Liu Nan founded Mia.com in 2011 after becoming frustrated with the lack of quality products on the market available for new mothers. She transformed the company from a small 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.
After quitting her job at Dow Chemical Company and becoming a full-time mother, Liu Nan started Mia.com selling products on Taobao.com, such as diapers, maternity dresses, milk powder and toys for new parents. She noted how most products on the market 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 subsequently shipped back to China. After this, she received requests from hundreds of parents interested in brands overseas, asking Liu Nan to make purchases for them – this eventually became the idea for her business on Taobao.
Her first breakthrough came when she became the first Chinese company to attain a license to sell the Japanese company Kao Corporation’s brand, Merries Baby Diapers. Liu Nan said, “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 her 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 being ZhenFund, Sequoia Capital and Baidu.
Filling the Gap in the Market
With 21 million babies born every year in China after 2010, but no company existed on the market which specialized in baby products for the growing middle-class. Liu Nan capitalized on this opportunity and started a market which many more companies would move into. “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 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.
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.