Founder, chairman, and CEO of Arrail Group, Robert Zou, WG’94, shares takeaways from his experience as an entrepreneur in China and his success in the health care sector.

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Founder, Chairman, and CEO of the Shanghai-based Arrail Group Ltd., Robert Zou, WG’94, received the 2018 Penn Wharton China Entrepreneurship Award at the 3rd annual Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship Beijing Alumni Dinner.

Since opening his first clinic in Beijing in 1999, Zou has grown Arrail into one of China’s largest private dental groups — operating more than 90 dental clinics and five dental hospitals in 16 major Chinese cities.

Robert Zou, WG'94, (right) sat down for a fireside chat with Ying (Marvin) Mao, WG’11.
Robert Zou, WG’94, (right) sat down for a fireside chat with Marvin Mao, WG’11, at Penn Wharton China Center to talk about success as an entrepreneur in China.

Before accepting the award at the Penn Wharton China Center, Zou sat down for a fireside chat with Ying (Marvin) Mao, WG’11, founder of ShareWithU, an online education and social network platform providing services to graduate level students and young professionals in China.

Here are 6 takeaways from his experience as an entrepreneur in China, his success in the health care sector, and his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs:

1. Learn about entrepreneurship — don’t be afraid of it!

Zou said that entrepreneurship wasn’t always on his radar.

“Before attending Wharton, I didn’t know what “starting up” even meant,” he admitted.

“I wasn’t a good student at Wharton, but I read a lot of books about entrepreneurship and listened to a lot of lectures, too. I realized that many successful companies were not state-owned — they were built by people called entrepreneurs… I think that without Wharton, I’d never have thought of beginning a startup.”

Zou also credited much of Arrail’s success to his preliminary market research.

“Before I started Arrail, I worked for a company that wanted to introduce a dental implant program to China, and I thoroughly researched the Chinese dental market,” he said.

“We found that China didn’t lack dental implants — it lacked quality dental services… instead of looking at dental services as an insignificant part of the bigger health care services market, we needed to start viewing dental services as a key point of access.”

But even now, as a CEO, Zou still tries to keep learning whenever he can.

2. Brand your service.

Zou emphasized the importance of building a trustworthy brand in the dental industry.

“If you look deeper into the dental clinic, it’s quite similar to retail business. So location, brand are the most important for any retail business. We want to build a trustworthy brand,” he said.

He and his company have invested a lot of time and effort in creating a corporate culture that ensures patients will receive the same level of care and quality experience no matter which of his clinics they visit.

Arrail’s service philosophy is “Customers are family members.”

3. Don’t forget about the offline experience.

While Zou believes the health care and dental industries can use the power of the internet to leverage brand, business owners need to prioritize the quality of service and in-person experience.

“For health care services or dental services, you have to go offline. No matter how fancy it is online, offline is very, very important,” he said.

This is exactly what he has done at Arrail Dental.

“We’ve spent a lot of resources improving our people skills.”

4. Make sure that entrepreneurship is for you.

Zou also emphasized the difficulties of starting your own company.

His advice: Consider your options carefully and make sure that you are willing to commit to it long-term. If you really want to start up a company, make sure you think twice and don’t rush into it. If you decide to go down that road, be persistent and remember that the journey might not be smooth.

He suggested that if you decide to become an entrepreneur, take some time to really dedicate yourself to your venture.

“No matter what sector you choose, give yourself three to five years. Don’t give up easily,” he said. “With a Wharton degree, you can get a great job anywhere, but if you really want to start a company, you need to persevere.”

Success in business is a family affair. Robert Zou, WG'94, with his wife, a senior executive of a multinational company, and his daughter, who is also an entrepreneur.
Success in business is a family affair. Robert Zou, WG’94, with his wife, the senior executive of a multinational company, and his daughter, who is also an entrepreneur.

5. Know your limits.

Although medical services make up a much larger share of the health care industry, Zou said he chose to focus his company on dental services because he recognized the problems in the medical industry that companies are facing.

“You have to know what you can do, what you cannot do,” he said. “You’re doing this for yourself, not for someone else.”

6. Make sure you have support from your loved ones.

For Zou, having a supportive family environment during his early days of entrepreneurship made all the difference. His wife, who is also a senior executive of a multinational company, supported his venture from the start.

This, he said, was crucial because starting a company can require sacrifices from a couple.

Posted: May 8, 2018

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