Playing to his own tune
Born and raised in Vienna, Yat Siu is a music major turned computer geek. The founder and CEO of Outblaze, a developer of cloud computing services for digital media and entertainment, started the first free Web hosting and e-mail provider in Asia, and he is also a pioneer in Web services in Hong Kong. His journey started by playing computer games.
Why did you switch from piano to computer?
I got my music degree from Musik Konservatorium Wien for my musician parents. I haven’t touched the instruments since graduation. Like most geeks, I started playing computer games, writing codes and teaching myself programming. It’s an area that truly interests me and gives me instant satisfaction. With music, either you need special talent or have to practise really hard. But when you write codes, you see results right away. I started writing sharewares, public domain softwares and I was invited to be a contractor for Atari Germany in 1990.
How did you become an entrepreneur?
When I went to the United States to get formal training in computer science, the company I worked for declared bankruptcy and a bunch of laid-off programmers, including me, started a company which was later acquired.
How did your career develop in Hong Kong?
When my company sent me to Hong Kong in 1993, I found it difficult to get internet access, so I started internet service provider Hong Kong Online in an industrial building in Cheung Sha Wan. It was a disaster. It was expensive to run and I found myself explaining to businessmen why e-mail was convenient and secure. Maybe I was too young and my long hair didn't help convince them.
[Then] I created the first free webpage and e-mail provider in Asia, Hong Kong Cyber City, in 1996, to get people to start using the internet. That became a hit, but I was not making money. In 1998, I set up Outblaze.
Is it hard to set up a company?
That is the easy part. For a small firm, I have full control of its vision and direction. But when it gets bigger, there will be management, equipment, and expansion problems. I will have to be more strategic with each step.
How do you spot trends?
Rather than creating something I think people would like, I create what I like and need. For example, we adopted an open-source Linux system in our enterprise services because it's cheap and we love it. However, it was hard to sell because it wasn't the trend. Now everyone goes open-source.
How did the dotcom bubble affect you?
The bubble was probably one of the best things that could happen to us. We were prepared with strong and cheap services that run on open source system. When the bubble burst, companies had to tighten up and our business bloomed.
What’s so good about working in digital media?
It revolutionizes our lifestyle. All information and data will effectively become free and it’s very liberating. Also, anyone with a business idea enters the business with small cost and co-creates a whole new generation of concepts.
What is the secret of your success?
I tend not to give up. It's not good to dwell on mistakes or be afraid of trying again. Commitment is also important.
Any tips for young people who want to be the next Bill Gates?
For both digital media and entrepreneurship, do it when you are young. You have nothing to lose and plenty of time to learn. The return could be great. You won’t get the business experience from school. If it doesn’t work out, you can always switch path. If you start when you have family, kids and other responsibilities that go beyond yourself, you can’t afford taking risks.
You are director of Asian Youth Orchestra and are actively involved in community work. How does this affect you in your work?
It’s good for your soul. When you help others, you will be inspired to think differently. If you only worry about your own problems, you lose perspective of the wider world. Also, I meet many amazing people through these activities who are a source of intellectual stimulation to me.