Summer Startup where are they now series #10: Chelsea Aitken and Millie Morgan
16 August 2019
Inspired by a study tour to Fudan, Chelsea Aitken and business partner Millie Morgan completed the UCE Summer Startup Programme with their venture New Zealand and Beyond. Since the Programme, Chelsea and Millie have won the Dream Believe Succeed Big Break award and now have their first employee!
New Zealand and Beyond creates a united storefront for New Zealand brands in the Chinese e-commerce market and provides SMEs with a low risk, low cost pathway to Chinese consumers by consolidating e-commerce, logistics and marketing.
We caught up with New Zealand and Beyond’s founders, Chelsea Aitken and Millie Morgan, to hear about their progress, changes, and challenges since taking part in the 2018/19 UCE EY Summer Startup Programme.
What was the inspiration behind New Zealand and Beyond?
Chelsea: The idea was planted in my mind when I read an article about a Chinese girl who moved to Australia and made a lot of money sending Australian products back to China. I found out that lots of Chinese students studying in New Zealand also do this to help fund their studies, and realised that there must be a market for New Zealand products in China.
We went on the (UCE and UC International Relationships Office) Fudan study tour to look for Chinese business opportunities, and this really helped us develop a business idea. While in Shanghai, we learnt a lot about e-commerce, and why many western companies fail in China. This helped us develop the idea for the business, and by the end of the trip, we were both designing the logo for New Zealand and Beyond while sitting in lectures at Fudan University!
Millie, how did you get involved?
Millie: I applied for the Fudan trip because I had fallen in love with China, and met Chelsea on the trip. I was excited by Chelsea’s idea, and wanted to get involved.
Chelsea: I wouldn’t have started a business like New Zealand and Beyond by myself. Millie’s excitement about the concept validated the idea and built up my confidence, so it was great to work together.
How has your business developed since being involved in the programme?
Millie: A month after the end of the Programme, we won the Dream Believe Succeed Big Break award, which was a huge achievement. We definitely wouldn’t have had the confidence to apply for the award if we hadn’t been involved in the Summer Startup Programme. The prize included cash and accountancy, legal, marketing and insurance services which was a huge boost for our business. Winning the prize helped us gain credibility to potential clients and investors, too.
We have continued to tweak our business model, because the Chinese market keeps changing, and we have to keep adapting. We know that often, businesses fail because they don’t want to evolve, and we want to avoid this trap!
We have also taken on our first employee, who is our Chinese E-commerce Manager. She is researching which of the smaller Chinese e-commerce platforms we should list on to generate some brand awareness before moving onto Tmall (Alibaba’s e-commerce site for retail brand-name goods). She speaks mandarin, which makes the research much easier!
Throughout all this growth, what challenges have you faced?
Chelsea: Our main challenge has been getting interested businesses to sign Memorandums of Understanding. It is tricky, because people generally don’t want to sign these until we have more to show for ourselves, but we need to have more businesses on-board before we can start to operate properly! We have realised that because New Zealand and Beyond is so new, we need to convince business to invest in us personally, which is all about creating trust.
We have also faced some difficulties in overcoming people’s biases against us. It has been hard being two young women in a male-dominated industry, and have been told by a few people that we don’t look like we know what we are doing! These comments definitely made us doubt ourselves, but we have learnt to harness our personalities and use this as a strength.
What are some of the challenges and advantages of co-founding a business as opposed to being a sole founder?
Millie: We knew that going into a business with a good friend could be risky, but it has actually worked out really well - we both couldn’t have started the business without each other!
Chelsea: We are both passionate, trust one another and have similar work ethics and views on what we want our business to be. We both play to our own strengths - Chelsea focuses on marketing, supplier relations and HR, whereas Millie is responsible for logistics, legal issues, and can speak Chinese! It is good to have this separation, but at the same time, we often bounce ideas off each other. Lots of potential investors have wanted one of us to be the CEO, but we don’t want this - we both use the title ‘co-founder’.
We have started to make more of an effort to have dedicated ‘friend time’, so when we come into UCE to do some work, we sometimes sit away from our desks for a while, have a coffee, and chat about non-business related things. This should help make sure we maintain a strong friendship as well as a good working relationship.
What’s your plan for New Zealand and Beyond next year?
Millie: We are both finishing our degrees this year, but we decided not to apply for graduate jobs for 2020, and instead go full-time working on New Zealand and Beyond. We are looking to move to Auckland, where many of the brands we work with are based.
We are also hoping to attract more investment and have been in negotiation with a few investors, but we are tactical and cautious at this stage in our venture when considering investment and the direction of New Zealand and Beyond.
What have you discovered about being an entrepreneur since starting your business?
Chelsea: Your business certainly becomes a big part of your lives and identity - you become very invested in its success. I often find myself waking up at night thinking about what needs to be done! People glorify successful start-ups, but it’s hard, unpaid, and risky work. But despite that, I love it - it’s awesome to get so much freedom and variety, especially compared to the types of roles I would otherwise have probably gone into as a graduate.
What would you say to people who are interested in getting involved in the Summer Startup Programme, but might be doubting themselves?
Chelsea: I would encourage anyone to give it a go, even if they have doubts - I certainly did! Even if your venture fails, you will gain so much from the experience - I have learnt so much more from starting a business than I have from my entire university degree.
I really like how, at UC, if you work hard, opportunities will present themselves. It’s a very welcoming culture, so you can get into the entrepreneurship scene without needing to have connections already established.
I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur, but thought it would be something that would have to wait until later in my career. Being involved with UCE and entré showed me that the perfect time to start a business is when you’re a student, because there is so much support around at UC.
To read more about New Zealand and Beyond, check out their website here.
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