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Turning ideas into reality

Elsa Medin identified a market gap in Shanghai and filled it by starting a business that is pairing pet owners with pet sitters.

TEXT: Linn Englund Holm, SwedCham China, Shanghai
13 JUNE, 2019

Shanghai is a city of opportunity and when you meet with entrepreneurs like Elsa Medin, it can inspire anyone to take the leap and pursue a dream. “I identified a need in the market while I was taking a class in entrepreneurship at university and from there on I decided to turn my idea into reality,” she says.

The first time Medin visited China was in 2009 when she travelled to Wuhan to see her cousin for holiday. Her desire to learn Chinese made China an obvious holiday destination for her and after graduating from upper secondary school in Sweden she could finally pack her bags and move to China full time.

Medin relocated to Shanghai seven years ago, and at the age of only 26 she has since managed to complete a Bachelor’s degree, pass the Chinese HSK level-5 exam, work with semiconductor and solar-power top executives, co-found a start-up company, and has not only been granted several awards for her entrepreneurial work, but has also recently sold part of her shares in her company.

1,000

The number of pet sitters Spare Leash had in three cities when Elsa Medin sold part of the shares in the company she had founded.

She sums up her experience from starting a business in China in three words: “Tricky but rewarding.” She adds, “Starting a business in China can be a bit of a hassle, the process isn’t always efficient, but once the company is settled the opportunities are endless. My partner and I had to set up our business with the help of a Chinese lawyer, but if I were to do it again I’d do it myself. It really isn’t hard if you have all the right documents. Overall, it’s a very informative process which all entrepreneurs have to go through but the end reward is so good!”

With a motto of “If I cannot find the path, I will create it,” Medin launched her first business as soon as she graduated: “The motivation behind starting Spare Leash came from an issue I encountered during my stay in China. Being a huge animal advocate and especially a dog lover, I had always wanted to adopt one, but with a busy schedule, I had travelled abroad a lot. Creating a platform to match pet sitters with pet owners was the perfect bridge between the supply and demand for a market gap that was in Shanghai.”

Spare Leash was founded in 2016 when Medin wanted to adopt a street dog in Shanghai.

“I was still a student, and I was going travelling for a month. None of my friends could take care of him, so in the end I didn’t adopt this dog,” she says.

“However, I started to think how we can all help each other looking after pets when we travel, so I had an idea, and spent a few months doing research, writing down my ideas, and created a business plan. While doing my research, I took a class in entrepreneurship at university, and started to look at my ideas from a business perspective. When I came back to Shanghai, I met my previous partner, shared my thoughts about Spare Leash, and from then things started to take off.”

When she first started, she had 15 pet sitters and three clients, which grew to over 170 sitters and 300 customers in less than a year. What was the secret behind her success?

“I was in the last semester of my Bachelor’s degree, majoring in business. My final thesis was about the WeChat business, so I was going to many business events and learning from hands-on entrepreneurs,” says Medin.

“I used my business as a WeChat-based platform to connect pet owners with pet sitters as an alternative to kennels or caged accommodation. I was dedicated to making life easier for pets and pet owners by providing loving and trustworthy pet sitters in Shanghai. We set it up like a dating app, getting pet owners’ agreements and pairing them up with the right sitter.”

Medin and her partner sometimes used a co-working office or worked at a café, where many people with dogs gathered.

“We chatted with them and sometimes they became our clients. Just before I sold part of my shares in the company, we raised over CNY1 million and had more than 1,000 sitters across three cities in China, which is a tremendous growth and something I am very proud of.”

In 2016, the same year the company was founded, Spare Leash was awarded Time Out magazine’s Lifestyle Service of the Year.

If I cannot find the path, I will create it.”

Medin gets her business advice from “a few mentors I talk with from time to time, and of course friends with their own businesses who I can turn to for inspiration.

“One good piece of advice was actually from my old university teacher, who told me, ‘Always put your idea inside the fridge for a while, take it out to look at it, put it in again and then, take it out when you are ready’.

“Also, my brother is a coach in mindfulness and how to manage stress, so he’s the one I call when I need some positivity. When I first moved to China I had intended to stay for a year, yet here I am after seven years,” she says with a laugh.

“I’ve developed a love for Chinese culture and the people. At the moment, I am helping my brother to develop his mindfulness company in Shanghai, and right now we are at a stage in which we are broadening knowledge and awareness of ‘inner peace’ around Asia. I would gladly like to get in touch with companies with similar interest. Who knows … perhaps my next mission is to work for a multinational?” Medin says.

Elsa Medin in brief

Age: 26 years old.
Occupation: Entrepreneur, head of sales for Liberty International and board director of the Swedish Young Professionals. Previously co-founder and CEO of Spare Leash.
Hometown: Gothenburg, Sweden.
Background: Bachelor’s degree in international trade and economics from Donghua University, Shanghai. Enrolled in the four-months start-up programme Chinaccelerator 2018 in Shanghai. Previously worked with business development and sales for global business promotions.
Lives: In Shanghai since 2012 and planning to stay.
Best practices when starting a business: “Understand and learn your clients’ wants and needs. Create something that the market needs and something that will actually help people. Do something you feel passionate about!”