’s movers-and-shakers. More than half of CKGSB’s alumni are at the CEO or Chairman level and, collectively, lead one-fifth of China’s most valuable brands.

Liu Nan’s Start-up Experience

After quitting her job at Dow Chemical Company and becoming a full-time mother, in 2011 Liu Nan started Mia.com selling products on Taobao.com (Alibaba’s C2C e-commerce platform) such as diapers, maternity dresses, milk powder and toys for new and prospective parents. She started to become frustrated at the lack of good quality products on the market, noting how most products were either unsafe or unpractical. Talking to mothers around her, this was a concern they shared with her.

To solve this problem she did online research, eventually finding better quality products on retail platforms outside China such as Zulily, Vente-Privee and Gilt, which she shipped back to China. After this she was getting requests from hundreds of parents both around her and online to make purchases for them. This eventually became the idea for her business on Taobao. Her first breakthrough was being the first company in China to attain the license to sell the Japanese company Kao Corporation’s Merries Baby Diapers. She explained how “at the beginning, it was just for fun, I did not expect the sales figures to explode.”

Within a year of setting up her business, Liu Nan had reached sales of RMB 60,000 (USD $9,174), and after two years, this had risen to RMB 13 million (USD$2 million). This success led Liu Nan to develop her own website and e-commerce app in 2013. Since then, Mia.com has had five rounds of financing, raising USD $231.6 million in total, with key investors including ZhenFund, Sequoia Capital and Baidu.

Despite the massive success, Liu Nan considered selling Mia.com in 2013. But her mentor Xu Xiaoping persuaded her not to and furthermore proposed investing in her business. This led to a Series A financing from Zhenfund and Xianfeng Huaxing. By 2014, Mia.com had started to expand rapidly with 100 million app users.

Liu Nan Filling the Gap in the Market

There were 21 million babies being born every year in China at the start off the last decade, however there was no company on the market that specialized in serving the growing middle-class parents’ demand. Liu Nan capitalized on this which paved the way for many more companies to move into that market.

“I’d say I was lucky enough to tap into the imported baby products sector before it became a big thing in China’s e-commerce world.” Liu said.

The demand in this market has increased further after 2015 when China relaxed its family planning policy. Mia.com remains the market leader in baby products, despite competition from the giants in e-commerce such as JD.com and Alibaba Group.

Mia.com has been successful in operating its model of limited time daily offers. It also has an effective production model, sourcing its products abroad either from the brands themselves, intermediaries, or the original production plants.

Mia.com promoted its brand by launching partnerships with various institutions and companies. It has partnered with AMCARE Corporation, a leading chain of private hospitals for women and children; RYB Education Institution, which runs kindergartens; and has also partnered with 40 theme parks owned by Yuyuto Shanghai Entertainment Facilities Cl Ltd. Since September 2020, Mia.com has used TikTok’s live streaming platform to display its products, which has generated more than 100 million RMB in sales.

Liu Nan was motivated by improving the quality of the products on the Chinese market and the belief that borders should not restrict the quality of products available to parents. Liu Nan’s success also reflects a wider trend of an increasing number of women leading online retail start-ups in China. According to data from Taobao in 2015 in its ‘Women Entrepreneurs Report’, 50.1% of the platform’s online shops were founded by women.

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