Semaglutide for China's wealthy: not just weight loss, but power and hope
Decoding how the Semaglutide hype reflects the changing dynamics of social gatherings among wealthy Chinese
Semaglutide, an anti-diabetic medication and an anti-obesity drug used for long-term weight management, is taking the world by storm. Even Elon Musk and other Hollywood celebrities endorse it as a weight loss wonder drug. The hype around Semaglutide on various social media platforms has also made it a hit in the Chinese business world. Thus, the role of this medication in addressing anxieties and insecurities among wealthy Chinese businessmen has created new business opportunities.
In today's post, we share an article published by 36Kr.com (NASDAQ: KRKR), a leading Chinese platform for new economy, technology, and business insights. The article explores the changing dynamics of social gatherings among wealthy individuals in China and highlights a shift in interests. Rather than focusing solely on entrepreneurship and investment opportunities, these gatherings now center around personal fitness, well-being, and even the pursuit of immortality and the meaning of life.
Below is Baiguan's translation of the original article:
What Semaglutide of wealthy Chinese embodies is not weight loss but the power and hope.
What does a business dinner in China look like in 2023?
In the Riverview Grand private room at Shanghai Xinrongji [Baiguan: High-end brand restaurant chain on the Michelin list, known for seafood cuisine], over ten guests gradually took their seats. As the dishes were served, the Young Pigeon (518 yuan), Sea Whelk Soup (880 yuan), Mantis Shrimp (980 yuan), and Braised Sea Cucumber (3588 yuan) were presented in succession. However, the guests showed little enthusiasm and only took a few bites.
The following topic directly reflected everyone's emotions regarding challenges in raising funds in the primary market, a significant decline in investment quantity, a severe shortage of departmental funds, and tightened project budgets, among other issues.
Jin Kui, the initiator of the dinner party, sat there idly. In the past, he would have displayed his WeChat QR code for everyone to scan and sent the business plan (BP). However, this time, no one took out their phones.
A couple of years ago, the issues discussed at this table revolved around money-making opportunities and speculative stories, but now it is dominated by gossip, grievances, immigration, and family issues.
Their frustration was suddenly ignited by a certain medication when a guest mentioned the Simaglutide injection. This sparked an immediate response from many people, and the previous dull gathering became lively as everyone found a shared topic of interest.
Simaglutide is an antidiabetic medication and an anti-obesity medication used for long-term weight management, developed by the Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk. In 2021, it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for chronic weight management. Subsequently, Elon Musk publicly shared his experience of shedding 18 kilograms in a month by adopting this medication, which went viral overseas.
Medications and injections are not typically the main focus of a mealtime conversation, nor are they necessarily the essence. However, in the current stage where certain topics cannot be openly discussed, and in the business world where "serious matters" are often avoided, they have become a rare "common ground" for conversation.
In 2023, it appeared that high-net-worth individuals (HNWI), someone with liquid assets of at least $1 million, have collectively entered a state of "hibernation." During the previous prosperous period when opportunities to make money were abundant, everyone was eager to make a quick buck. However, now that the pause button has been pressed on earning money, investing, and employment, and business dinners filled with personal connections still need to be attended, everyone behaves cautiously and conservatively.
Weight loss, anti-aging, and how to achieve eternal youth have become practical topics of discussion at dinner parties.
It seemed that an invisible force has been manipulating the clock hands, resulting in a group of formerly ambitious businessmen aging collectively by ten years.
Just like animals preparing for hibernation, middle-aged people who are now financially well-provided for but lack new goal-oriented stimulation can only temporarily shift their focus away from the business battlefield and turn their attention inward, hoping to outperform the patterns until the advent of the next promising cycle.
Semaglutide as the latest status symbol for social connection
On both sides of the Chinese Huangpu River, towering skyscrapers are adorned with countless pieces of highly reflective glass. Behind these glass panels, the bustling dining scenes of Jin Kui unfold every day.
Multitudes of people are noticing that Semaglutide is being mentioned more frequently at business dinners.
Semaglutide, injected once a week with a small needle, offers an appetite-suppressing effect without any pain or bleeding. Even a Michelin-starred restaurant like the aforementioned Shanghai Xinrongji, known for its "priceless delicacies served on jade plates and fine wine in golden goblets," fails to entice its guests. They appreciate this self-control (if we can call it that).
Last year, this medicine also submitted an application for weight loss indications to the Chinese National Medical Products Administration. However, there has been no further development on this matter thus far. Currently, it is only approved for reducing blood glucose to normal levels in China. However, many people without diabetes can still obtain this prescription drug through less stringent channels and use it for weight loss.
