While I was in London last week, someone asked me what my plans for my business HowLang Group are for the next year or so. I think I surprised the several hundred other entrepreneurs that were in the Barclays-supported Youth Business International Entrepreneur of the Year Competition audience by saying, 'My plan is to slow down.'
With the whole world so focused on how to bring about growth, the fact that the next step for me is to take my foot of the accelerator for a while might seem counterintuitive. It's not about me personally taking some time out. This is about what's best for my business and my customers. My mentor, Sunny Du, from Youth Business China, and I discussed this and concluded that in the rush to continuously grow, entrepreneurs sometimes forget to take time to consolidate their business before focusing on where to go next.
We've been lucky enough to grow rapidly in the four years since we started out and are in a good position now as a medium sized company with a sustainable, successful - and since last week, award-winning - business model. Of course we have ambitions to grow more in the future, but I believe a major part of getting ahead in business is listening to your customers. Every entrepreneur should find a way to source honest feedback from the people using their product. Only then can you develop and improve your offer in a way that meets the customers' needs both effectively and efficiently. Even the smallest tweaks to what you're selling can make a huge difference to your business.
Due to the nature of our business - we design and supply core technology to the education sector in China - there is always scope to develop and improve our offer. The technology we use, like cloud computing, data mining, artificial intelligence and smart phones, is constantly evolving and sometimes it feels like you must be constantly moving just to keep up with the technological enhancements.
As I explained when I was accepting my YBI Entrepreneur of the Year award last week, we must make sure we're capitalising on this in the best possible way to improve the quality of education students receive. But, at the same time, our products need to cater to three different audiences - teachers, pupils and parents. So, it's important we canvass views on our effectiveness from each of these groups to ensure any adjustments we make and new innovations we introduce a catering to their specific needs.
There is also the social responsibility aspect of the business to think about. I don't think start-ups can ever become great businesses if they only focus solely on what's good for their bottom line so part of taking some time is ensuring that we're remembering what we want to achieve socially as well as in terms of business success.
A key benefit of our software is that it evens out the playing field for students from different backgrounds, enabling them all to access the same high-quality education. In China, we have a cultural issue when it comes to learning where students don't want to put up their hands to ask a question for fear of being seen as challenging the teacher. Our products enable them to say anonymously that they don't understand so the teacher can repeat the last stage, helping them get up to speed.
Our ultimate aim is for pupils to be able to learn in the way and at the speed that best suits them - it shouldn't surprise people that every so often we want to objectively assess what we're doing to make sure that vision is still central to what we're doing.