Tony Chan thrives on the thrill of building businesses. Inspired by Silicon Valley tech stars such as Marc Andreessen of Netscape and Mark Cuban of the now Yahoo-owned Broadcast.com, he has founded a number of start-up firms, most notably the private equity fundraising platform APDealFlow.
A former finance professional at UBS and Thomson Reuters, Chan is a strong believer in motivation. As one of eight children whose parents worked long hours to support them, he says that as a child he developed the hunger to succeed while learning the importance of optimism.
Chan has an MBA from Strathclyde University in Scotland and is responsible for setting up the finance news and stock-quote service e-finet.com, which has since floated on the Hong Kong Growth Enterprise Market Exchange.
What inspired you to launch your first business?
I got laid off from my finance job during the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis. At that time, the great dot-com boom had started so I was lucky to be able to jump on a new bandwagon.
What drives you?
My strongest motivation is a self-belief that my vision and strategy is right. Hong Kong’s competitive nature is also a driving force and breeds more driven business visionaries than anywhere else in the world. We are built on a Chinese work ethic, a Hong Kong entrepreneurial instinct and a Western risk propensity.
Do you always follow your own instincts or do you take on dissenting opinions from others as well?
I believe my instinct to spot a business opportunity improves as I get older and gain more experience, but it is always good to listen to opinions from others. Sometimes, instinct can be coloured with strong self-belief and tunnel vision that can cloud your judgment. Before making a major decision, I find it helpful to ask others for a rational reality check.
What setbacks have you faced?
Recently a new partner pulled out of a joint venture which I had spent a lot of time to set up. This hurt as it was like being spurned at the last moment. Still, one looks for the positives – when one door closes, another door opens. If I have learned a lesson it is not to dwell too much on setbacks and continue to look forwards.
What have been the key factors that have led to your success?
I would put it down to a supportive family at home. They make the sacrifices and take the risks with you all the way.
However, one of the fun things of running your own businesses is being able to punch above your weight. For example, I was recently featured in Regus’ Growth in a Difficult Decade book alongside well-known business founders and entrepreneurs such as Howard Schultz of Starbucks and Yat Siu, founder and CEO of Outblaze.
Where would you like to be in five years’ time?
I no longer hold on to aspirations of being a billionaire tech star. To have a mid-sized stable business and continue doing what I enjoy doing is enough.
Still, there is always the desire to continue creating and starting new businesses. In the future this could allow me to become a mentor or angel investor, but it is setting up new businesses that truly interests me. One day I would also like to teach risk management in entrepreneurship.
How helpful has your education been in driving the success of your business?
I was lucky to do a multi-disciplinary course merging business and computer science. I think I have carried this multi-disciplinary approach into the businesses where I have worked. I have also applied the same concepts to internet technologies as a delivery platform for business.
I would say I have been lucky to be able to apply what I learned to do. I don’t think many people have that opportunity. What I don’t do well is organisation; I really need assistants for that.
What tips do you have for young entrepreneurs?
Do your research first; don’t jump in with blind faith and gut instinct as it is often clouded by tunnel vision. Seek support from family and friends. It is a long, long road and emotional support is vital to keep your spirits up during the journey.
An entrepreneur doesn’t have to bet the house or his livelihood on a new business venture. He or she can take small calculated risks to explore business opportunities that can improve life over the long run. This not only provides support for the entrepreneur’s family, but also strengthens the business by bringing the family into it.
Do you have any business role models or people that you admire?
There is a venture capital (VC) blog I read called “Both Sides of the Table” written by Marc Suster, an entrepreneur turned VC investor. It contains solid advice for both entrepreneurs and investors. I would love to meet him one day.
Locally, I am a big fan of Ricky Wong Wai-kay of City Telecom for his no-nonsense, hard-talking approach. For anybody to break the fixed-line IDD monopoly that existed here in the ’90s, and then sell the business and start afresh with PayTV, is both visionary and gutsy.