The Last Supper
It was Lilian’s farewell dinner before she left Wharton. Instead of ordering desserts, she brought everyone a bowl of tremella(snow fungus) jujube soup that she spent the whole afternoon preparing. The tremella fungus was soaked in water overnight and boiled for hours before she added goji berries and jujubes. The final touch was some crystal sugar, the sweetness of which worked wonders with the soft and wobbly tremella. Two days later, Lilian boarded her departure flight to China. There she would no longer be a Wharton MBA candidate but rather the founder of an online food company selling tons of tremella jujube soup.
The Making of An Entrepreneur
Growing up, Lilian Li had always been a foodie. After studying finance in college, she worked at PWC for a year and then moved to Hershey’s Chocolate, (“The unlimited access to sweets was the main reason.” She joked) Since she wanted to explore more opportunities and consolidate her skills in general management, Lilian applied for an MBA and got into her dream school, Wharton, in 2014.
Due to family issues, Lilian deferred a year and went to do a pre-MBA internship at IDG, a venture capital firm in China. Inspired by the entrepreneurs she met during her time there, Lilian felt she could use her gap year to do something that she always wanted to do– start her own business. Leveraging her previous experience, she first chose to do healthy meal plans, widely popular in the U.S. but relatively new in China. Her team designed and launched customized meal plans that consisted of ten dishes a day. However, the market did not respond well. Healthy meal plans were too early for Chinese consumers. However, one item did gain wide popularity during the trial period – tremella jujube soup.
The dessert is low calorie, has a great taste and is very filling. It immediately wins over customers that are health-conscious and like to indulge themselves with a sugary treat. Realizing there was a big potential, Lilian decided to focus on the healthy dessert and developed a whole series to enrich her product line.
This March, Lilian started a marketing campaign for the new product line under the name of “Cong Qian Man”, which connotes a balanced and nostalgic lifestyle. By May, she got an angel investment of $0.5 million. Now, the brand has ten thousand followers on its social platform and a daily revenue of one thousand dollars.
The Big Dilemma
As August drew near, Lilian found herself torn between business school and her startup: preterm was about to start, she had to pack her bags for Wharton but her business was more demanding than ever. “I was very lucky that my partners were very supportive and they felt Wharton was a great opportunity.” She explained, “I thought I could coordinate via Skype and conference calls.”
It turned out that she could not: one important founding member decided to leave soon after she settled down in the states and managing daily business operations from afar was far more challenging than she imagined. Her company was about to raise $3 million dollars to fund its future expansion in the coming two months and her presence was necessary.
”I actually learned a lot during preterm. Now I am in the managing role, the concepts of MGMT610 really speak to me. I met so many brilliant talents and got inspired by their amazing stories…. but now I have twelve employees who are counting on me. I am the one to hand them their paychecks.”
The Final Decision
It took little time for Lilian to make the decision to drop out of Wharton and attend to her business. Before she left, she held a farewell party to let her friends at Philly have a taste of her cozy dessert. When making her farewell toast, Lilian cried and said she was sad that she had to leave. “However,” she added, “I will not regret my decisions. This is for my team and my employees.”