CSAA chairman Andrew Pang is motivating others to plunge into start-ups
Tech entrepreneur uses his own experience to boost industry in Hong Kong
While there are still some people who think that creating a start-up business is something only for the unemployed to pursue, more and more are recognising the synergy and impact that such endeavours bring to the table.
Andrew Pang, chairman of the Cyberport Start-up Alumni Association (CSAA), needed no such prompting and ten years ago was already the owner of his own Hong Kong technology start-up.
Computers are in Pang’s blood. Back in the 1970s, when most people knew almost nothing about computers, Pang was already playing on one; he wrote his first program when he was just 13. “I guess I was into computers because I enjoyed playing video games,” he says. “I grew up in Canada in a family where no one was into technology, but I’ve been hooked on technology magazines since I was a boy.”
As expected, after graduating from university Pang worked in computer programming. He later returned to Hong Kong to work on IT infrastructure for telecommunication companies before founding his own technology start-up in 2004.
“I was really wary about starting my own business at first because I lost a lot of money a few years [before] investing in real estate,” he says. “I am still not over the pain of having only HK$14 in my bank account. But the chance to work with technology and media – two things I love – was irresistible. I had to give it a try.”
Pang’s start-up, PlayMotion – renamed Leovation after being acquired by the Leo Paper Group in 2009 – involved motion tracking technology, for which he got a licence from a company in the US. He did not know of any incubation or financial-support programmes for start-ups at the time, so he invested his own money. In 2005, he competed in and won the Hong Kong ICT Awards’ grand award for best start-up company and was invited by Cyberport to join its two-year incubation programme.
Pang says he exceeded everyone’s expectation in the programme. He graduated in 18 months because he was able to attract an investor – the Holy Grail for start-ups.
After leaving the programme, Pang remained close to Cyberport and has often been invited to share his success story as a start-up founder in seminars. In 2013, Cyberport decided to establish CSAA to increase collaboration among the alumni of the incubation programme and Pang was appointed chairman. “I hope that my experience is able to motivate others. The association is a platform for people involved in start-ups to share their experiences and promote the technology industry to the public, especially to young people,” he says.
He adds that creating a start-up has never been easier. “All you need is a laptop. The city’s start-up culture is beginning to take shape and more and more people are entering the industry. I am also happy to see a growing number of start-ups being accelerated by the private sector,” he says.
Compared to the dotcom era in 2000, Pang thinks the foundation for today’s new wave of start-ups is much more solid because of strong demand for technology. “During the dotcom boom, a lot of companies were doing technology for the sake of doing it. But today, technology affects every facet of our lives. The mobile app market has taken off along with the popularisation of smartphones. The demand for technology has never been stronger,” he says.
The rise of the angel investor also plays a strong part. Pang says he is beginning to see more high-quality angel investors who are willing to share their start-up experiences – and not just for a share of the profits.
He explains that local angel investors used to be very hard to work with. “In 2008, angel investors were very aggressive – they wanted full control of the business and demanded a large share of the profit. Angel investors in Silicon Valley take about 10 to 15 per cent of the profit, but local investors were looking for 30 per cent. Now that they have learned more about the concept of being an angel investor, things have changed for the better,” he says.
In 2011, Pang was part of a delegation that visited the US and Japan to learn about start-up cultures there. Since visiting Silicon Valley, he feels that Hong Kong still has a long way to go to establish a proper start-up ecosystem – despite the recent start-up surge. “In Silicon Valley, after a successful start-up exits [e.g. is sold], the capital will be reinvested in helping other start-ups. We are not at this stage yet.”
Pang also thinks that, compared to Silicon Valley, local start-ups are too conservative about sharing ideas. “In the US, it is very common for one to approach a stranger and share his or her ideas. People in Hong Kong are wary about sharing ideas because they are worried that they will be stolen. The lack of a sharing culture is holding back start-up development. What is the point of keeping a great idea to yourself and not sharing it with others who may be able to help you execute it?”
Too much focus on app development is also a cause of concern for the long-term development of the start-up community. “At this stage, we are a trend follower, not an innovator, in app development,” Pang says. “Start-ups need to add technologies such as wearable tech to the mix. I see in the future every device and household appliance will be connected to the internet. There is a huge market demand for such technologies.”
To get ahead, start-ups need to look a step ahead, Pang says. “The first thing a start-up founder needs to learn is to forget today and think about the future. Technology solves the problems of the future. Another tip is to think global, but do local. In the world of technology, everything is connected. Think local market but execute on a global scale.”