November 19, 2011
In 2008, contaminated milk in China hospitalized almost 1,000 babies, sparking fears among Beijing Olympics tourists and importers of Chinese dairy products. With government regulations still developing, many parents are left wondering whether their children’s products are safe. But Shanghai startup MingJian wants to reassure them.
“The nexus of this was basically to bring a Consumer Reports-type service to the Chinese consumer: an expert, independent guide to help consumers identify safe, reliable, and affordable products,” says cofounder James Feldkamp. A longtime reader of Consumer Reports, Feldkamp saw a need for a similar service in China when he was shopping for baby products and home renovation materials for his apartment and his now 21-month-old son. After a year and a half of stealth mode, MingJian.cn launched earlier this year and last week announced US$375,000 in funding led by angels in China and North America.
Focusing now on baby and kids products like strollers and cribs, MingJian conducts independent product testing according to Chinese and international standards. They provide detailed comparisons of products, as well as buying guides. Shoppers can also interact on discussion forums.
As MingJian devotes more energy to marketing, Feldkamp anticipates some difficulties gaining consumer trust. “The biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity is in China you have an extremely jaded consumer,” says Feldkamp, referring to counterfeit products and aggressive salesmanship. “They’re in a market where everyone’s out for themselves.”
To stay independent and show Chinese consumers that MingJian is really working for them, they feature no ads or product sales, and buying guides are free – users only pay to access product comparisons. They are also considering plans to license content to media outlets or retailers who need to choose which products to stock.
Another obstacle for MingJian may be parents sharing information, rather than buying multiple copies of the same product comparisons, so I think it makes sense to pursue additional revenue sources. Still, if ever-thrifty Chinese consumers are going to spend money on anything, MingJian might be it.
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