Thursday, 31 August 2017

A Hong Kong Start-Up with Grit

Steven Lam with his on-demand van hire service GoGoVan
Finally a Hong Kong story about grit and determination.

Meet Steven Lam Hoi-yuen. The 31-year-old grew up in a housing estate in Kowloon, where he still lives. He was a high school dropout in Hong Kong and moved to the United States to study at a community college in California in 2005.

He excelled there academically and managed to get into University of California, Berkeley and studied business. But to afford the tuition, he did a number of odd jobs, like teaching himself how to fix iPhones, bicycles and even selling electronics on eBay. At one point he even sold hot dogs to make ends meet.

Lam (far right) with two of his co-founders
He came back to Hong Kong and had trouble finding a job and worked in a Chinese restaurant as a food delivery man. He thought of an idea with his two friends of selling advertising on takeaway boxes.

But then they couldn't find enough vans to transport the takeaway boxes (printed with ads) to the restaurants which led to the idea of GoGoVan, an on-demand van hire service.

However he had trouble getting start-up money to fund the venture.

"I wanted to borrow money from friends to start the company, but they  were saving up to buy flats," said Lam. "They said that if I failed, they will lose their homes. It was very difficult for me to borrow money.

"In our society, getting a [stable] job and buying a house is too deeply rooted in our thinking. When our generation is fighting for a place to stay or to make enough to meet our basic needs, there is no room for them to be [innovative], it's a huge problem," he said.

He eventually got HK$20,000 in initial capital and rented a small room in an industrial building. "We ran out of cash in two months," he said.

Lam will be chief executive of the newly merged company
However, GoGoVan attracted investment from New Horizon Capital, Singapore Press Holdings, and the Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund, a non-profit initiative.

And yesterday Lam was able to announce that GoGoVan is merging with China's 58 Suyun to create Asia's largest online intra-city logistics and freight service.

Unlike most of his peers, Lam's goal was not to own a flat. "If your dream is to buy a house, then at the end, all you have is a house," he said. "At the end of the day the story I want to tell my grandchildren is not that I could buy house, but that I did something great, something game-changing."

Spoken like a true entrepreneur.

Lam, who was chief executive of GoGoVan, will be chief executive of the merged firm, which will extend its reach to 200 more mainland cities and expand further into Southeast Asia in the next two or three years.

He urged Hong Kong people who have a dream to just go for it. "Don't wait to do something, use your own hands and [go prove it]."

How many other people like Lam are there? We need people like him to help Hong Kong get its mojo back.



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