When Jessie Shao came up with the idea of creating a storage platform for people’s love stories, she didn’t realise that it would soon turn into a profitable and well respected business. We wanted to know how it all came about so we spoke to her further.


Tell us about your company

My company is called LoveStorage, and we provide wedding services, including planning, photography and videography, as well as pre- and post wedding planning services such as honeymoons. We are now also launching some new service packages like tailor-made weddings, bringing Chinese couples abroad for mini foreign wedding trips. We also recently opened our Chinese branch in Beijing.

How long has your company been around?

Officially it’s been running for over two years, although I registered the company three years ago. For the first year however I wasn’t taking it very seriously – when I first had the idea three years ago I wanted to shoot video footage of couple’s love stories – I’m a bit of a hippie in that respect and thought that recording ordinary people’s love stories and storing their love memories was a beautiful thing! However I soon realised that in order to survive the market I would need to commercialise it, and the easiest approach would be to record wedding ceremonies. So I started to slowly transition from shooting random couple’s love stories to shooting wedding ceremonies, while still keeping thirty percent or so of the original idea as the foundation – which is to record pre-wedding love stories of the couples, and then the rest the actual ceremony – creating a foundation for our survival as a company. Tying the two hand in hand gave us the market to reach the people in need of our services – couples wanting to get married.

And your background? How did you come to managing your own business?

My undergraduate major was radio and television journalism in WuHan University, then I came to the UK to study arts management and culture policy at Manchester University. I wasn’t really particular about the major I wanted to do and the reason I chose this major was simply because it offered a three month work placement after completion of the course. Naturally I thought this was a good idea as getting work experience is often difficult, although I quickly realised that three months just wasn’t long enough. I was doing my postgraduate dissertation when the idea for LoveStorage came to me and I immediately registered the company. I was lucky that at the time there was a new VISA category introduced by the government called PSW (post study work), which provided me with a chance to work after graduation.

LoveStorage wedding shoot 1

Where there any inspirations from your childhood to start your own business? Tell me a bit about your family background.

My dad is a banker and he works on huge corporate projects – very unlike what I’m doing as a small business owner. My uncle is a business owner and is very successful. It’s been said that in my entire family history every single generation has one entrepreneur, and apparently I’m the one for this generation! Actually I only discovered that I have a talent for business over the last three years working on this business. The first year I didn’t take it seriously from a business point of view – it was only from the second year onwards that I noticed that I had become more and more sensitive with money. I believe that one only makes significant effort to make money when one desires money enough. What also helps me is that I am a good observer and always keen to learn new things. I’m also a good communicator and good at handling people’s relationships. All these factors made me today.

I also noticed you have some very interesting tattoos on your arm (a deer on the right arm and a double gun on your tricep). Is there an interesting story behind these?

I got those tattoos after being frustrated in love and relationships. They are symbolic of my strength and need for protection – the male deer represents strength and the double guns is me holding the fire power. To protect me, and keep me strong.

So what makes LoveStorage different from its competitors? What makes you unique?

I think there are two factors.

Firstly, we have completely separate strategies and approaches targeting the Chinese and the UK market.

The UK wedding photographer/videographer professionals are mostly freelancers and solo players – they rarely like to work with others. We however focus on the brand of the company, and we don’t promote particular individuals as our brand. Therefore we are more commercial and have a strong team identity. This is something that the majority of the wedding photographer/videographer freelancers do not have. Most of them work their entire lives for themselves and may have a high income and studio brand reputation, but that’s it.

LoveStorage wedding shoot 2

For us you can tell from the studio’s naming convention itself – we are a symbol of a team. From the beginning of managing and running the company, it’s always been a structure of core team members plus freelancers. The core team members are not just random photographers or videographers – they are also responsible for marketing, client management and business operations. We have a very clear structure and process of planning, shooting, production and post production. Photo shoots and video shoots for us are only technical aspects, the responsibility of planning, managing clients, editing, post production are all in the hands of core team members. I believe this way we could grow our business solid and fast.

Secondly, in China, the wedding market is much more mature and developed. There are so many companies with so many innovative ideas, and the majority of them have the gene of the web2.0, and many of them work with mobile apps, so they offer a lot of flexibility and potential. For example there’s a very well known brand in China that’s similar to Timeout and Groupon called DianPing. It offers ten service voucher categories and a big section of this is weddings. In China the wedding industry is as important as the food industry and for us to compete in the Chinese market, as a team from the west, we need to offer a completely different concept to Chinese wedding companies, and as we have a reputation in the UK and as we really understand western wedding ceremonies, we are able to do this. Most of our Chinese customers who are into western culture feel that we are very unique and special. And I’m very confident to say that no one else in the Chinese market understands western wedding ceremonies better than us. I believe this is our strongest competitive advantage.

startup empire - LoveStorage

So it’s about understanding the western culture as the foundation?

Yes, and at our core it’s about people. Our people who go across to the Chinese branch are people who understand western culture and weddings extremely well. We help with things that no Chinese wedding companies would know about, and a lot of concepts are very unique and different. For example we are launching a new package in the Chinese market called Mini Wedding Trip Abroad, which offers a separate ceremony and reception. Here we encourage our clients to not host the two events together (as all Chinese wedding ceremonies do) – but rather host a good reception in the UK or Europe. We help create the most amazing wedding ceremony experience for a traditional Chinese customer, like in a castle or museum. And it’s also a honeymoon travel experience. How cool is that?

Have you faced any big challenges in the last three years?

I think the biggest challenge for me was managing people, because I’m not a local but need to use locals in running my business. But I also need Chinese staff. For me I find it’s easier to manage Chinese staff as we gain a good mutual understanding quickly, whereas managing local staff has been more difficult, especially in the artistic field. For photographers/videographers, everybody wants to pursue their own value and goals. Most of these artists don’t even care about making money – they choose a project more on if they will like it or not. Many of our customer liaison staff for example were only focussing on the value of next five steps, but they don’t see the value of the next 100 steps. It was difficult for me as a young girl from China to get my ideas across. The team we have now is great, but as the CEO I still have to train my ability to be able to manage anyone from anywhere. And I have to be able to be logical and precise enough to cover any possible challenges we meet on a day to day basis.

What do you want your business to achieve in the next several years, especially the Chinese branch, since it’s only been recently established?

I have high expectations with the Chinese branch. In the UK the size of the market is much smaller – we do look at market share, however even if we achieve the highest possible market share, the size of the market is still a lot smaller. I believe revenue wise we will hit a bottleneck easily very soon, as the profit margin is low and labour costs are high here. In China however the potential is huge with high margins. Plus the wedding industry is blossoming and Chinese consumers love spending on weddings as well as travelling to Europe. So with our brand and our two branches connecting to each-other, we can create the most unique wedding brand possible. I am very excited about the things will happen in the upcoming years.

startup empire - LoveStorage