According to Jin Kui, Semaglutide has become a status symbol at high-end dinner parties. When you are acquainted with someone, suitable topics for discussion include spouses, children, and asset transfers. If you are not as familiar, the only appropriate topics are health and weight loss, aside from gossip.
In the business world, there are actually very few truly overweight people. Most elite individuals in this class believe in self-discipline and delayed gratification, making exercise and a healthy diet a way of life. However, as people enter middle age, the rewards of their fitness efforts become increasingly limited. This is why some resort to weight loss pills as a shortcut with a higher "return on investment.”
At the age of 40, Liu Hao, the Vice President of an internet company, frequently attends social gatherings. Despite being in good health and undergoing routine annual check-ups with no abnormalities, he keeps taking a handful of medicine every day.
These medicines include Fish Oil, Astaxanthin, Coenzyme Q10, Calcium Tablets, Multivitamins, Hongjingtian Capsule, NMN, and Pyrrovital. Every morning, he sits at the table and takes more than ten pills of different colors and sizes as his breakfast. These pills supplement vitamins, nourish the lungs, regulate cholesterol, provide antioxidants, and fight aging, among other benefits.
Whenever the topic of health is brought up at dinner parties, Liu Hao is often praised for his expertise in maintaining good health. However, he always responds to others with a serious expression, saying, "I am not just focused on health; I strive for immortality.”
Liu Hao's pursuit of "Elixir of life" is a topic that garners interest from many people. According to Liu Hao, "Two years ago when I first started taking NMN, if this topic came up at the dinner table, usually only one or two people out of ten would be interested. Now, when the same topic was brought up, all ten out of ten people, regardless of the business circle, showed interest."
After the dinner party, many people took the initiative to add Liu Hao's WeChat, asking him about his experience with medication and requesting him to provide information on where to buy medicine. In this regard, the attitudes of the doctor, CEO, and interns are similar - everyone was very humble.
However, business dinners were not originally like this. How did the change occur quietly?
Great disappointment and tiny pills
In November of last year, Zhang Chao posted a message on his WeChat moments expressing his intention to avoid participating in large-scale business meetings in the future. Instead, he suggested that individuals who needed to contact him could arrange personal meals or coffee meetings.
Zhang Chao felt that the current dinner parties have become increasingly dull, rife with meaningless small talk and pessimistic conservative opinions. Just three or four years ago, the popular trend was themed business gatherings, where attendees aimed to seize money-making opportunities and build connections. Some dinner parties would start with a clear agenda, such as introducing a guest speaker like "Today, we have Mr. Zhang from Guangdong treating us. Mr. Zhang is involved in the travel industry, so let's invite him to say a few words first." After the introduction, "Mr. Zhang" might give an on-the-spot presentation with a PowerPoint and then leave the table halfway through the meal to have a private conversation with investors in the tea room adjacent to the private room.
As the meal nears its end and everyone is satisfied, certain decisions start to take shape. These decisions include whether to invest in a specific internet project, whether a business collaboration can reach a consensus, whether to explore new opportunities together, and whether to be introduced to an industry leader the following day. The remaining specifics will be ironed out in the days following the gathering.
However, starting from last year, he noticed a clear change in the situation - investors and entrepreneurs were not as enthusiastic about participating. "The number of gatherings solely focused on entrepreneurship and sharing useful information has declined by at least half compared to the pre-pandemic period," Zhang Chao said.
A smart hardware entrepreneur discovered that in the past, whether the investor had investment intentions or not, they could always meet up for a coffee. But now, even if they were brought to the same dinner party by a familiar person, after some endorsement, the response they often received was silence.
The harsh condition is evident from the data. According to data from Zero2IPO Group [Baiguan: a leading venture capital and private equity service provider and investment firm in China], the total amount of newly raised funds in the first three quarters of last year was 1,352.153 billion yuan, which represented a 20.2% year-on-year decrease. The investment amount was 507.094 billion yuan, indicating a 31.8% year-on-year decrease. The investment scale has consistently remained low in recent years.
Zhang Chao resides near the Olympic Sports Park in Beijing and maintains a daily routine of running ten kilometers. In previous years, he used to share his running achievements on social media, which attracted messages from industry leaders who wanted to join him for a run. However, these arrangements have become less frequent lately.
He has a friend who is an investor. In the previous year, the friend had to invest in 30 projects, which meant that he needed to meet at least 300 entrepreneurs in one year. In the fast-paced life of that year, the investor was busy meeting entrepreneurs while running. However, last year, Zhang Chao's friend became completely idle and stopped running.
