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Leader of the group-buyers

Published on Friday, 14 Dec 2012
Danny Yeung
Founder and CEO, Groupon Hong Kong
Photo: May Tse

Danny Yeung took a leaf out of the book on effective entrepreneurship when he set out to establish Hong Kong’s biggest online group-buying business.

Yeung, the founder of ubuyibuy.com – now Groupon Hong Kong after being acquired by global giant Groupon – paired passion, tenacity and determination with entrepreneurial spirit, cold business analysis and strict execution to race ahead of the group-buying pack.

The company, which already has over 120 staff, offers between 10 and 20 new deals every day, giving discounts on products from restaurants, spas, beauty salons, travel agencies, shops and more.

In an effort to make sure he stays at the front of the group-buying industry, Yeung recently opened a Groupon Concept Store, where customers can test lifestyle products before redeeming them.

What did you first get interested in the group-buying model?
I chanced upon Groupon while living in the US... They had raised a huge amount of funding, really an insane amount. I became very interested and looked into the business model.

I also tried out the model by doing a deal with Groupon through a cousin’s restaurant. I sold over 800 coupons in 24 hours and fell in love with the business model. It felt like an awesome idea and I decided I wanted to run my own Groupon. I chose Hong Kong as the place to do this.

How did you start?
I came to Hong Kong within a month of Groupon raising its funding. I had never lived in Hong Kong before, but as I travelled to China for business every two to three months and Hong Kong was a transit point, it was somewhat familiar to me. We launched ubuyibuy.com on 28 June 2010. We only had five people, so I was sweeping the floors, calling the merchants and doing customer service. On opening day, I had an interview with Bloomberg. By that time, I hadn’t slept for 60 hours.

Were you ahead of the curve?
Although we acted very quickly, we launched in the same week as about 10 other similar websites. Our original intention was to launch a new deal every day and offer savings of between 50 and 90 per cent. We kept up with that promise, but the others couldn’t.

When did you start talking to Groupon?
We started in September 2010 and closed the deal in three months. Timing was critical – although we were not the first in Hong Kong with the idea, we were first to execute the plan. Anyone can have ideas, but it is how you execute them that is important.

In addition, Groupon’s vision and mine are very closely aligned. If it’s not a product I personally want to buy, it’s not going to be on Groupon. We have a quality assurance team to see that products meet our global Groupon standards set across 48 countries.

What work experience did you bring to the table?
I have always loved to work. I have been working since I was 16 – I used to spend a lot of money so I needed to support myself. First, I did telemarketing and I became very good at cold calling. Within three months, I was a manager. After graduation, I worked for an internet company.

I first got into business when I was 25, doing a franchise with a restaurant from Hong Kong. It was making money but not as much as I hoped. I also ran an export hotel-furniture business in Las Vegas. Two friends invested in it, but I was the only operational person.

Do you need to be IT savvy in this business?
I have always been fascinated by management information systems. By keeping up to date with these systems, I found this opportunity to get into the internet space. You need a bit of IT knowledge but, in fact, the business is not too technical.

The internet is growing so fast, yet there are still a lot of people in Hong Kong who don’t use it. There is so much potential and if you are in business, you should understand how the internet works. Hong Kong still lags behind some countries in this respect.

What is your management style?
Everyone is different, so you can’t manage them all the same way. Some people need more attention than others, and some are more sensitive than others. You have to adopt different styles of management depending on who you are talking to.

My approach is to always have time for others and see what they have to offer. I believe in trusting and empowering people first, unless they prove me wrong. I also believe in an open culture, flexibility and giving staff the freedom to act. I don’t mind if they come up to me and ask questions.

What is the secret to being a successful entrepreneur?
If you like something, research the business model well and if you decide to go for it, stretch yourself and keep a strong business ethic. First study, then execute and be prepared for sacrifices. One can’t have it all.

You also have to be motivated and passionate. When we started, even if merchants didn’t believe it would work, they believed in my passion and that is how we got the deals.

What sacrifices did you and your family have to make?
I work from 9.30am to at least 10pm. I have been married for two years and my wife has really had to make a lot of sacrifices. She is the most supportive person ever and has been key to what I wanted to do.

What makes you the most proud?
Business growth keeps me excited, as does seeing my employees mature and grow. It feels great to have made a difference in their lives.

Also, Groupon has changed people’s shopping habits. Before Groupon became successful here, not many people shopped online in Hong Kong. It makes me proud to have been a part of this.

It also feels great seeing my staff mature and grow.

What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs?
Stay humble, regardless how successful you are, and never forget your family.

For the full video interview with Danny Yeung, founder and CEO of Groupon Hong Kong, please visit www.smartjob.com.

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