Organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC), the eighth Entrepreneur Day was held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) on 13 and 14 May. The two-day event gathered more than 270 exhibitors from various sectors while the number of visitors increased by seven per cent from last year to more than 17,000, setting a new fair record.
The two-day Start-up Runway and celebrity sharing sessions featured more than 40 business elites and entrepreneurs from different sectors discussing their success stories. On the opening day (13 May), Jason Chiu, Founder and CEO of cherrypicks, Ir Allen Yeung, Government Chief Information Officer of the HKSAR Government and Alan Yip, Co-founder and Chairman of Guru Online (Holdings) Limited, led the plenary session entitled ‘Big Wave, New Wave’.
Learning from failure
Jason Chiu, who founded mobile solutions company cherrypicks in 2000, shared his thoughts on ‘failure’ and the lessons that should be learned from it. “In the early days of running our business we had difficulty with financing. When, in 2004, we obtained HK$200 million of capital, we seized the opportunities to expand our business,” said Mr Chiu. It was a time when social media was beginning to take off, and the company launched usitecn.com on the mainland. “We had 900 employees and a running cost of US$1 million per month. HK$200 million would only last us for two years,” recalled Mr Chiu. At that time, similar portals such as ‘xiaonei.com’ and ‘campus.qq.com’ had already been launched. While ‘usitecn.com’ had five million users, it did not generate any income and its operation could only be sustained by refinancing. “There were only two solutions: go bankrupt, or sell the business.” Mr Chiu said he decided to sell the business and buy back the shares from the original investors, so they would not lose everything.
Mr Chiu believes that entrepreneurs should embrace failure. “Once I read a motto from the spirit of kendo. Its gist was: ‘Reflect when your opponent strikes and thank him when you’re struck’,” he said. When the company ran the online voting system ‘TVB Fun’ for the Miss Hong Kong Pageant, it had to make a public apology due to a technical failure of the system. “Failure is the norm. The key is to fail forward and pilot,” he said.
As the company was quick to review its failings after suffering a setback, it rebounded and maintained its position in the tech and app industry, said Mr Chiu, who added that the company introduced the Chinese online business giant NetDragon as one of their shareholders in 2014. “It’s like standing on the shoulder of a giant as we develop our business in the mainland market and beyond,” he said.
Four principles of survival for start-ups
Guru Online (Holdings) Ltd. listed on the Hong Kong stock market last year. Co-founder and Chairman Alan Yip used “a hike along the MacLehose Trail” as a metaphor for “being employed”. He said, “Many have gone hiking along the MacLehose Trail, where they can take the mini-bus and leave anytime they want. You can quit your job if you’re not happy in it. Starting a business is like finding yourself in a barren landscape with no one around and enough food supply for only two or three days, and you must look about for food to survive.”
From his experience of starting a business, he derived four principles for survival for start-ups. He noted that many new entrepreneurs believed they will succeed by identifying what customers are looking for. “The goal should be making your business five times better than existing ones.” He referred to restaurants posting recruitment bills on the streets as an example. In most cases, there may not be a single applicant even after two days, said Mr Yip, who added that the recently launched recruitment app is much more effective for this purpose as users start applying for the post within 25 minutes, making it a good example of what makes a new business far superior to existing ones.
Secondly, Mr Yip believes that entrepreneurs should bend the rules. He referred to Snapchat, a popular app among young people, as an example. “This app has the same target demographics as Facebook. The latter makes its users save their memories, while the former is about the moment. This explains the success of Snapchat,” he said. He also believes that, in addition to using the convenience of the Internet, a company’s business concept must also possess structural advantages. For instance, stock trading websites are able to tap into the same market as large banks by processing a small amount of transactions. Mr Yip’s fourth principle is that, beyond developing its business in the local Hong Kong market, a company must plan to expand on the mainland and overseas.
Government to lend comprehensive support to start-ups
Ir Allen Yeung, Government Chief Information Officer of the HKSAR Government, pinpointed the challenges that new and budding entrepreneurs face in terms of attracting new talents, expanding networks and raising capital. In view of this, he said the government organises various exhibitor groups to participate in overseas fairs, as well as business matching services for the exhibitors to build their networks. Promoting Internet business studies on university campuses is another important initiative. Students are encouraged to take part in international competitions, and the award-winning concepts are commoditised for the business sector to look for and recruit suitable talents, according to Mr Yeung.
He added that there are many funds in Hong Kong that support the development of start-ups, including the start-up fund offered by The Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation and the Innovation and Technology Venture Fund under the government’s Innovation and Technology Bureau. He also encouraged new entrepreneurs to “Dream Big”.
Winners of Entrepreneur Arena to meet HKTDC chairman
Another highlight of this year’s Entrepreneur Day was an enhanced Entrepreneur Arena pitching competition. Co-organised by the HKTDC and The Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, young entrepreneurs presented their business ideas and plans in the Arena. In celebration of the HKTDC’s 50th anniversary in 2016, the Entrepreneur Arena was scaled up with more than 50 start-up applications received this year, about double the number last year. The 10 finalists presented their business ideas on stage yesterday (14 May) at Entrepreneur Day with experts offering valuable feedback. Judges included Dr Samson Tam, Chairman, Hong Kong Business Angel Network, Dr Edwin Lee, Founder and CEO, Bridgeway Fund Group and Rono Kwong, Chairman, Hong Kong General Chamber of Young Entrepreneurs.
The three winners, Felix Wong, Founder, Acquaintance Enterprises creates a new platform 36Link which solves the pain point of the logistics industry; Twiggy Chan and Odilia Kan, Founders, Boaz International Education Institute create special courses for children with dyslexia, and Trevor So, Founder, Handlebook Education Solutions creates Handlebook e-learning platform to enhance students learning motivation received the Entrepreneur Day Outstanding Start-up Award as well as cash prizes. The winners will also be invited to a Power Lunch with either the current HKTDC Chairman, Vincent HS Lo, or a former chairman, either Victor Fung or Jack So.