"He only invested in 1.5 projects in 2023 and doesn't need to meet so many people. In this situation, why pretend to be somebody? Why run?" Zhang Chao said.
A few years ago, it was common for everyone to take a group photo and share it on social media at the end of a business dinner. The organizer would also create a group chat for all the participants. However, nowadays, group photos are almost non-existent, and group chats are no longer being created. A new understanding has emerged. On one hand, this change is due to concerns about information protection, which has led to a decrease in the sharing of group photos. More importantly, even if a group chat is created, active engagement has significantly declined.
Financial issues, layoffs, business progress, and financing can often lead to unforeseen consequences. People require topics of conversation that do not provoke arguments or mistakes.
Conservatism is the mainstream trend in Chinese social gatherings.
Many traits commonly associated with elderly individuals are starting to manifest in this generation of Chinese Internet elites. These traits include a lack of curiosity and adventurous spirit, a fear of the unexpected, infrequent discussions about the "future," occasional fondness for reminiscing about the past, and a preference for health supplements over strenuous exercise.
In this era, where shortcuts to wealth and power expansion are no longer available, it is practical to shift our focus away from the pursuit of fame and fortune and start paying attention to inward needs. Instead of sharing investment and entrepreneurial opportunities as we did before, today we are more focused on satisfying our ever-growing eternal desires through injections and pills.
Da Nan is a somewhat well-known serial entrepreneur. He has a routine of meeting with two investors over coffee twice a day, followed by having four meals with four groups of people. During these dinner parties, he noticed that whenever the topic of medication is brought up, the atmosphere tends to liven up and the conversation sustains for about half an hour.
Not everyone may be familiar with medications such as Coenzyme Q10, Metformin, Semaglutide, and others, but everyone is undoubtedly interested. Many people even continue researching these after the discussion is over.
Recently, amid a dinner party, Da Nan had a conversation about Semaglutide with an investor who had a physique that Da Nan admired. When Da Nan brought up Semaglutide, the investor showed little interest or enthusiasm. However, after about a week, the investor sent Da Nan a detailed message on WeChat, consisting of four to five hundred words, explaining the extensive research they had conducted on Semaglutide in the past few days.
This surprised Da Nan because that day they had discussed many other topics that he believed were more serious. However, the investor seemed only interested in this particular topic.
The trend of injections and medication took this circle by storm. In October of last year, Da Nan also began injecting Semaglutide into his own abdomen.
Wealth and anxiety as taboo topics
Not everyone relies solely on medication; however, it is not considered appropriate to share one's anxieties with strangers at social gatherings.
"Maintaining emotional composure and not conveying anxiety is our professional demeanor," Liu Hao said. Even when he felt extremely anxious with the CEO, he only vented privately behind closed doors and then went out to continue worrying about the salaries of hundreds of employees in the company. He refrained from suggesting things like "Let's go out for a drink together.”
Like some sort of destiny, workplace elites constantly strive to create profits for their companies during weekdays, and they must also bring value to the dining table. Since other values are elusive, sharing medication, injections, and current achievements with others seems to become another embodiment of value.
Some sigh with regret, while others enjoy it. At the dinner party, 26-year-old Yu Bai stood out with a distinctly different style. He has a slender figure, shows no signs of a mid-life crisis, and harbors no bitterness or resentment. Yu Bai consistently exuded vitality, ready to captivate everyone present with his quick speech and exaggerated expressions at any given moment.
This young man is the CEO of a medical and health group company in Hong Kong, which holds a license as a pharmaceutical trader in Hong Kong and is the leading distributor of Novo Nordisk's Semaglutide oral tablets and Eli Lilly's Tirzepatide injection. However, some people deem him as someone who sells drugs using an MLM (Multi-Level Marketing) model.
In 2023, Yu Bai spent nearly 2 million participating in various private director meetings and high-end classes. Both can be seen as exclusive clubs for high-net-worth individuals, requiring membership thresholds ranging from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. This can help HNWIs establish connections and share information with peers of the same social status, similar to being "classmates.”
However, the purpose of Yu Bai joining the group is not for learning, but for developing clients. "I believe that I can definitely earn back these 2 million yuan." Yu Bai said confidently.
Billie is one of Yu Bai's "classmates" in the private board of directors. It is through this relationship that she got to know him and purchased the Semaglutide oral tablets from him and witnessed more and more "classmates" in the group becoming his clients.
