From Harvard to the Alpaca business – 创新者 | 覃叩:哈佛研究生的羊驼生意 – English

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Tan Kou is studying at Harvard University, majoring in Public Health Administration. Every week, he spends around 40 hours studying and 40 hours on starting his business ‘Yang ni ge tuo’. Tan Kou hopes his company will be China’s first alpaca product import business. He plans to sell alpaca meat, alpaca textiles, alpaca banquets, and even import live alpacas. He previously published articles in the prestigious journal ‘Nature’.

Text: Zhao Ning

Tan Kou is studying at Harvard University, majoring in Public Health Administration. He previously published articles inthe prestigious journal ‘Nature’.

Tan Kou refused an offer from a Silicon Valley Fortune 500 company to enter the business of the ‘mythical beast’, and plans to be the first person to import alpacas into China.

His brand ‘ Yang Ni Ge Tuo’ met its goal on crowdfunding website and was allowed to trade by the US Department of Agriculture. His first shipments of alpaca meat have already made their way across the Pacific to China.

His enterprising spirit didn’t stop here. Kou Tan says he wants to start an entire chain industry raising alpacas – from alpaca meat, to alpaca banquets, to products made from alpaca wool, even the importation of live alpacas.

His team members include successful women from globally renowned investment bank JP Morgan. and young go getters from America’s highest-frequency trading funds.

It is as though as he has a halo glowing over his head, but without this, he is just an enthusiastic and open person who loves sandwiches, adventure, flights of fancy, and making friends around the world.


China30s: What kind of family do you come from? How did your parents train you?

Kou: I come from a normal family, both of my parents are graduates. I could do whatever I wanted. They did not like summer schools for kids. They even called the school to cancel classes. They gave me free space for reading “useless” books, including art, music, geography, culture, politics, economics and so on; and doing “useless” things, such as looking for fossils in the rivers, catching fish in ponds in villages, volunteering, and hiking.

China30s: What kind of person are you? Have you experienced anything interesting in the States?

Kou: I’m a psycho. I have played parachute, but it’s just what shows on the surface. The real adventure is supposed to be the spiritual kind. One time I saw a lot of old men traveling around the States, which made me want to do so. Therefore I ordered the tickets and departed right after two days. There were a lot of exciting stories happening on the way. On the first day of the trip, I met a person who went to jail for smuggling, and I talked to him. On the second day, I met a man who was taking drugs, he was on the way to the drug rehabilitation centre. He was not feeling well, so I took care of him. Then the third day, my iPad was stolen on the bus, but I pretended calling the police and got my iPad back from the thief. Fourth day, I could go nowhere after I got off the bus. I stayed overnight at a young man’s house. After the first four days of the trip, I felt like traveling alone around the States was too dangerous. I met a British man just right on the fifth day, then I traveled along with him for the rest of the journey and I ran into a lot of amazing incidents. This is what an adventurous heart brings me.

China30s: How long have you stayed in the States?

Kou: I came to US seven years ago, I first studied in Georgia College of Medicine, then I went to Cornell College of Medicine to do research on Genetics in order to get a PHD. My essay about cancer genome could be replaced with new genome was posted on Nature. Then I went to Harvard for Master degree of Public Health Management.

China30s: What did Harvard give you? What was the most valuable thing you learned? How much did the name of Harvard help you on your way of entrepreneurship ?

Kou: I feel like it’s a kind of freedom. The professors in Harvard told us, “You are smart, do not just think about working on Wall Street, or work as a consultant in a consulting company. We offer you so many resources is to let you discover what you like, what you do well, to let you do whatever makes you happy, do things meaningful to the whole society, not the safest choice.”

Secondly, Harvard taught me self study. She gave me self inspiration and resources to grope how to finish something. One year ago I knew nothing about alpacas, I just knew that it’s called “GRASS MUD HORSE”. Recently, I bought a book about alpacas which cost me 700 bucks. I studied about alpaca biology, medicine, and its management. I go to the farm as well, to live with alpacas and observe their behavior. These are all studies. I made a crazy idea into reality.

China30s: You studied Genetics and Public Health, how did you think of selling alpacas as food? Do you think it’s a waste?

Kou: Actually, alpaca project was not my first entrepreneurship. I had an entrepreneurship once closer to my majors. My grandma has pancreatic cancer, just like Steve Jobs. But Jobs was rich and used personalized medication. And he lived 8 quality years after that. But my grandma just lived 1 year and passed away.

Harvard was the best on Personalized medication. I was working on things related to personalized medication. My first entrepreneurship plan was also related to this.

I was working with an American company, we wanted to do genome tests for high income Chinese people to help them prevent diseases. But the project failed. Mainly because of two reasons: First, the idea of transgene was popular all over the place, people overreacted when they ever hears the word “Gene”, they could not really accept testing their own genes. On the other hand, Personalized medicine was still a new technology, related policies was not able to catch up. Therefore American FDA delayed this technology. China forbade it right after US. This project eventually failed because of it’s way too advanced.

Last year summer, I was working on genome test in a top 500 company located in the silicon valley. The company was great, I thought I was just an insignificant part of it. Finally I gave up its full time offer and chose to entrepreneur again. I had 8 plans to choose. For instance, there was a project about gene currency, and I’m still attending the project. We want to find a currency, which cannot be infinitely printed like cash, nor stabled values as gold. And there was something else about art, education, religion, and 3 about health medicatio, and of course alpaca project. I discussed these 8 projects with friends over the world and the professors from Harvard Business school. Everyone agreed on the Alpaca project, and there came the name “YANG NI GE TUO”.

