When Yuliya Mavletbaeva came to Beijing from Tajikistan eight years ago, she arrived with a suitcase, USD 300, and a degree in international business that she didn’t plan on using. During her time here she has pursued her passions for education and community, working mostly in preschools. But since having a child of her own she has reinvented her career and begun teaching a range of classes for moms and their kids under the moniker Family Fun with Yuliya. Not only has this venture allowed her to integrate her work with her private life, it has also finally given her a chance to apply her business knowledge. Agenda sat down with Mavletbaeva to find out about life as a mommy-preneur, and how to build a family-centered company.
Tell us a little bit about yourself I’ve been living in Beijing for eight years, ever since I finished at university. I came with a degree in international business, but I’ve never used it. When I got here I started teaching English, teaching kids, working in preschools, and things like that. Basically everything I’ve been doing in my eight years here has had to do with kids, but I was never “in business.” Then I had my daughter, who is twenty-one months old now. And since then I decided to combine my business skills with being a mom and having all of this other background.
How would you describe your clientele? Do you have Chinese clients as well as foreigners? My clients are mostly English speakers. They are primarily foreigners, but I have some English-speaking Chinese clients as well. I do speak Chinese, but it’s not usually good enough to let me conduct these classes with Chinese families. For example, I teach Kindermusik classes, but they’re not just about music and dancing; they’re also about explaining the benefits of doing these types of activities. And to do that, you really need to be able to communicate effectively. What I’m really trying to do is to create a community and share my experience as a mom with other moms. So working with Chinese families is going to come, but gradually, not right away. Plus, all of my other stuff is in English right now: my blog, my newsletters, and so on.
What is the key to running an international business in Beijing? (Laughs). Oh my goodness! I don’t have it! I started my business because I already knew the market I was getting into, and I think that’s pretty important. I had experi-ence working with kids, working in Chinese schools and in international schools, and working closely with moms, so it all came out of that experience. I knew all about the types of programs already being offered, and I knew which new programs I wanted to bring out. So in the eight years I’ve been here, I’ve gathered a lot of information. Although I hadn’t planned on starting something of my own, everything came into place after I had my daughter. That’s when I started to really understand the parents I was working with. So for me, its never came from a business mentality, but just from wanting to share what I have with other people. But I am beginning to use some of what I learned in university.
What inspired you to start your business initially? I actually visited a career coach, who helped give me the little push I needed to get started. I knew what I was I had always wanted to do, but I hadn’t yet come to the realization that I could do it. So at that point I started pursuing the various certifications I needed, and putting together courses. I started with one program, Kindermusic, and I’ve very gradually been adding more. So now I have Salsa Babies, Salsa Kids, Belly Dancing Babies (belly dancing for moms and their kids), and Baby Massage, and Zumba Fitness. It’s wonderful because unlike working in kindergartens, the parents are involved, and you see the benefit they get from the classes right away. Now I’m adding an online shop and a children’s book library, and I’ve also started a newsletter, and the Beijing Family Fun Forum. It’s just starting so we don’t have many members yet, but it’s growing into a great resource.
Have you encountered any problems or challenges in the process of developing the business? Well, I want to make my classes very affordable. I only charge prices that I would be willing to pay if I were taking a class with my own daughter. So I think the worst thing is the cost of materials, because they all need to be imported from overseas. I need to use quality materials, and because of shipping, and taxes, it ends up being really expensive. The other thing is that I need to take on some assistants, because at the moment I am doing almost everything by myself, including the website!
What factors are you keeping in mind as you expand your business? First, I want to enjoy the classes myself. So I’m not going to do any classes that I think will just make money. If I enjoy it and my daughter enjoys it, then I know it’s a good class. More than that, though, I am trying to build a community. It’s not about having a class and then saying goodbye right after class is over. It’s really about giving parents a place to meet and socialize and support one another.
Would you describe China as a fertile climate for baby-related shops and services? It is. You know, I don’t do detailed, year-by-year research on the market here. I leave that for the big companies. But you don’t need to have that to know that this is a growing industry. We have more and more foreigners in Beijing every year. This inevitably brings a lot of new mothers, and an increasing number who don’t speak Chinese and are looking for something informal they can do. They’re not looking for one of these big, impersonal “gymborees” or something.
What is the most exciting part of your job? Everything! But I’ll give you just one example. I’ve worked in a lot of different jobs here in Beijing. And most of them have made me really tired. But since I started this business, I have been crazy busy, but never tired. I’m finally really enjoying what I’m doing. When you have an eight-to-five kind of job, you can get really worn down. But I love dancing, I love music, I love to meet moms, to talk about kids, and I love doing research and putting together the newsletters—everything! I also really like being in an international cultural environment. I like all of these different styles of dance, and meeting people from all over the world, and I want to be a part of that, and expose kids to that.
You came to China right after leaving university. What made you decide to settle in Beijing in the first place? It’s close to my country. China shares a border with Tajikistan. I had a friend who had been here for a year, and she asked me if I would like to go and I said yes! I didn’t know what I was going to do here, and I didn’t have any experience, but I just took a chance. I started teaching in a special Canadian kindergarten program. My friend actually told me not to go to Beijing, because I wouldn’t find a job, but I found one within a week of coming here.
What is your favorite thing about working in Beijing? Well, it’s a little hard to judge because my entire professional life has been here. I came right after leaving the university. But I can say that it’s changed a lot in the last few years. Things have really opened up. It used to be that there were only a few places that foreigners could really live, but now there are an amazing number of options.
When you’re not working, what do you like to do around town? Any favorite restaurants or bars? Well, now that I have my daughter, I’ve stopped going to bars. There used to be a nice club called Latinos, but it’s gone now. That’s where I originally got my passion for salsa dancing. Now I like to organize girls’ nights out and moms’ nights out, where we can get together and not talk about kids!
Article from Agenda, issue 71, Jan 13- Jan 26. To read more from the most recent issue of Agenda, download the PDF here. To find a copy, contact our distribution department at email@example.com with an idea of where you work, live or play and we’ll tell you where you can find one near you.