Imitation is the highest form of flattery. From TV series to fast food chains, people come to the United States and borrow business ideas home to make a fortune. So when I came to the States, besides study, I’m also on the hunt of successes that are yet copied and I recently found frozen yogurt might be a viable one.
This low fat creamy dessert is a guilty-free indulgence and a good alternative to ice cream. The self-serve model that allows customers to select from a variety of flavors and toppings has proved successful across the east and west coasts. In fact, in the midst of rising concerns of healthier snacking choices, frozen yogurt has grown to a $2 billion business in the US. However, it looks like the industry needs some consolidation: right outside the place I live, we have Yogi-berry and Yolove and a FroZenYo not too far away and they basically look and taste the same!
Okay, the business school taught me before diving into any business, we need to look at its five forces. So let’s see if frozen yogurt is an attractive industry to enter.
Suppliers: It’s not rocket science to make frozen yogurt machines and its recipe is not a trade secret. So the bargaining power of suppliers is low.
Consumers: Consumers have a strong bargaining power and they are as likely lured away by new flavor choices as cheaper prices.
Competitors: This is a highly competitive industry, with chain stores such as Pinkberry and Red Mango leading the game, followed by hundreds of smaller brands and some 22,000 stores nationwide!
Threat of substitutes: Frozen yogurt is already a niche market and itself is a substitute for ice cream. Hence, the threat of a new substitute is low.
Threat of new entrants: The cost of entry is quick and cheap. According to sources, it can cost less than $10,000 to open a frozen yogurt shop.
Frozen yogurt is definitely an attractive yet competitive industry. Firms are ramping up with artistic interior design, more selections of toppings, and even designer swirls to differentiate themselves from the already crowded marketplace. So think about how to stand out before getting immersed in a sea of fro-yo!
It never occurred to me that the business school is surrounded by hidden art galleries until I joint a UMD Artwalk last week. Curators of Stamp Union Art Gallery gave us a private tour to five galleries around the campus, two of which are within five minute walk from Van Munching Hall!
I was particularly struck by Evan Roth’s Casual Computing at the Kibel Gallery in the School of Architecture Planning and Preservation. The artist uses prints, videos, and photography to visualize people’s digital footprints, and reflects how technology has grown to become an important if not overly important part of our life; and to some people, it is their life and breath.
Level Cleared (Multi-Touch Painting Series)
Figure prints produced by the artist playing “Angry Birds”.
Internet Cache Self Portrait: July 17, 2012
An ongoing study of archived images collected passively through Roth’s everyday internet usage.
I was overwhelmed by this short video that shows how a graffiti artist, who was diagnosed with ALS, a disease that has left him almost completely physically paralyzed… except for his eyes, uses a eye-tracking system to continue his artworks. It reminded me that the other day in the metro, I saw a young lady in wheelchair wearing a pair of spiky heels. It is obvious that ALS has stopped her from walking again but her pursuit of a beautiful life is unstoppable. Then I thought of Nick Vujicic, a young man born without limbs concurred the ocean and snow mountains. Technology enables many miracles, but it’s the power of a strong heart that realizes them.
This summer will be a fruitful and yummy one, because I will be working with Foodem, a fast growing startup and a first mover in online food wholesale!
I got connected with Foodem through The Smith School Venture Internship Program (Smith VIP), a summer internship program intended to match students interested in entrepreneurship with VC- or angel- funded startups and early stage companies.
I chose to work with a startup because I will be wearing many hats and learning many different things. I will get my hands-on knowledge in Foodem’s supply chain management software, write blogs about food distribution, and potentially participate in actual “pitch” meetings! Such cross-disciplinary experience is rare to gain in a mature organization.
New to the food distribution industry I decided to start earlier. There is no better way of getting to know the industry than experiencing it. So from April to May, I will be dining out as much as I could afford to learn the language and speak like a foodie!
The Smith School is a place that nurtures great entrepreneurship. 17 years ago, Kevin Plank graduated from here with a simple idea to create better performing sports T-shirts; now as founder and CEO of one of the most innovative sports brands, he has brought home the 8th Cupid’s Cup, an annual event of business & innovation showcase and competition powered by Dingman Center that has rallied student entrepreneurs around the U.S. and thousands of participants.
I came to the Innovation Showcase to explore some of the most original ideas and products. In addition to the phenomenal nourshmat, a blanket-like garden kit that won Earth Starter, a UMD student startup the $50,000 grand prize, the Showcase offered a balanced mix of both digital and atom-centric goods.
Below are just a few amazing ideas that I came across and found interesting to share.
Pangtanstic creates customized ping pang balls using a specialized drawing robot.
SNOBSWAP provides an online designer consignment marketplace that encourages swapping and bargaining.
Maryland tradition traces back the history of University of Maryland to 1856 and showcases how the school mascots evolve.
Wheel Shields are a patented longboard accessory that end wheel bite, keep skaters dry when skating in wet areas and stand on top of the wheels!