When customers added Yu Bai on WeChat and expressed their intention to purchase medication, Yu Bai would skillfully connect them to customer service. The customer service team would promptly send a variety of informative articles, medication instructions, drug prices, and additional details. Customers can then proceed to place an order and provide their address for doorstep delivery.
Born in 1997, Yu Bai is younger than most of his clients. However, this was not his first entrepreneurial endeavor.
In 2021, Liu Hao started taking NMN anti-aging medicine, coinciding with Yubai's launch of NMN sales. In 2022, Yubai expanded its product distribution to include a popular antiviral drug. During this unprecedented time, the company's revenue soared as people experienced fear and anxiety related to the epidemic. Despite its high price of thousands of yuan, this drug generated an income of over a hundred million yuan.
"During peak hours, my customer service account can add 400 customers every day," Yu Bai said, demonstrating with his slender fingers and a trembling motion in the air. "My hands are already busy, just like playing the piano, tapping on the phone from morning till night.”
This silent performance, accompanied by the sound of incoming profits, left Yu Bai staying up until his eyes were bloodshot, until he was exhausted and dared not accept any more friend requests. "I really need to sleep. I have to turn off my phone at night, I can't respond to them anymore. Otherwise, I might really be worn out," Yu Bai said.
Nowadays, the fear brought by the virus has temporarily subsided, while the anxiety caused by obesity is looming large. Semaglutide has the potential to bring about a radical change in a matter of months. Anxiety, much like its consequences, is one of the most rapidly spreading things in the world.
Several interviewees described to 36Kr the opportunity they had to try medication. It started with attending a dreary and purposeless business dinner, but then they suddenly noticed a change in one of their acquaintances. Compared to the last time they met, their cheeks were noticeably thinner and their physique was more slender, making them the focus of the dinner. By the end of the dinner, several people were already considering ordering the medication. Perhaps out of self-interest, this group of individuals believed in the words of insiders, which they considered far superior to everything else.
Anxiety triggers business opportunities. In 2023, Yu Bai started distributing Semaglutide oral medication.
The performance has started once again. During the meeting with 36Kr, Yu Bai brought three mobile phones and a high-power power bank.
"My customer base overlaps significantly. Those who bought NMN back then later purchased pandemic-specific drugs, and now they are buying Semaglutide from me," said Yu Bai.
Yu Bai described his user profile: on one hand, he believes in science and is open to new concepts. They have studied abroad and have a greater trust in foreign products. On the other hand, they have a certain level of economic stability, with a minimum monthly income of at least 20-30 thousand.
This profile aligns with the group of people that Liu Hao is familiar with, similar to the early adopters of iPhones and Teslas, who are more interested in studying technological and internet-related topics rather than tea, wolfberries, and Codonopsis.
These individuals also appear to be customers of Gucci, Hermès, and Cartier. However, there is a prevailing belief that "rich people don't shop online," and this notion has been reinforced by the major luxury goods e-commerce company, Xiaomai, which suffered a devastating defeat.
How do the rich go on a shopping spree? Da Nan described a scenario: when his wife says she wants to buy a luxury handbag, they don't transfer money for her to shop on Taobao; instead, they say, "Go take a trip to Europe and bring back a few bags you like.”
However, Semaglutide has changed its undesirable patterns. Consumers are not allowed to purchase it from the hospital since doctors will not prescribe it without a diabetes diagnosis. Buying it from JD.com carries risks. Although it may be easy to deceive with an electronic prescription, leaving a record could negatively impact their expensive medical insurance. Consequently, middle-aged elites in the financial and venture capital circles have embraced WeChat businesses.
When it comes to the customer base, Yu Bai confidently stated something astonishing: "Among the top 10 VC/PE firms in China (Chinese venture capital and Private Equity firms), 9 of their partners have purchased medicine from me. Those investors have placed orders worth tens of thousands of yuan because they want to buy in bulk." He further mentioned, "Our project has not raised any funds because the money they provided me is sufficient to reach the Pre-A round.”
It has been proven that people from all walks of life experience are plagued by anxieties and troubles, regardless of whether they have achieved financial freedom. When one's career is thriving, worries may be temporarily masked by ambition and busyness. However, when growth stagnates, people are confronted with mediocrity and a sense of restlessness, yearning for basic needs like a baby.
In the circle of HNWI, where "one sits not sure that sits too high," this sense of helplessness is often even more strongly conveyed. Liu Hao mentioned that at his age, most of the people around him, who are younger, hoped to make money through him. While he enjoysed helping those around him solve problems, even people he wasn't very familiar with, he admited that when it came to his own problems, "there is no one who can help me, and I won't even go to others to talk about it.”
