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From consumer products to car sharing

11 December 2017

The article at a glance

Andrew Yi Tan followed a conventional corporate career for two decades, but changed course following his Executive MBA at Cambridge Judge to …

Andrew Yi Tan followed a conventional corporate career for two decades, but changed course following his Executive MBA at Cambridge Judge to head up fast-growing car-sharing startup Gofun, which now has 16,000 cars in 21 cities.

GoFun cars

Andrew Yi Tan
Andrew Yi Tan

After starting his career with consumer products giant Procter & Gamble in the mid-1990s, Andrew Yi Tan followed a fairly traditional executive path for the next two decades: a range of senior marketing and business development roles with other multinationals including Coca-Cola, Phillip Morris, Reckitt Benckiser and Motorola.

That conventional approach changed after he joined the Executive MBA programme at Cambridge Judge Business School in 2013, finishing his studies in 2015.

“The EMBA is a really big story for me – it totally changed my life,” says Andrew, who last year became President and one of the early partners in Chinese car-sharing company Shouqi Zhixing Car-sharing, which operates under the Gofun brand. “I had been in a quite stable situation as a senior management professional for 20 years, but the EMBA in Cambridge gave me the courage to think about startups – as I had never thought about being an entrepreneur.”

While studying in Cambridge, Andrew met many fellow students and others who had the entrepreneurial spirit, and says that it rubbed off on him. So in March 2014 he left the secure world of multinationals to launch a startup firm in Beijing focused on products for senior citizens – and that firm was sold a year later to another company.

“This startup allowed me to think about things differently, more from a broader perspective than a company view,” says Andrew. “I had been so long in corporate management, I needed to learn to do things as an entrepreneur.”

After the firm was sold, he joined Gofun in March 2016, which at the time had about 800 cars and 100 staff – numbers which have since soared to about 1,000 employees and 16,000 cars in 21 cities all over China. Customers register their credit cards and driver’s licenses, and then provide a refundable deposit before hiring cars based on time and distance.

Andrew’s route to the car-sharing world had another Cambridge Judge connection. After finishing his degree, Andrew returned to Cambridge in February 2016 for the annual electives programme open to all EMBA graduates, and was talking to other former EMBA students about mobility trends and investment opportunities. A short time later, a friend of one of those students called Andrew and asked if he’d be interested in joining a fledgling car-sharing service in China – and things moved along from there.

Andrew is still in contact with a few dozen of his former EMBA classmates, and tries to meet up with them when he travels around the world. He also keeps in touch with many Cambridge Judge alumni living in China through the WeChat social network and alumni events in China.

Born near Beijing, Andrew has been invited by companies all over China to tutor or speak on such topics as enterprise brand management, consumer behaviour, and professional sales skills. He has also been a mentor on the Chinese business-reality television shows “Career Come & Go” and “Only You”.

Andrew says that the car-sharing business has some similarities to consumer products, in terms of leveraging marketing channels and general management strategies, but there are also some big differences.

“We’re using mostly electric cars, and with electric cars the infrastructure is very important,” he says. “We need to work closely with the car manufacturers (including Volkswagen Group and Chery, which has a joint venture in China with Jaguar Land Rover) and the charging infrastructure manufacturers to set up the charging points, and to solve the connecting issues.

“Also, the users are very different in different cities, so we need to figure out how many cars to place into the market in each city – thinking about the type of car, the location, the consumer behaviour, and the infrastructure.”

Andrew is interested in hearing from…

…people who have ideas about car sharing and how to improve the customer experience.