Starting from mid-October, I’ve had the chance to speak with some of the players in Hong Kong’s startup ecosystem, from founders to investors and beyond.
In this post, I’m going to curate some of those comments — all of which are exclusive to e27 — for ease of access, and so that YOU the reader can get a peek into what these guys are saying and thinking about Hong Kong as a startup location this month.
I will admit from the get-go that this is by no means a comprehensive analysis of the situation here — treat it more as a window into conversations e27 has had with movers at the grassroots level.
Chris Adams, Director, TCG
— Hong Kong is a very Western culture, whereas China is all about relationships… When I’m in Hong Kong, because it’s very Westernised, I can walk into an office in startup mode and talk with like-minded individuals. People are very open to that attitude in Hong Kong. However, in China you need that way in before you can have an open talking relationship with someone.
— Don’t try going into China first because you’ll spend too much money on R&D… In Hong Kong, you will likely meet someone there who can introduce you to someone in China… It’s a way of going into China without spending lots of money, it fills that gap.
— Also, if you are someone who is successful and doing things in Hong Kong, people will be more likely to speak to you in China because you’ve got those relationships and that cultural fit.
Leo Wong, Co-founder, Sensbeat
— I think the most challenging part is hiring engineers in Hong Kong. We want to hire one or two engineers from Hong Kong because we want to work at the same location.
— When we started, I don’t think there were that many startups [in Hong Kong]. But as we developed Sensbeat, we realised there were more people who wanted to do startups. It’s just that it’s a closed kind of family.
— Frankly speaking, if we do a comparison with other cities in Asia, especially Singapore, I think it will take time, but I believe we can catch up. Our own feeling is that there are more things going on in the startups scene right now.
— A lot of friends [in Hong Kong] have graduated, worked for a few years and then realised they wanted to do their own startups as well. So in our own circles, the number of people who want to do startups, or have quit their jobs to do startups, is growing.
— From this, we feel that something is heating up [in Hong Kong]. We can see this from the number of integration centres and co-working spaces. Speaking of the overall landscape from another perspective, what startups here really need at the early stage is advisors.
— We want to be a role model for student-found startups, and making a positive impact is at the heart of Sensbeat. I think we can do something interesting and impactful in Hong Kong.
Bill Tai, Venture Capitalist
— Hong Kong and other geographies around the world are becoming more and more viable as places to start companies. When technology implied starting a company whose job was to commercialise technology like chips or routers, it was impossible to compete with the human talent that existed in Silicon Valley because it was so concentrated and you needed very large teams to execute products.
— You needed hundreds of people per company and a lot of capital to just get something out the door. You might have needed US$50 million in five years to launch a company, so you could really only do that in one place… So we’re in a world where it can happen anywhere, including Hong Kong.
Luke Grana and Pieter Wittgen, Co-founders, Grana
— I looked at Singapore and America, but I think Hong Kong, in particular, is a global logistics hub, so the shipping infrastructure is very developed. It’s also a free tax port and a world sourcing city, so a lot of fabric mills and manufacturers have their head offices in Hong Kong. So I thought it was a really great location to set up a global distribution centre and ship direct to customers.
— We’re definitely looking at China. Being in Hong Kong, there’s a lot of growth coming from China. At the moment we would need to create a Chinese version of our website, and we don’t have that yet — everything’s in English.
— We’re alone in Hong Kong in setting up an online-only fashion brand. You don’t see a lot of e-commerce companies in Hong Kong… and even the e-commerce fashion companies based in the US still sell all their products from Asia… so just being in Hong Kong but with a global focus makes a lot of sense.
— Hong Kong is very strong in fashion, there are a lot of great designers and merchandisers that we can recruit over time. A graphic designing intern has just joined us. Hong Kong is a great place. A lot of our friends have emailed us asking if they should move out here. It’s an exciting place, nice city, and I think we’ll be able to find and attract the right people to grow our business.
— In Hong Kong, a lot of people are stuck in corporate jobs. We do see an interest in the startup scene in the younger generation. We are also seeing interest from the local community to join the startup world, but I do think it’s still early days for people born and raised in Hong Kong to complete a startup — but that is changing.
— Definitely the rental [is a downside]. Our warehouse is in Hong Kong, so clearly it’s not the cheapest place for that, but where we are right now is actually at a very competitive rate. On the whole, I think there are not a lot of downsides to Hong Kong.
— The startup scene in Hong Kong is not as developed as it is in Singapore, [but] the market is a little bit bigger and I think the upside here over other markets in Asia is so much bigger — especially the logistics hub and access to China from a manufacturing point of view. This was more important to us than having access to something like the Singapore government funding programme or a really big startup community.
— Hong Kong is trying to learn from places like Singapore, and doing this e-commerce business here made us realise how few people are trying to do it in Hong Kong. That’s not necessarily a negative thing; it can also work in your favour. We’ve come to Hong Kong for a reason and I can’t see many downsides right now.
George Harrap, CEO, Bitspark
— There are other exchanges here in Hong Kong, but a few are just registered for the good regulatory environment for Bitcoin. We’re one of the few exchanges that actually have our team here… incubated at the Cyberport.
— Hong Kong is a tough market to find software developers.
— There are a few reasons we went to Hong Kong. One is the proximity to China, which is one of the largest Bitcoin markets in the world. The second one is support from different incubators like Cyberport. Thirdly, Hong Kong has a friendly regulatory environment. For us, those are good reasons.
— Hong Kong has a small but slowly growing startup scene. As a business-friendly, connected global city, it is an attractive location to be for foreigners. But I’d still like to see Hong Kong embrace more of an entrepreneurial spirit towards the development of a bigger startup scene, and more software developers — then it’s entirely reasonable that the next Google could come from here.
— For a number of reasons Hong Kong is the ideal location for a startup — it is very easy to meet and connect with people here, there is a proliferation of co-working spaces in the city now, and there is increasingly more access to venture funding. Access to China is a big plus too.
— At Cyberport, we have free office space, HK$530,000 (approx. US$68,000) in funding, many events, networking opportunities and resources to assist us in getting our product to the mainland. I think there are some bureaucratic improvements that can be made, but on the whole, if you are a startup in Hong Kong, you should be pitching yourself to get into an incubator here — it’s a no brainer.
Ashok Jaiswal, Co-founder and CEO, EzeeCube
— [Nest, the Hong Kong startups incubator] has been fantastic. We are a group of technical guys and designers… but we do not have any kind of marketing or scale expertise in-house. Nest is helping us bring that to the next level… and connecting us with mentors that will help us bring the product to the global marketplace.