The real educated people are those who can be moved by data.
Born a right-brainer, I could hardly find any affection for data. In fact, with a Journalism major, my math education came to a halt after high school graduation. That’s why when I came back to school, I felt a bit intimidated by literally any courses with some quantitative components.
Last term was a slight nightmare for me. Valuation on Corporate Finance. Managerial Accounting. Marketing Research. I felt I was completely naked outside of my comfort zone. Juggling with these data monsters, I skipped my social, missed my blog, and declined some invitations; I googled, investopedia’ed, spending hours solving a transfer pricing problem, scanning through my lecture notes again and again until the whole pages were neon highlighted.
But I am still not comfortable with them.
To my surprise, ironically, I actually scored all “A”s on these quantitative courses and even got an “A+” (also my first and only “A+”) on Valuation, a course “absolutely beyond my comprehension”, which at the time I was seriously considering quitting after the first day of class.
I would give a large credit to my team, a dream team of financial-savvy, fun, and modest people who actually listened to my comments and spent time getting me up to speed on each project we worked on. I was also having the best group learning experience so far as we actually did our projects over lunch and dinner in two of my teammates’ houses. I got the chance to taste some American homemade vegetarian taco with meat-like fillings and…grits–one of the most delicious American foods I’ve ever eaten–and learnt the term “soul food”.
Stepping outside of your comfort zone is tough. Having a support group can make this experience much pleasant and rewarding. Though I’m still not in love with data, I did have some eureka moments, especially when I saw a significant number of .000 in the regression result.
International Night is one of the Smith School’s annual events that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. With a 40% international population, the Smith MBA is known for its diversity and good balance of study and life. International Night is such an opportunity that brings together domestic and international students to celebrate various forms of life and cultures.
My favorite part of the Night is the international gourmet festival, where our colleagues from more than 16 countries spent a week preparing authentic foods and set up food tables to showcase some of the classic dishes from their home countries.
Rarely could I have a chance to feast on all these international foods in one night, I treated myself with a sip of the freshly blended Peruvian Pisco Sour, a slice of Cioccolato Cassata – Chocolate Italian Cheesecake, and a big bite of the world famous triangular snack – Samosa at the Indian table.
The Chinese food has once again proven unrivaled. Thanks to our social media savvy chefs who have been teasing people’s appetite through facebook, we soon ran out of supply. The Chinese food table won the most popular food table of the night despite fierce competitions from our Asian counterparts.
Of course, this is not about competition, but collaboration. The International Night reminds us despite our skin colors and geographical distance, we as a Smith community, share the same passion for life and happiness; and it’s the common passion bonding us closely together as a global family.
Monte Carlo Night is the buzz phrase of February. It is the annual Smith signature event - an upscale social gathering featuring hors d’oeuvres, open bars, faux-gambling, and dancing, a night of glamour and glow. In fact, this black tie party has been hyped since the very start of the program. The spirit got all time high when girls started talking about dresses, monitoring their calorie intake, and getting or sending a date invite.
Wait a minute! Are you supposed to have a date on an event like this? Is this date a real date? If not, will it lead to a real date? Can girls actually ask guys for a date? What if…? How about…? Then what…? While my American classmates assured me that this was just a date for the night, my own cultural imprint claimed: A date is a date. You don’t date who is not your date…
So I decided to go with a group by…Metro. This is the second thing I learnt about American social night. It is okay to be practically glamorous. Gowns and clutches do not always need a limo. I used to get surprised seeing girls in heavy make-up, high heels and gowns walking in the Metro and now I became one of them. It was fun being fancy and cheesy!
Finally, the games! First time playing on casino tables, I decided tonight is the learning night. Lonely slot machines suck, I wanted to play like a pro. I shuffled from black jack, craps, to roulette, bugging my classmates with thousands of questions, and getting my beginner’s luck!
Monte Carlo Night. Couldn’t have enough of it. I’m planning my attire for next year and googling beginner Poker tips !
“Make mistakes at ambition and not at mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.”
Internship! Internship! Internship!
Coming back from a brief winter break, all first year MBAs have put summer career at the top of their agendas. Needless to say, as an international, I have to act even faster and earlier, so I buried myself in a couple dozens of applications throughout the break but barely got any calls. Months ago, I was dreaming about that one perfect job that aligns my passion with my strengths, now I am facing a crude fact: can I land any job or not?
Confused and a little bit frustrated, I went to an international immersion workshop given by Dan Beaudry last Friday with the hope to get some enlightenment. It turned out to be a combination of old wisdom and new smarts.
The first thing I learnt well explained my poor yields - pinning too much hope on online applications. I could spend hours and hours on my cover letter, but once the “visa sponsorship” box is checked, my application package falls into the filter hole.
