From nothing to the dream: the young man’s struggle in the big city

A young man from a rural area in China moved to the dream big city with only a college degree under his belt. He currently earns a living by selling nose pads on Douyin.

It’s 2019, with only one week left until Chinese New Year. Twenty four-year-old Huiqi Shao from Northern rural China sleeps inside a tent on a roof of an old, shattered building in Baishizhou, Shenzhen.

He recently moved to Shenzhen with only 500 yuan (45 pounds) in hand, and none of his family members supported his decision to move to a city that was 2000 kilometers away from his hometown.

“I only had a tin roof above my tent as shelter, with no walls around my humble dwelling. Whenever a storm came (you know that Shenzhen experiences numerous storms each year), I had to tighten up my tent to prevent it from crashing,” he recalls.

In Shao’s mind, no matter how bad the situation was, having a place to settle himself in Shenzhen was an important first step towards victory.

“I previously visited Shenzhen in 2017 and was stunned at the city’s transformation. Everything was new here – the skyscrapers, the clean streets, and the people (full of energy). I thought to myself that this was my dream city, one that was worth fighting for. In fact, Shenzhen was a tier-one city that presented a great number of opportunities and decent salary levels,” he shared.

However, things did not turn out as he expected. Shao only had a college degree, which was the minimum requirement for all available job positions in Shenzhen. In other words, he could hardly find a job that was satisfactory.

Shao got increasingly frustrated as time passed and he continued to struggle in this beautiful but cruel city. Somehow, it was just like London. In Shao’s perspective, Shenzhen house prices were ridiculously high, and its city streets were filled with people who were either in a rush or looked stressed. After some time, the city had somehow devoured him.

Shenzhen is indeed a city of dreams, but those dreams come at a price. Mercer, the world’s largest human resource management consulting firm, recently released the results of its 2020 World Cost of Living Survey – City Rankings. The survey was conducted in 209 cities around the world. It calculated the cost of city living and compared the costs of more than 200 items including housing, transport, food, clothing, household goods, and entertainment.

London ranked 19th in the survey, just behind Shenzhen, which ranked 13th. In other words, it was more expensive to live and survive in Shenzhen than in London.

“I have done numerous and different types of work before I started creating content on Douyin. I’ve been a security guard, a delivery man, a plane designer, and video editor. I was able to rent a house here, but didn’t have the guts to buy my own house,” he said.

Just like other young men in Shenzhen, Shao shared the same sentiment regarding the city’s high cost of living as well as the unusual amount of stress that city workers suffer.

“During this period, I spent a significant amount of time scrolling through Douyin’s pages daily, and attempted to post some details about my life in the platform even though I did not have many viewers. In fact, I never really thought of earning a living from Douyin,” he recalled.

Douyin in China is actually known as Tiktok worldwide. The app has grown and earned its reputation as one of the major social apps in the Chinese market. In fact, it has already gained 10 billion users across the globe.

According to a report published by Bytedance, Douyin had 400 million daily active users in China as of January 2020. In January 2019, Douyin had 250 million daily users, and in July 2020, it had 320 million daily users. These numbers show that 5 out of 10 people in China use Douyin each day.

Numerous companies in China have identified earning opportunities on Douyin and have started creating content on the platform. Shao was introduced to Douyin while he worked as a video editor in a company that exclusively produced content on Douyin.

“Each working day, I edited five to six videos for uploading on Douyin. Those video clips didn’t really require complex video editing skills. Even a newbie video editor could get the job done,” he said with a slightly ironic grin.

“Profits are guaranteed when your advertisement goes viral on Douyin,” Shao stated in excitement. “As far as I know, one successful video can generate a substantial amount of income, at least 10 times of my regular salary as a video editor. Each month, I would create and edit almost 200 videos, but I didn’t receive any share from the profits the company made.”

Why not quit my job and create videos for myself on Douyin? That was the idea that popped in Shao’s mind when he realized how sick and tired he was of only receiving a fixed, handful amount as monthly salary.

The thought of escaping a fixed-salary arrangement was common to the majority of young men who move to Shenzhen with big dreams but struggle to pay next month’s rent.

Although Shao had ideas, he wasn’t certain whether his videos would go viral. He decided to conduct an experiment while he was still employed in the company.

“I had to work three times harder than any of my colleagues in order to have ample time to do my own stuff during the rest of the day. My boss shouldn’t find out about what I was doing. Otherwise, I would be fired,” he shared. “As an experiment, I created an account on Douyin and only published music-related content. My videos were basically short versions of MVs, approximately 10 seconds long with attractive video footage. It was pretty easy to do.” Shao knew that he would succeed, but he didn’t think success would come that soon.

The first four videos Shao posted didn’t have many viewers, but a pleasant surprise came with his fifth video post. “As I recall, I posted the video at 7pm, and I initially thought that I would have less viewers for the fifth video post compared to the other four videos. I just went to sleep that evening without checking,” he said. “In the middle of the night, I was awakened by my phone’s non-stop buzzing. At first, I thought it was some asshole calling me at night, but it turned out to be notifications from Douyin. The number of viewers of my fifth video post was insanely growing,” he shared with his bright eyes widened “My video was going viral!!!”

