South China Morning Post
This is a time of great change, upheaval of norms and establishment status quo dissolution.
But there’s one steadfast member of the elite that the world can rely on to never change, no matter how the facts around it change: and that’s the Hong Kong government.
One of the nightmares of being an entrepreneur here is that you are always haunted by the idea that you’re wasting your life away.
And so the StartmeupHK Festival 2017, which ends Friday, has been a valiant attempt to move Hong Kong off its traditional and long-worn economic moorings.
I don’t doubt the sincerity of all the panellists, speakers and organisers – but as many of the enthusiastic networking policymakers said, we need to contemplate if they can make a serious commitment that represents broad industrial policy, otherwise, government will be limited to staging conventions that sound like tourism promotions.
It will join the ephemeral wake comprising the wine, Chinese medicine and tech “hubs” that the government has conjured up to show the world how trendy Hong Kong can be.
Some naïve misconceptions held by budding local entrepreneurs need to be cleared up.
No, start-up and angel funding isn’t supposed to pay for a comfortable market level salary and cover your rent. You can ask your VCs for salaries after you achieve key milestones, such as completing and shipping product or even better, generating revenues.
Learn how to write a realistic business and go-to-market plan. Yes, you are supposed to suffer for your art.
Asking people for money is the hardest thing to do. But, it is the essence of business.
Too many young people think raising money is like pushing buttons on an ATM. The most frustrating part of advising young entrepreneurs is that they don’t listen to advice. They waste far too much time engrossed by what they think is something special and shiny. Instead, they realise that ideas aren’t special. Being able to execute ideas in a business plan is far more important.
Beyond the policy recommendations I have made in previous columns, and assuming this city’s government actually wants to move its economy beyond property speculation, it needs to forcefully create an industrial policy that encompasses a broad range of innovation and entrepreneurship.
This requires an understanding of innovation as a process that can be replicated consistently by both institutions and groups – that’s a lot more than the randomness of betting on start-ups.
Being an entrepreneur can be a cruel, frightening and painful experience. You have to believe in yourself in a way that is almost alien to people who decide to be mere employees. Not all business owners are entrepreneurs.
An entrepreneur requires special characteristics. They care about something different above owning their own business. They seek to change or transmute value not seen by others.
Hong Kong’s enduring myth is that its economy is built by entrepreneurs. But, the reality is they are independent businesses. An independent business person is not the same as an entrepreneur. Starting McDonald’s in 1955 and inventing process repetition, control and efficiency into fast food that changed the entire restaurant industry, was an innovation vastly different than opening a won ton noodle cafe.
While one brought radical change to a traditional industry, the others regurgitate the kind of derivative repetition of ideas that Hong Kong cannot seem to escape.
It explains why it is easier to raise millions to open a restaurant than a tech startup in this city despite being overcrowded with copycat restaurant groups who are unwitting serfs to greedy landlords.
Hong Kong must overcome the dilemma posed by China. Despite protectionist, restrictive laws and aggressive censorship, China has evolved into a globally attractive and significant technology market. It may also be viewed as a marginally more attractive place to live than China, but for innovation and entrepreneurship you have to be located in China to understand and penetrate the market.
China has demonstrated that unrestricted individual freedom of thought (as defined in the west) is not an absolute necessity for innovation.
While pure, subversive and radical innovation is not possible, China has shown that commercialisation of western technology for domestic consumption can spawn massive enterprises that serve huge market segments.
By posing and truncating itself as a technology “gateway” or “superconnector”, Hong Kong actually surrenders and trades away much of the recurring benefits of its vast industrial development.
The source of value and power in technology comes from owning intellectual property, not acting as a facilitator of coffee club gatherings.