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How a tragedy transformed my life

Published on Thursday, 02 Aug 2012
Andy Ann, CEO and director of NDN Group, takes advantage of challenging times to identify weak points in a market and create opportunities.
Photo: Berton Chang

Andy Ann is very much his own man and marches to the beat of his own drum. He is the founder of successful digital media and advertising firm New Digital Noise and a raft of other web-based businesses, including Hot Media, Hot Mob and Social Med, a Facebook analytical tool that monitors more than 1,000 brands globally.

Ann views boundaries as challenges that need to be overcome. A graduate of the University of British Columbia, Ann soon discovered that his first job with a Hong Kong-based advertising agency was stifling his natural entrepreneurial instincts. His decision to break free came when his boss informed him it would be at least two years before he could make a face-to-face client presentation.

What inspired you to set up your own business?
After leaving college, I soon became disillusioned with my first job. I felt restrained by what I was told I could and couldn’t do. Then, the terrible events of 9/11 took place and I thought to myself: life is too short and maybe I should live my life to the full and explore something that I can devote 100 per cent of my passion and energy to.

I decided to start my own business and do whatever I could to provide value to the market and the wider community. I wanted a career and a life that I could enjoy. Incidentally, the same client my former boss said I would have to wait two years to talk to, I was talking to within two months of setting up my own business.

What drives you when you face challenges?
Whenever I face challenges, I look for the opportunities. Challenges help me to spin faster. What I mean is that during difficult times, such as the 2008 financial crisis, I look for the weakest point in a market and build on the opportunities. These are good times to add value to a brand and accumulate customer loyalty.

Have you faced setbacks? How did you overcome them?
The two big setbacks that stand out are the outbreak of Sars and the 2008 financial crisis. During both times cash flow was tight and sales dropped 80 per cent. The company was almost at the point of winding up. It was during this time that I quietly reviewed myself, my businesses and my life. I decided that I needed to come up with a lot of ideas to create changes and overcome challenges. I became even more focused on creating value and was determined to expand the businesses while everything was cheap and unstable.

Has your education helped drive the success of your business?
Academically, not at all. In terms of social networking, it has helped a lot.

Have there been times when you defied people’s advice and just followed your own instincts?
There have been many times when others have advised that finding a stable job would be the best choice, especially in a place like Hong Kong. But following my dreams always needs to come first. I look around at tycoons like Li Ka-shing and Victor Fung, but think to myself: where are the entrepreneurs from the ’80s and ’90s? For me, whatever challenge I face, the work concept is always fun. I like to be bold and think big. Passion has always been a big driver. It is what keeps me fired up and ready for the next challenge.

Where would you like your business to be in five years time?
I would like my business to grow not only in Hong Kong and Shanghai, but also to branch out regionally and globally. To continue growing the business to become the leading digital media group in the region would be awesome. Being able to provide a great foundation for my staff to accelerate their talent, while providing excellent value to our customers, is also a huge motivating goal.
 
What have been the key factors behind your success?
Success can be measured in different ways. There is business success and personal success. I can think of several factors that are important to me. One is never giving up, be prepared to do what hurts and not do what is easy. Also, being able to learn fast through failures. I also try to make use of the 24 hours that we all have every day and remain positive and ready to keep knocking down the walls in front of me.

A few tips for young people who want to develop their own business: don’t be afraid of talking about your ideas with other people. Maybe one in 1,000 would copy your idea, but that one person might not have your passion to put it into action. The action part is the key. Don’t start a business because of money. Start a business that can create value for someone else and with hard work, the rest, if you are lucky, should fall into place. Remember to stay positive all the time because you will find positive solutions through the inevitable failures.

Who are your business role models?
As a serial entrepreneur, Richard Branson is a great role model. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is another great model and importantly, he is doing what he loves and at the same time he is creating value for others. I have also learnt a great deal through reading about other great entrepreneurs, as well. Meanwhile, I hope the chapter about me in the recently published Regus book featuring global entrepreneurs will provide inspiration to others who take the step of becoming an entrepreneur.

 

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