How a Poor Young Man Became an Entrepreneur

Multi-story buildings and a radio tower with trees and light poles in the forground and mountains in the background of Mohe County, Heilongjiang Province, China.

A poor young man from a mountain village in China finds success after starting his own business to help make ends meet while in college. (Image: Jingaiping via Dreamstime)

Many people dream of starting their own business and becoming successful entrepreneurs. But they feel heavy-hearted believing that they will never make it without any financial privilege or joint venture (JV) funding. 

But the following story may prove this belief wrong as it shows the successful journey of a young man who started up a business in college that scaled to have employees in his later semesters just by having a decisive purpose, faith, and determination.

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The humble beginnings of an entrepreneur

When his father sighed and handed over the US$4,533 he had borrowed from all over the world with a trembling hand, it was clear to Jia Nan that after paying US$4,100 for school fees and miscellaneous expenses, he would only have US$433 at his disposal for the semester! 

He also knew that his elderly father had done his best and could not give him any more.

“Dad, don’t worry, your son still has one pair of hands and one pair of legs.” Suppressing his bitterness, he finished comforting his father with a smile and turned toward the winding mountain road.

Every entrepreneur must set out on an uncertain journey

The moment he turned around, tears flowed. Wearing those half-new rubber shoes, he walked the 120 miles of the mountain road and spent US$68 on a bus to the university he had always dreamed of. 

A bus on a rural stretch of road in China with mountains all around.
The bus fare to the university had already taken 15 percent of his remaining money. (Image: Ronnachai Limpakdeesavasd via Dreamstime)

When he arrived at school, after deducting the bus fare and paying the tuition fee, he was left with a miserable US$365. Five months with approximately $300, how should he allocate it to survive the semester? 

As he watched his classmates with smartphones in their hands and Bluetooth headphones in their ears, wearing fashionable brands come and go, smiling and greeting him, he smiled back.

But no one knew that his heart was filled with tears. 

He would only eat two meals a day, each of which cost less than US$2, the maximum he had set as a budget for himself.

The entrepreneurial stage

But even this frugal budget was not enough to make the money last until the end of the school year. 

So after thinking about it, he decided to go to a mobile phone shop and buy an old mobile phone for US$150, which only had a text message function, apart from the ability to make and receive calls. 

The next day he posted a small handwritten advertisement on various bulletin boards throughout the school.

“Do you need a proxy service? If you don’t want the hassle of going out to buy food, waiting around for a worker to arrive to turn on your utilities, or going out to pay your bills, please call and let me know and I will be there for you in the shortest possible time. On-campus agents-services are US$1 each time, off-campus agents-services within 1km are US$2 each time.”

Once the small advertisement was posted, his mobile phone became a busy “hotline.” A senior art teacher was the first to call: “I’m lazy and don’t want to get up in the morning to buy food, so I’m counting on you!”. “Okay! I’ll bring breakfast to your dorm room at 7 every morning.” Jia Nan was excited and had just written down his first order when another student sent a text message: “Can you get me a pair of slippers to 504, size 8?”

Placing an ad on his old mobile phone helped the young man become a successful entrepreneur.
Once the small advertisement was posted, his mobile phone became a busy ‘hotline.’ (Image: Kyrien via Dreamstime)

Every successful business has an ideal customer

Being a smart and resourceful young man, it didn’t take Jia Nan long to notice an interesting phenomenon: There were more and more “snail dwellers” on campus, especially in their junior and senior years. Some of the better-off students were living in their dormitories, reading books, and playing on their computers, and didn’t even want to go downstairs to eat their meals. While he grew up in the mountains, and lucky for him, the uneven mountain roads gave him a pair of “fast feet.” He could walk up to the fifth and sixth floors in the blink of an eye to deliver his services to lazy and awaiting clients.

One afternoon, a classmate called and asked him to pick up a standard US$15 takeaway meal from a fast-food restaurant off-campus. Jia Nan hung up the phone and rushed off like the wind. 

It didn’t take him more than 10 minutes to get there and back. 

Wow, what fast service! The student immediately pulled out US$20 and handed it to him, and in return got US$3 change back. It was agreed in advance that the delivery fee would be US$2 for leaving the school premises. 

Success comes from 20 percent diligence and 80 percent mindset

In business, you have to be trustworthy, no matter how big or small your client is, Jia Nan thought to himself.

Later on, because of this efficiency and honesty, whenever there was a purchase to be made in the dormitory, they always thought of Jia Nan. 

It was a surprise to him that his business was doing so well. Sometimes when he opened his mobile phone after class, it was full of messages requesting delivery services of all kinds. 

Being wholeheartedly devoted to your customers’ needs

One afternoon, as the rain was pouring down, his phone rang without missing a beat. It was a voice message from a girl. As soon as he listened to the message, he rushed out headlong into the rain. 

Woman's hand sticking out from under an umbrella to catch raindrops.
He didn’t hesitate when a girl asked for an umbrella delivery during a rainstorm. (Image: Sasi Ponchaisang via Dreamstime)

Even though he himself was drenched in water by the time he brought the umbrella to the girl, she was so moved that she gave him a warm hug! 

That was the first time he had ever received a hug from a girl! 

He said “thank you” repeatedly and couldn’t stop his tears from flowing.

As his popularity grew, his business got better and better. He became known for always providing the quickest and best service whenever customers needed him.

As if in the blink of an eye, the first term was over while he kept on running. When he returned home for the winter holidays, his father was still worried about his school fees, but Jia Nan took out US$1,000 and put it into his father’s hand: “Dad, although you didn’t give me a rich home, you gave me a pair of legs that are good at running. With these legs, I will be able to ‘run’ through college and make a name for myself!” 

The scaling stage

As the year went by, he stopped struggling alone and recruited a few friends from poor families to act as agents for customers from all over the university and even to people outside of campus.

The scope of the agency also continued to expand, slowly expanding from piecemeal household goods to computer accessories and electronic products. 

By the end of the semester, he had not only purchased a computer and had a large customer base on the Internet, but he had also been chosen by a large shopping mall to be the sole agent on campus. 

Two people sitting at a desk in an office with a laptop computer and a desktop computer, working together on a coding project.
By the end of the semester, he had friends working for him and had purchased a computer. (Image: Wutthichai Luemuang via Dreamstime)

His business was running really well (pun intended)! Running, running, running, running, he ran all the way to success. 

Any success is built on a decisive purpose

When asked about how he did it. He said that in his four years at university, he not only wanted to do well in his studies but also to earn the “first bucket of gold” for his future business. He set the amount of the “first bucket of money” at US$500,000.

Jia Nan, a junior student who came out of the hinterland of the Daxinganling Mountains, ran straight into the provincial teacher-training university. Although he is now the general agent of the campus, he is still himself, still simple, hardworking, and ready to prepare a pot of boiling water for his customers to earn a US$1 service fee.

What would you do in his place? 

Would you be like him, or would you complain about your parents and society?

Translation by Eva

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