Clicks and roses
Updated: 2011-12-02 07:35
By Li Aoxue (China Daily)
Dating website queen rises from the factory floor to a $70 million fortune
When Gong Haiyan was working on a factory production line welding wire connections on motors, she could not have imagined that one day she would have amassed a $70 million (52 million euros) fortune by helping connect millions of potential couples via China's largest dating website.
Jiayuan.com is the most popular dating platform in China and the only Chinese dating platform listed in the United States, was established by Gong in 2003.
The website now has 40 million people registered and Gong is renowned as the country's most famous online matchmaker.
Dating website queen Gong Haiyan's rags-to-riches story is remarkable. Provided to China Daily
Every month her website receives about 15 million hits, about four times more than her competitors, and every day about 7,000 people say they find their boyfriend/girlfriend via the site.
"I have helped people who want to get married by establishing this website. I feel lucky because this is a thing I'd like to do and it is meaningful to society," the 35-year-old CEO says.
Jiayuan.com was listed on the Nasdaq on May 11 this year and as a founder and CEO of the company, Gong holds a 20.27 percent stake, which works out to be $70 million.
And she even found her husband through her own website.
Gong's rags-to-riches story is truly remarkable.
Before working at the factory, Gong was forced to drop out of school because she had to pay for medical expenses after being hit by a car.
The 15-year-old did not want to be a burden on her parents so she opened a gift shop.
"I was quite naive and impulsive to quit school. My parents did not stop me because they were farmers. Gaining knowledge is not that important to them," Gong says.
Gong earned 7,000 yuan that year and bought a motorcycle for her father to start a business driving passengers to her village. Not only did Gong pay back her medical treatment debt, she helped her family break out of the poverty cycle.
She thought of going back to school but was worried her classmates would laugh at her after falling behind.
"People tend to escape from the thing they don't want to face. The more I thought about it the more I felt pain. I had to simply give up this way of thinking," Gong says.
Gong soon left the village and worked on an electric welding assembly line in a factory in Zhuhai, Guangdong province. Before long her writing skills came to the attention of her manager and she was transferred to the factory magazine office, where she worked as an editor. "I liked writing and reading books, and it is a hobby. I've kept it up and still do it now," Gong says.
Gong's talent was obvious from a very early age and at primary school she won first prize in a writing competition.
Apart from taking care of daily business issues in her company, Gong also works as a part-time columnist for leading web portal Sina, and has one of the most popular Internet blogs in China.
Her blog is billed as a "clinic for relationships" and answers questions from netizens.
"In China people are only educated to study hard, but regarding the subject of love and relationships, they are very uneducated.
"What's more, because many Chinese are naturally shy, they easily feel frustrated and confused when encountering problems in their way of looking for love," Gong says.
As a "professional relationship watcher", Gong believes she can observe things more clearly and provide useful suggestions to people who have problems.
"People think I am an expert on these topics, as my website is the largest online matchmaker in China; people just take it for granted that I can answer these questions," Gong laughs.
Gong says her success is the result of a chance meeting with an old high school friend.
A year after Gong had worked at the factory, she met her high school friend who had entered university. It was then that Gong realized her life was so different from her peers and wanted to change.
"We actually did not have too much in common as she went to the university and I was a factory girl," Gong says.
"I thought that if I didn't go back to school, my life would be freeze-framed into this picture forever. I would have needed to choose my husband from my co-workers, such as security guards, chefs and porters, and I was unwilling to do that."
The first exam Gong took after returning to school was terrible. Apart from Chinese, she failed everything else. But the setback made her even more determined and after a year and seven months' of further study she received an offer from Peking University to study Chinese.
She continued her postgraduate studies at Fudan University, in Shanghai where she majored in media management.
In 2003, while she was studying in Shanghai, she turned 27 and decided it was time to start a family.
Gong had suffered several unpleasant experiences on some dating websites, and feeling cheated and angry she joined forces with her brother to set up her own.
She asked her classmates to join and also emailed people from BBS (or online bulletin boards) urging them to sign up to her site. One of these people was her now husband and father of her two-year old baby.
Within months she had thousands of subscribers, and within a few years she had millions.
What Gong treasures most is receiving wedding invitations and thank-you letters from her users.
"I feel touched to see people find their other half from my website, and this is actually pushing me to make this website better," she says.
She says her site creates many new happy stories every day and she delights in telling of a senior couple who recently found love.
Wu Jieqin, an 82-year-old retired professor from China Central Academy of Fine Arts, found a 57-year-old woman in Chengdu, Sichuan province.
Although they live 2,000 km from one another jiayuan.com connected them: the couple decided to get married after knowing each other for less than two weeks.
"While establishing this website, I have made it strict as this is a dating website for people who want to find the other one and get married, if the user does not have this serious attitude, she/he should not my customer," Gong says.
(China Daily 12/02/2011 page21)