Next is all about the vague cliche we have been brainwashed with ever since I came to the U.S. – NETWORKING. No stranger to small talks and social nights, I seriously doubt the possibility of getting an internship through layers of networking. Should I invest my time, energy, and emotion on something seemingly so easy yet so remote? Now I know the answer is I have to.
As an international, I will have to take the tougher and unusual path, and dig underwater. I will need to send the stranger’s email and make the cold-calls, smile a true smile at the rejections, and move on! After all, what worse could it be? So, I’ve set up my SMART goals to reach out to three t0 five strangers this month from companies I have genuine interest in. I will request informational interviews from each of them and see how it goes. Challenge is part of the fun. I will report back to this post hopefully with new discoveries.
I entered the jam-packed big glass box, watching herds of people flowing in and out, and sighed:”why can’t they just ship it to my home?!” I was on a mission to pick up an unlocked iphone 5 for my friend’s friend in China; and as a seasoned online shopper, I was so used to transactions “with a click of the mouse” that I found in-store human interactions somewhat awkward.
Then I felt a pat on the shoulder. I turned around. A women in her 40′s gave me a big smile. She gestured me to come over to a table, opened her notebook, and typed, “Hi! My name is Caroline. I’m glad to be of your assistance at the Apple Store. What can I do for you?”
It suddenly struck me that she couldn’t speak. I typed back, with my fingers trembling a little bit. “Thank you! My name is Yang. I’d like to pick up the iphone 5 I ordered online.” She nodded, beaming, as she scrolled down an application page and pointed to an blank box. “Could you please show me your order confirmation number?” She turned her head to me, and moved her mouth in accordance to the shapes of the words she was typing. “Of course!” I smiled back. I had never felt so engaged in a “conversation” with a store specialist that I knew I had her 100% attention.
In a short while, a freshly-minted iphone 5 was placed in my hands. “Do you need a paper bag? I’m sorry we are running out of smaller ones.” Caroline grinned and shrugged her shoulders. “That’s a good sign. No need for bags. Let’s go green.” We shaked hands, hugged, and she said to me, “It is a great pleasure meeting you. I hope you have a wonderful evening.” No words on screen. No mouth movements. I heard her through eyes.
I rushed all my way out of the Apple Store with a warm stream dripping dowm my cheeks. It was an overwhelming feeling of gratitude. I see businesses hiring people with disabilities for backend jobs, but the first time for client-facing roles. Caroline just offered me an extraordinary customer service experience that I would remember for the rest of my life. She also gave me a chance to listen to her, get to know her, and show her my respect and appreciation. I am sure Caroline has uncovered the most innocent and puriest sides of many people just like she did to me. I was simply a happier person.
True geniuses come in all shapes and forms. Those who attract and retain talents must have heard the unsaid and seen the unseen. A big thumbs-up to Apple.
If you want to know about China, start from its dining tables. We Chinese social around food. We celebrate, reunite, and close deals on dinner tables. So when I got home to spend the start of the new year with my family and friends, my itinerary was filled with dinner parties.
Five months away from home, all I craved was ultra spicy Sichuan cuisine. While Chinese food has gained its momentum in the western world, authentic cuisine is still hard to find. I remember dining with an American friend in a Sichuan restaurant in Virginia and we ordered Sliced Beef and Ox Tongue in Chili Sauce, a famous Sichuan cold dish known for its spice. Although food was modified for local taste, my poor friend still burst into tears at the first bite, while I could hardly get my taste buds waked up.
Finally I was home and ready to put my mouth on fire. Spiced Mutton Kebab. Yin Yang Hotpot. Boiled Blood Curd in Chili Sauce. Stir Fried Spicy Chicken Balls. Hot Beef Stew Noodle…Buried in a sea of chopped red peppers, I started to see our ”national color” from a culinary perspective.
Back home there is no such thing called “Chinese food”. Each of our 56 ethnic groups has its own cuisine and food varies from tastes to looks across eight major culinary regions. We have roughly 400 ways of noodle cooking and some 10 million types of food carried over from street food stalls to royal legacies. Let me give you an example of how Chinese people “see food differently”. My undergraduate university is at most one fifth the size of University of Maryland, but its dining hall is at least five times bigger than Stamp Union, UMD’s primary dining place.
My parents used to tell me that the reason why we have developed such a culinary diversity is that in history when feudal emperors ruled the country, the common people did not have enough resources of food and thus had to create ways to preserve and cook their limited supplies. This explains why some of our best cuisine is made with animal guts, wisdom of the poor making best of the leftovers from the rich and powerful.
I always think Chinese people derive a strong sense of happiness from food. While designer bags and luxury cars certainly make one look more desirable; meal times with family and friends boost one’s inner joy. I also know that no matter how I am Americanized by its culture and business, burgers and sandwiches shall never grow on me.
If you want to know more about how Chinese culinary culture has, to some extent, help shape this nation, below is one of a series of documentary definitely worth watching.
The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 13 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, MS, PhD, and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia. Find out more at http://www.rhsmith.umd.edu