WHEN Huang Bing graduated from university in 2005, he promised himself he would make his first 1m yuan (about $155,000) within three years. It took him a bit longer, but no matter: if his business, a collection of online cosmetics stores, maintains its current trajectory, he will soon count his first billion. In a few years he expects annual revenues to reach 10 billion yuan.
Mr Huangs company, United Cosmetics International, is only one of thousands on Taobao Mall, a huge online shopping centre. He spotted a demand from women in Chinas hinterland for branded cosmetics – and advice on how to use them. A lot of women in rural areas dont have access to quality products, he explains, guiding visitors through the firms headquarters in the outskirts of Hangzhou, two hours drive south-west of Shanghai. On several floors, at desk after desk, beauty consultants busily type answers for customers.