How An Accidental Entrepreneur Uncovered America's Love For Asian Food
Alex Zhou says that he understands what his customers want, and that their needs resonate with him, because he is one of them.
And now the Chinese boss of America’s biggest Asian online marketplace is at the helm of a business which wants to bring Asian food, culture and lifestyle to the whole of America.
Zhou is the, perhaps unlikely, founder and CEO of Asian marketplace Yami. Not an Ivy League graduate with a global scale-up dream and multi-million-dollar funding, but simply a young man who had moved from China to the U.S. to attend Kansas State University and couldn't find his favourite foods from home.
In fact, he recalls, he had to drive for hours to find Asian groceries and figuring that he could not be the only one inspired him to start the online Asian marketplace Yami.
So how do you go from nostalgia for Asian snacks to an appetite for taking on the ecommerce giants of mainstream America?
Zhou pointedly says he never coined the phrase “start-up” to describe what he began, instead Yami was just a business he created post-graduation.
Zhou had moved to Los Angeles and admits that in creating an ecommerce business to help American-based Asian consumers find familiar products, the fact that LA had a significant Asian population and was the gateway for much of the product arriving from China, Japan and Korea had not occurred to him.
“It’s also about timing,” says Zhou. “Not only was I in the right place but when I began the business in 2013 it coincided with a huge rise in the number of people coming from Asia to study in the U.S. And of course, like me, they missed the familiar food from home.”