However, the threats of obesity and aging spare no one, regardless of their financial situation. Money can be a challenging barrier to maintaining one's dignity. In addition to Semaglutide, Yu Bai also offers reproductive health-related medicines that are typically in high demand during the early morning hours.
"So, can you see which people have ordered Sameglutide from you and then ordered reproductive health medication in the middle of the night?" we asked Yu Bai. "Yes," he replied.
In the flicker of a mobile phone screen, one can sense a person's momentary vulnerability.
Live a meaningless life for another five hundred years
When darkness fell, the boats on the Huangpu River illuminated with gaudy lights. Inside the private room of Xinrongji, a soft light enveloped everyone, casting a mysterious aura over these middle-aged men in suits. Jin Kui had no intention of speaking any further; he simply noded and listened to their nonsensical conversation.
The topic has shifted from weight loss pills and anti-aging drugs to immortality. Finally, someone raised a metaphysical philosophical question: what defines a human? What is the purpose of existence?
Jin Kui refrained from drinking, which prevented him from being fully engaged. He stared at the faces of the guests, lost in thought, recalling a mindfulness class he had attended for entrepreneurs. In that class, billionaires publicly confessed their "sins" and wept together.
Many of them speculate on Bitcoin and also believe in Maitreya Buddha. They spend their spare time analyzing K-line charts, and their long vacations are dedicated to traveling to Tibet or Nepal to seek enlightenment
One began discussing their recent acquisition of several Buddha paintings and then contemplated the vastness of the universe and the impermanence of life. Regardless of how much money they earn, they can only be seen as a grain of sand in the river of history, utterly insignificant. It appears that they have forgotten the sense of urgency in their eyes when they inquired about the "elixir of life" link just 20 minutes ago.
The guests ignored Jin Kui's attempt to distract them and continued delving into the topic of fate. One of them pulled out their phone and opened the Zi Wei Dou Shu app, asking the people around them for their birth information and requesting an analysis of their destiny. Jin Kui didn't believe in such things. Lately, he had encountered similar situations in the venture capital circle, where three different fortune tellers provided him with three completely different results.
No one has a firm grasp on fate, and everyone can only continue to explore. In the past, people were motivated by fame, money, and power. However, as time passes and the benefits of these pursuits diminish, work alone may no longer provide satisfactory rewards. Opportunities become scarce, pressure surges like a mist, and when age gradually adds to the challenges of life, even physical fitness no longer brings about noticeable changes. In such circumstances, what other options are available to people?
Pessimistic individuals may temporarily focus on themselves, but there are always people who choose to pursue this mindset permanently. In their youth, they chase after fame and fortune. When the path to success becomes impassable, they resort to medication and injections, only to then pursue the possibilities of the next stage.
Just like staying up all night in the study room of a prestigious school at the age of 20, and repeating that in the office at the age of 30. In their 40s, they have to try Semaglutide, take anti-aging medicine, overcome this period of decline, and then strive for another decade.
Medications and injections can provide enough time for contemplation and exploration, even if achieving "immortality" is not feasible. During dinner discussions about metaphysical and philosophical topics, Liu Hao always stands out as the most engaged participant. He firmly believes that our generation will have the chance to witness a form of immortality.
He "diligently" takes a handful of pills every day and frequently pays attention to the depth of wrinkles on his face, his running speed on the green field, and his vitality levels after staying up late in the office. He is increasingly convinced that he can achieve rejuvenation through medication.
Liu Hao has experienced the golden age of the Chinese internet and witnessed the successful IPO of a startup company. However, for him, the era of hard work yielding extraordinary returns has come to an end.
"Taking medication is currently the highest-yielding investment for me," Liu Hao said.
He desires to persist in his work, race against time, and reclaim control of his own body to live on as a young individual. This is because, as long as he manages to live for a sufficient duration, the momentary challenges of the era will become inconsequential.
The amount of pressure a person can truly handle and the appropriate amount of time one should dedicate to work are topics that deserve in-depth exploration. Despite often being casually discussed with a few sentences at dinner parties, the answers to these questions may still elude us at this stage.
Amidst laughter, the discussion on "the meaninglessness of life" concluded. The guests stood up and exchanged WeChat QR codes, sharing their preferred sources for purchasing anti-aging drugs. As they walked and talked about their progress in prolonging life, they were overwhelmed with a strong determination to live for another five hundred years.
And thus, an expensive dinner came to an end, while outside the window, the river continued to flow silently in the dark night.