The number of viewers continued to climb until the number reached 10 million. Shao also reached 100 thousand followers on that account.

“After this experiment, I was confident that I can achieve success on Douyin. I decided to do something for myself,”he shared. “I submitted my letter of resignation and started to search what type of content I could feature on Douyin that can generate profits.”

“I noticed that product reviews were really trending on Douyin at that time,” Shao said. “Basically, a product review features a blogger, or say a host, who sits in front of a camera while unboxing items they purchased, and simultaneously making comments about the products. Is the item good for its intended use and purpose? Is it worth buying? Most products reviewed on Douyin are low-cost items. I saw this as a product category I could work on.”

When Shao identified a specific path he would pursue, he soon prepared for his video-shooting scenes. All his videos were shot in his apartment, a small flat of less than 60 square meters.

Due to the limited space, Shao purchased black nylon cloth and used it as a backdrop that blocked his doorway as he was shooting videos. He covered a simple plastic table with the same black cloth.

“I had to set up the shooting scene each time. Once I finished, I needed to clear the room to use it as my regular living space.”

Traditional sales in China involved sellers searching for products from wholesale markets, buying at low prices and packing the goods for selling. Profits were made from the price gap. In Douyin however, e-commerce has overthrown this old way of selling and profit creation.

“Douyin has products square and that was where I selected different products to review. Companies feature their products on this square and set commissions for bloggers for product promotion. For instance, I can receive 10% of total sales as commission.”

Douyin Products Square is a platform that was independently developed by Douyin. Douyin’s officially self-selected suppliers and small shops that have joined Douyin Products Square present their own products and set commissions for the promotion of their items by bloggers. Douyin users can add these products to their videos for promotion, and subsequently earn commissions from each product sale.

there are thousands of products present to bloggers to advertis on Douyin each states how much commission one order has

The existence of this platform resolves the key problem in individual selling. Sellers no longer need to search for suppliers themselves. They simply need to browse the platform for any type of product they desire to promote. For bloggers like Shao, the platform is a great opportunity to make a living.

Establishing Douyin Product Square was one of Douyin’s exploration activities towards identifying new methods for profit creation. Prior to the product square, bloggers who desired to sell goods on Douyin were required to add a link on their videos to introduce buyers to stores on Taobao. Douyin saw this opportunity and changed their profit creation method that initially relied on advertising.

With the rising popularity and influence of live broadcasts and short videos, e-commerce has become an optimal solution for content platform commercialization. In comparison to traditional e-commerce, the interactive relationship under content e-commerce generates more efficient transformation. Business big data monitoring indicated that in 2020, there were more than 24 million e-commerce-related live shows, with more than 120 billion views. Live product-selling has become a new channel that stimulates consumption.

“I selected nose pads as my product of choice to earn commissions. Nose pads were the tiny items attached to eyeglasses for support on the nose. My first video featuring the nose pads showed my real face to the audience. In this video, I shared that the product went beyond my expectations, and worked really well.”

Shao made 10 thousand proit by selling Nose pad alone

With just one single video post, Shao sold over a hundred orders overnight. “I still remember it was midnight when I checked my phone and clicked on Douyin. I saw that the video had already generated 100 orders,” Shao shared with his hands waving in the air in an attempt to express how exciting that moment was.

“The video eventually raked in 8.5 million views and sold nearly 30,000 units. Sales reached approximately 300,000 Yuan (30,000 pounds). I received 40 percent of total product sales as my commission. In just a few days and with just one video post, I made 120,000 Yuan (12,000 pounds),”Shao said.

This success ignited Shao’s passion to achieve even greater heights on Douyin. Earning from this initial effort allowed Shao to survive in Shenzhen. He also decided that Douyin can be a life-time career.

This is the intention of Douyin for the future. It desires more bloggers to pursue a life-time career through the platform. During the first China New E-Commerce Conference held in Changchun, Jilin, China, President Wenwen Wei of Douyin E-Commerce stated that Douyin E-Commerce will help more bloggers sell goods and support them to reach higher GMVs.

Wenwen Wei pointed out that in the future, Douyin E-Commerce will continue to pursue mainstream e-commerce, help regional businesses to achieve new growth and development on the platform, and contribute even more to regional economic development. “We sincerely hope to work with new farmers from all over the country to make all excellent local goods visible and available through Douyin, and help them achieve success through the new model of interest in e-commerce.”

“Douyin is a fair and just platform that provides ordinary people with extraordinary opportunities. Many highly-educated people are not as effective on Douyin as ordinary people because they are not down-to-earth,” Shao shared.

After attaining success on Douyin, Shao is currently a Douyin lecturer who has taught more than 500 students. He focuses on people who desire to use Douyin to change their lives (but cannot) due to lack of Douyin knowledge.

“Douyin is everyone’s opportunity and I want to share my experiences and help those who are just like me back in the old days,” Shao said.