HEC Graduate Ning Li, founder of Made.com, on Entrepreneurship
Notable HEC Paris graduate, Ning Li, a successful serial entrepreneur and founder of Made.com explores his journey behind becoming a successful entrepreneur and the impact that he hopes to have behind his newest venture, Typology, a Paris-based skincare company.
I was born in China and came to France as a high school student. Being from the south of China, I was surrounded by people starting their own businesses; you can say that was in my blood.
I always dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur. I started with down this path in the Entrepreneurship Specialization in my last year of HEC, which allowed me to I start my first start-up, Myfab, while I was on the campus of HEC. Within two years I had sold that company to Kerring. My second company, Made.com, now employs 650 people and turns half a billion euros in revenue. I’m building my third company, Typology, which is still a fledgling startup. We have 30 employees, so I’m still at the very beginning of the journey. We have just launched to the US Market.
The Learning Curve
I like to think that I’m still at the beginning of the learning curve. Success is a very relative notion. Fourteen years after graduating from HEC, I can say that my path has not come to me straight away. Because of HEC Paris, I was able to have many different experiences. I’ve been lucky to pursue my dreams, but it’s not been as straightforward as it seems on paper. In order for me to find out that entrepreneurship is what I liked, I was able to do different internships, and explore the world of real estate, consulting, and investment banking. It was through a process of trial and error that I discovered that I wanted something more creative, and I started my own company.
The support from HEC has been decisive in many aspects. HEC provided the essential part of my network for my professional career, from mentors and investors, but also cofounders and colleagues. I met the cofounders of two of my companies at HEC.
HEC has always been a part of my entrepreneurial journey. While at HEC, I was lucky to have been part of an internship under the mentorship of digital entrepreneur, Marc Simoncini (the founder of Meetic, Europe’s largest online dating service). Now he’s also my business partner and investor at Made.com and Typology. I started my first company, Stéphane Setbon, and I started my second with my cofounder, Julien Callede, who were both from HEC. Delphine Stey is also from HEC, and is the Chief Digital Officer at Typology.
For me, entrepreneurship means freedom, but also a bit of rebellion. I think entrepreneurship is a way of not just accepting the world as it is presented to you, but a way to shape it in your own way, with your own hard work and vision. There are a lot of things that don’t make sense in this world, the consumer industry in particular is very polluting and creating harmful chemicals. At Typology, we are trying to build a new kind of company that build for better, and shape the world in a different way.
My advice to HEC Students and prospective students? Have fun. Meet great people. At this school you can meet some of the best minds in the country. So really take the opportunity to meet people, build your bonds with those people, because who knows? Later on they can become very important people in your life.
Every start up is an incredible experience. It’s a lot of hard work and an emotional rollercoaster, with a lot of ups and downs. It might seem shiny from the outside, but on the inside it can be a mess. As an entrepreneur particularly, it can be a lonely journey. HEC provided me with guidance in mentors, but also friends, who gave me the energy to go for the last mile.
It’s an incredibly fulfilling journey. I believe that following your purpose is the most important thing you can do in your life. I feel lucky to be able to pursue my dreams as an entrepreneur.