By employing staff with skills that complement his own, Yat Siu, founder of media product developer Outblaze and smartphone app business Animoca, says he can combine the key must-haves for business growth.
The visionary businessman, who also took Hello Kitty into the digital domain, is a fervent believer in perseverance while maintaining an open-minded attitude to change.
Armed with a degree in music from the Conservatory of Music in Vienna, Siu began his career in technology working for Atari Germany. He later joined graphics software company Lexicor in Boston, serving as director and head of US east coast operations. He also worked for AT&T Solutions before moving to Hong Kong in 1996, where he set up Hong Kong Cybercity, later renamed Freenation, Asia’s first free web page and e-mail provider.
For his contributions to business and society, Siu has received the Standard Chartered Platinum Achievers Award, the URENCO Innovation Award – for the execution of his vision at Outblaze – the IT Excellence Product Award, the Linux Business Adoption Award, and the Asia-Pacific Information & Communication Technologies Award.
What inspired you to launch your businesses in Hong Kong?
I first came to Hong Kong in the early ’90s, and noticed a distinct lack of internet technology – almost no one was using e-mail, or even knew what it was. I recognised that the increasing penetration of the internet was a momentous and world-changing development, and later set up a business to popularise these exciting emerging technologies.
What drives and motivates you when you face challenges?
A challenge is an obstacle that needs to be overcome, and for me that is exactly the same as solving a puzzle – the solution itself is rewarding. And, of course, solving problems related to a business ought to be good for that business, which in turn provides a motivational drive to face challenges.
Were there times when you followed your instincts when others were not so convinced?
Yes, often. Others are free to disagree and I am always prepared to revise my position when shown a sufficiently convincing set of reasons. In those cases where I stick with my original decision against the opinions of others, it’s because, to me, that remains the most compelling course of action. The role of a leader requires him or her to convince others to follow willingly, and that’s what a big part of my job is. It is very hard to lead non-believers.
Have you had setbacks and if so, how have you overcome them?
There will always be setbacks. Thomas Edison famously observed that “genius is one percent inspiration, 99 per cent perspiration”, and I think that’s a quote that can just as easily be applied to dealing with setbacks. You always need perseverance and hard work. In terms of daily problem-solving, you can minimise the annoyance factor simply by recognising that a setback is just another challenge that must be overcome.
What have been the key factors that have led to your success?
First of all, I think the jury is still out on whether I have achieved success – I, for one, think I still have some way to go, though it was definitely an honour to be profiled with so many entrepreneurs and thought leaders in Regus’ Growth in a Difficult Decade book. But I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without passion, ambition, drive and a little luck.
Where would you like your business to be in five years time?
I would like all of our companies to be larger, more efficient, and of course, as happy as possible.
How important do you feel a good work-life balance is and do you manage to achieve it?
I relax by engaging in sport, spending time with my kids, and doing a bit of work – all these activities relax me in their own way. “Work-life balance” can be a misleading term because life is work. Taking care of your kids is work. Looking after your body and health is work. Marriage is work. Earning money is work. It boils down to how we manage all aspects of life – if one does so with passion and interest, that artificial construct called “work-life balance” dissipates into background noise.
What tips can you give budding entrepreneurs?
Try and keep on trying. Do not fear failure. Failure can be your greatest ally if you are able to learn from it. Failure is an occasional companion for all of us throughout our lives, not something to be ashamed of.
Also, keep in mind that graduation is not the end of learning. You have only just begun learning by the time you leave school or university – remember this to help you keep an open mind.
How helpful has your education been in driving the success of your business?
It has been very important and irrelevant at the same time. Important because all the experiences in life determine who you are and mould you into a person who makes certain decisions based on particular thought processes. In terms of the subject matter I studied, however, practically none of it matters to my work. I don’t think that’s particularly unusual. I wonder how many people who studied derivatives actually use that information at work on a regular basis?