A 19-year-old British girl has amassed a fortune as founder and CEO of Special Name, a website designed to provide Chinese parents with culturally appropriate English names for their babies.
Beau Jessup was inspired to start the business in 2015, when she was still in high school. She has since named a total of 687,000 babies (and counting) and racked up estimated revenues of over £300,000 (around 2.7 million yuan).
A total name changer
Jessup was traveling with her father in China when one of his business associates, a Mrs Wang, asked for help naming her 3-year-old daughter.
"I was honored and surprised," Jessup said. "It seemed like a really important thing to do."
Jessup asked Wang to list a series of characteristics she wanted her daughter to have — and from that Jessup suggested the name Eliza, based on the fictional character Eliza Doolittle, from George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and its musical adaptation My Fair Lady, a quick-witted and strong character unafraid to stand up for herself.
"She was happy with it and took the name suggestion straight away," Jessup said.
"It occurred to me that if Mrs Wang needed this service, then maybe other parents would as well."
Birth of a business
After returning from her holiday, Jessup — who can read, write and speak Chinese after studying it for seven years — carried out some research and realized there wasn't a baby-naming business specifically targeted to the Chinese community.
Her next step was to convince her father to lend her £1,500 (around 13,000 yuan). Jessup used the money to hire a website designer and spent the rest on WeChat advertising.
In her spare time, she set to work filling a database with more than 4,000 names, attributing to each five characteristics she felt best represented that name, such as "honest" and "optimistic".
Jessup said the process was "labor-intensive" initially, but algorithms now take care of the heavy lifting.
The website works by asking users to choose five characteristics from a list of 12 that they would most like their child to embody. An algorithm then selects three gender-specific names matched to those five characteristics.
Users are then encouraged to share the three suggestions with their friends and family — there's a direct link to WeChat on the site — to help them settle on a favorite.
The process takes just three minutes.
"I provide three appropriate names for the parent to choose from and I encourage them to involve their friends and family in this decision," Jessup said.
Initially, Jessup provided the service for free. But after naming 162,000 babies, she introduced a fee of 5.3 yuan (now rising to 29.94 yuan).
As of March 21, the site named 677,929 babies. By CNBC Make It's estimations, that amounts to revenues of £309,557.40 (around ￥2,713,993.06).
She explained that she never expected the business to grow so quickly, but was not surprised by the interest.
"The fact that China is becoming a global economy bridging the West and East, it's a service that's becoming increasingly necessary," she said.
As for the website, it is largely self-sufficient, requiring just a small team in China to manage technical operations.
"I still update the database each month, but the business is fully automated, allowing me to focus full-time on my studies," Jessup said. She is a student of social anthropology at the London School of Economics.
Jessup said she is currently in negotiations with a company who "shares my vision for Special Name" and wishes to purchase the business. She plans to use this experience in future business endeavors.
Chinese netizens' comments
After a video about Beau Jessup and her business was uploaded on Sina Weibo, her story has sparked comment and debate among Chinese netizens.
A Chinese web user commented "Maybe we Chinese can sell Chinese names to British," gaining 300 upvotes.
Some also expressed confusion about why so many Chinese parents were paying for English names.
Source: CNBC, news.com.au
Editor: Zhang Xi
Intern: Zhong Wenxing
Click here for audio and translation of the story
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