The Switch: Beyond the children of the revolution

Marianne Abib-Pech talks to Ning Li, the founder of made.com

There is no need to introduce the very promising 29-year-old Ning Li, founder of made.com, and no point in retelling how he and other forward-thinking individuals created the company one sunny morning in Notting Hill in 2009 - or how he successfully raised £2.5m in March last year - or how he gained the support of heavy-weight lastminute.com star entrepreneur Brent Hoberman.

Finally, there is no value in noting that made.com is Ning Li’s second very successful venture after the French start-up MyFab.com. Created in 2007, MyFab.com completely transformed domestic furniture-purchasing habits overnight before becoming part of the French retail mammoth PinaultPrintempsRedoute in 2009.

In fact, you must be wondering what it is I want to talk to you about... Well, I want to talk about his unusual journey to entrepreneurship, his inspirational views about cultural roots and – of course – some advice for you.

 

How did you become an entrepreneur?

I think you mean: how did I fall into entrepreneurship? This will sound counterintuitive, but I was taught entrepreneurship.

After my A-levels in France, I joined the entrepreneurship program at l’Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales (HEC), which included one year of real-life experience. Believe me, this was the real acid test for me. I would recommend something similar to anyone who wants to test their commitment to living this type of life.

You learn first-hand from entrepreneurs, seeing them in action through the diverse phases of any venture: creation, fund raising, turnaround, growth, and IPO or liquidation. As an added bonus, you spend the last three months of the program shadowing a successful venture founder. For my internship, I had the privilege of following Marc Simoncini, founder of the first French online dating service, Meetic.com, and subsequently worked for him. In a short time-span, I acquired the basic skillset needed to sail off on my own journey, and a fantastic network of mentors and like-minded individuals.

After working briefly at an investment bank, I re-joined the Meetic team to develop my knowledge further, then started MyFab, sold it to PPR, founded Made.com with Julien Called and Chloe Macintosh – and you know the rest!

 

Why did you choose this path – especially over investment banking?

I could see this question coming. It suited my philosophy of life better: being free, doing what I love, blazing my own trail. There is also a cultural angle to this.

I mentioned earlier that I was ‘taught’ entrepreneurship; I believe I was also predisposed to it through my cultural heritage. My origins are Cantonese. You will find chinatowns around the world, in London, Paris, New York City, San Francisco, truly everywhere. These are mainly founded by people from China’s coastal provinces, instead of northern Chinese. The coastal Chinese population was able to travel easily and was exposed to different cultures.

Many southern Chinese migrated to the United States during the 19th century railway-building boom. They needed to make a living. They did not have a great deal of skills so they started their own businesses. They observed what was most needed – food and laundry – and went for it. This is part of me, I believe.

Entrepreneurship is rooted in necessity: you need to find a way to survive so you have to observe your environment.

I think I am a good observer. I was, and still am, crazy about beautiful furniture and was frustrated by delivery times. I then realised I could not be the only one. Everyone hates long lead times when they buy furniture, and most shoppers are not attached to specific brands. I also noticed a counterintuitive trend: the more you pay, the more you have to wait!

I came up with the concept of high-end, reasonable value products with minimal lead time – and MyFab was created!

 

Any advice for a young wannabe entrepreneur?

That is a tough one! There are so many things that I have discovered and learnt that I could pass on, but I’ll pick two.

Build a strong network. Cultivate your sense of community. I experienced this directly at an early age when I worked for a Chinese bakery during my student years at HEC, as I needed to support myself financially. This gave me first-hand experience of the value of work and the importance of community. After my MyFab adventure I took a year off and travelled to Cuba to get re-energized but also to observe the cultural journey and compare with China. When I came back, I met Brent through my business network. We clicked and decided to start something together.

Multiply your exposure to cultural differences. I spent 10 years in France and was educated there, and also spent also some time in the United States, but I remain truly Chinese. This diverse background helped me to find my ventures and also helps me everyday with problem solving. I believe multicultural people are more open to creation as they are more open to difference.

One last thing: never be afraid to choose a different path. Try, and if you fail, try again!

 

 

He smiled softly, thanked me warmly, and gracefully left the room, onto his next venture. I was left pondering on his advice: observation is key, exposure to different frameworks critical of course, but one thing resonated with me for longer. Entrepreneurship can be taught at an early stage in one’s life.

What if this was a universal truth? What if this would alleviate the myth of the natural entrepreneur, in the same way leadership training and adequate grooming somewhat alleviated the myth of the charismatic leader?

Let’s explore this further next time with some views from the founder of HEC’s Entrepreneurship Program and Ning Li's first mentor Marc Simoncini.

 

 

 

Suggested Topics
News
newsAnother week, another dress controversy on the internet
Life and Style
Scientist have developed a test which predicts whether you'll live for another ten years
health
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
news... and what your reaction to the creatures above says about you
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate / Trainee Sales Executive

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate/Trainee Sales Executive is re...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer - Peterborough - £18,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Graphic Designer...

Ashdown Group: Graduate Developer - Cambridgeshire - £23,000

£22000 - £23000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate Front-End Develo...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn