Empowering Women Entrepreneurs with Mengyi Li
#BreaktheBias is the theme for International Women’s Day 2022 (IWD 2022). Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it difficult for women to move ahead. However, knowing that bias exists isn’t enough. Action is needed to level the playing field.
In celebration of IWD 2022, we have interviewed 4 of our Neat women entrepreneurs coming from different industries to talk about the bias that they have faced during their startup journey and how they have overcome the challenges. We will distribute the 4 blogposts in the course of the next few weeks.
Our first interviewee is Mengyi, founder of Meli Business Solutions.
1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? What inspired you to start your own business?
I was born in Beijing, China but migrated to Hungary with my family at a young age.
After graduating with a Master’s degree in architecture from the UK, I moved back to China to pursue career opportunities. It wasn’t too long after I realised I wasn’t that keen on architecture work so I decided to utilise my background as a Chinese with Eastern and Western European cultural knowledge of all the 3 regions and started my first business consultancy firm when I was 23 years old.
I was later approached by the Hungarian government-owned export promotion agency and was offered a job as the Head of China, in charge of promoting export for Hungarian products. I took the offer and was further promoted to Far East sales director one year later, expanding my responsibility to South-East Asia, besides China.
My parents have been self-employed for life, this definitely shaped how I see things. When I was 30, I decided that I didn’t want to work for others anymore and it was time for me to pursue my own dreams. With all the experience and connections that I had made over the years, I re-established a new company helping Europeans in their business transactions Chinese market.
2. What is most exciting about starting your own business?
There’s no particular exciting moment for me, I just don’t want to stop. The time zone between Europe and China is quite different but when I wake up at 2 am, I still find it exciting to work because I’m building something special for myself.
3. What have you learnt from running your own business?
Starting a business is easy but growing and maintaining it is not. When I started my first company at the age of 23, I didn’t have many connections. My partner and I were doing a lot of cold calls, paid ads and it took time and money to see the results. This was also why I decided to take the Hungarian government job offer since they provided the perfect platform to speed up the connection-building process. After working in the government sector for years, I’d built a network of potential clients, partners which made me more prepared for my second company. I even had a long-term client secured before I set up my new consultancy.
On top of having connections, I’d say a little bit of patience is always helpful. When you are running your own company. You need to think a few steps ahead. It’s all about the strategy but you also need to get things done with limited resources, so you are constantly bouncing between micro and macro perspectives.
4. We don’t see as many women entrepreneurs – why do you think this is?
Sadly, the business and entrepreneurial world is still overpowered by men. Women need to make the extra effort to make their partners look beyond their appearance, especially for young female entrepreneurs who need to go the extra mile to gain trust.
I headed up the Hungary-China import department when I was 25. When I visited China the first time as part of the diplomatic delegation, people first thought that I was an interpreter. I had to act more masculine, to be more cautious on my tone of voice and outfit etc. It could be demotivating and intimidating, but from my experience, you just need to have thick skin, and you #breakthebias.
5. What advice would you give to others out there who would like to start their own business?
Just go for it.
Don’t be afraid to fail, worst comes to worst, you can always start over again. When people grow older, they start to think about family. Once you have a family, especially having kids, you can get ‘lazier’. Your focus will shift to your family and you could find it challenging to balance motherhood and business. So just do it when you have the idea.
In case you’ve missed it, check out our other interviews:
- Empowering Women Entrepreneurs with Maria Blanca, co-founder of Womentor and Head of Operations at Carbonbase
- Empowering Women Entrepreneurs with Huguette Ova, co-founder and CMO of GEARXPro Sports
- Empowering Women Entrepreneurs with Laura Saperstein, CEO of BOXXERWORLD
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