China30s: Why did you call it “YANG NI GE TUO”? Who named it?

Kou: I did. We were about to register “GRASS MUD HORSE” which everyone knows. However, commercial bureau did not allow the registration. When we were thinking of other names, I was inspired by one of my friend’s swear. I was thinking to say YANG TUO in the same kind of sentence. And we got “YANG NI GE TUO”. We kept the sarcasm in the name. Our wechat account is also called “YANG NI GE TUO”. I changed my own account into “YANG TUO DA GE”, which means brother of alpaca.

China30s: You were propagating that you want to be the first person who brings alpaca to China. Have you ever done market researching? As I know, there are a lot of stores selling alpacas alive on Taobao. What do you thinking of it?

Kou: Living alpaca is not rare, but we are the first one selling alpacas as food. And we are also the first one focus on the brand of alpacas. We want to concentrate on the alpaca industry chain. For now, We just want to be the No.1. Actually, to sell alpaca is very challenging: for example, alpacas are extremely expensive. No one is braved enough to kill alpacas to compete with us. We have exclusive supplies from US which offers low price getting alpacas. Second of all, we have support from American Laws and USDA food license. This is not something that normal people can easily get. We got food license from China as well just right after the US one. We also hope to give customers security of safety foods. We are planning on build a food tracking system, it can record origin information and make evaluations to suppliers.

China30s: You said that you are the first who bring in alpaca industry chains, but I just saw you guys selling the meat of alpaca.

Tan Kou: What we’re doing now is starting the alpaca industry chain, like Amazon at the start, when they were only selling books online, we’re only offering alpaca meat at the moment. When alpaca meat is going well, we’ll go further to develop the industry. For instance, we’re working with two high-end restaurants in Chengdu and Shenzhen to develop alpaca banquet menus. We’re also working with Boston fashion week and several professors at Harvard to develop a new fashion line. Next, we will consider live alpaca imports.

China30s: Alpacas are so cute, it sounds so cruel to kill them, is alpaca meat eaten frequently overseas?

Tan Kou: In the US, alpaca meat is increasingly common, but it hasn’t yet become the kind of meat that everyone would eat on a daily basis. But in Peru and Chili, people eat alpaca very regularly. Alpaca meat is rich in protein, low in fat, and high in nutrients.

China30s: Is there related research or do you have experience to support this?

Tan Kou: Insurance on fresh meat import is problematic, so we mainly focus on cooked and dried meat at the moment. This happens in cooperation with a Chinese firm, using ‘freeze dry’ technology. This technology allows to preserve the cell structure of the meat, minimise loss of nutrients, and preserve the meat from bacteria.

China30s: You mentioned that you were planning to use the internet and big data to change Chinese agriculture – what’s your vision for this?

Tan Kou: There are three things in particular. First, we want to introduce food safety tracking systems, to ensure we know the origin of the meat, how it was processed, what the farming conditions were like, whether it’s a polluted or preserved environment, whether the alpacas were held indoors or in open fields, etc. Second, alpacas have not yet been genetically sequenced, and this may be a very good research area, we could apply to conduct alpaca gene sequencing. This way, we could better understand the habits of alpacas, as well as gather data on diseases in utero and after birth. Third, and this is more of a long-term vision, China’s agriculture is relatively backwards. Farmers often look what crops made money the previous year, then rush and plant this type of crop, and so the following year, the price of that crop falls. Similar ups and downs are very common in agriculture, giving no security to farmers. We’re hoping to use data to better equip farmers, and help them predict the price of agricultural products. Of course, this is not something I can improve on my own. I have received the best education, and now that I’m going into agriculture, I hope to tell everybody that China’s agricultural sector is very promising, attract more bright young people to farming, and together, change the future of Chinese agriculture.

China30s: Most entrepreneurs but all their heart and souls into the ventures, work on week-ends, and still feel overwhelmed, yet you’re managing to be an entrepreneur and a full-time student? How do you balance work, studies and the rest of your life?

Tan Kou: every week, I spent 40 hours on my studies and 40 hours on my business, but many courses actually double up with my entrepreneurial venture. For instance, we’ve got a class on luxury marketing, and I chose alpaca as a case study to analyse. There was also a course about consumers and public health, and again, I chose alpacas as a research topic. Beside, I also want to do gene sequencing for alpacas, which is highly relevant to my professional background and entrepreneurial project. Although I’m very busy and work very hard, I’m very happy that I’m doing something I love.

China30s: How did you gather the team? How did you find these people? What’s their story?

Tan Kou: When the project just started, the team was entirely made up of friends from overseas or people I’d met during my studies at Harvard, there was a lot of trust among us. Later, many Harvard students heard of our alpaca projects and came to join us, and it’s still working this way today. For instance, when we started, we had no money to pay for a professional designer: on the Harvard main square, there was a Greek girl doing paintings who really alpacas, and she helped us do the design and first drawings pro bono.

China30s: Apart from crowdfunding, what other channels are you exploring to raise funds? What do you need help with?

Tan Kou: at present, we’re rather cautious with our choice of investor, we’re hoping to find investors who are not only willing to put in their money, but also work with us over the long-term. More specifically, I’m looking for backers with particular in high-end hospitality, food safety and food supply chain, or with sufficient resources and interest in importing alpaca meat, to sustain long term collaboration.

Note: personalised medicine, in popular language, means resorting to genetic testing to assess what illness you’re likely to develop, or after learning of a disease, what type of drugs are likely to be most efficient for you.

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Source : China 30s

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