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Innopage CEO taps into apps

Having grown up idolising Bill Gates, Keith Li, the founder and CEO of app developer Innopage, dreamed of running his own IT business ever since he was young.

After graduating with a major in computer science, Li worked as a system integrator for a number of multinational firms before setting up his own company – the precursor to Innopage – to create mobile apps for communication and orienteering in 2003.

Being one of the first people in Hong Kong to have the idea of creating mobile apps, however, did not lead to instant success. “Considering the technology at that time, with so few people going online with their phones, I had to give up,” he says.

After closing the business in 2007, he returned to life as an employee. He refused, however, to forget his dream so easily, and with the opening of smartphone app stores, he found new hope. In 2010, he founded Innopage and chose to focus on three aspects: developing e-books, designing apps for external organisations and developing Innopage’s own apps.

“The apps market can be divided into three parts. There is the high end, with big-budget companies investing in big app developers with more than 100 staff. There are medium firms like us, which serve companies with smaller budgets. Then there are small companies with fewer than 10 people, or individual developers serving clients with limited budgets,” he says.

App development has become the fastest growing segment of the IT industry in the last few years, but Li thinks intense competition at the lower end of the market will lead to problems for small companies. “We are seeing an increasing number of app developers and small co-operatives focus on serving low-budget clients. This is not a positive sign. The abundance in supply will bring down the cost of apps, but medium-sized and large companies will not be affected since they serve different sectors,” he says.

To stand out from competitors, Li’s advice to developers is to create apps that they believe in. “If the developer does not use the app, then it probably won’t be very good. Experiencing the app will inspire the developer to think outside the box to improve it,” he says.

Li thinks youngsters aiming to join the industry should try to gain app-making experience at school. “If a job applicant comes to me with his own app, I will be impressed,” he says. “It may not be of very high quality, but it shows he is passionate about what he does. Passion is the most important trait I look for in developers. Skill-wise, having a strong foundation in programming is an advantage.”