Where it all started
As founding executives of QUT’s entrepreneurship society (QUT Staters) we (Sam, Jeremy and Tim) were privileged to travel to Hong Kong to partake in RISE, Asia’s biggest startup/tech conference. The conference brought together a mix of emerging startups, investors and enterprise thought leaders from around the world, allowing startups to pitch to investors and enterprise leaders to demonstrate how their companies are changing the way we live.
As keen entrepreneurs, one of our own early stage startups, WantMarket (www.wantmarket.com.au) was accepted to exhibit at the conference. WantMarket is a social, demand based marketplace that allows users to find products and services they want and receive rewards for helping others.
To assist the facilitation of the growing startup community at QUT, we were fortunate to be recipients of the QUT EDF (Experiential Development Fund) to help cover the cost of the travels and conference tickets. The learning-heavy experience was a total of three days, but provided insights that can be applied over the rest of our careers.
Day 1: Arriving in Hong Kong
Our flight landed in Hong Kong at 6am local time and as such we had to kill 6 hours before we could check into our accommodation. Making the most of our short stay we decided to bear the burden of our luggage and explore the city. We took the tram up the steep slope to Victoria Peak, which is a mountain in the western half of Hong Kong Island that overlooks the city. Normally a busy tourist destination, at 7am the place was almost deserted so we spent a few hours enjoying the serenity of the mountain top.
After a few more hours of exploring the city and trying the local cuisines we were finally able to check into our apartment. Our apartment which was booked through airbnb was located right in the city centre close to the street markets restaurants and only a few minutes’ walk from the convention centre which is where the conference was to be held. After a quick power nap we headed down to the convention centre for the event registration.
That night we headed out for dinner at a local Chinese restaurant (Ding Dims) and enjoyed a variety of adventurous dishes including bamboo fungus dim sims and chicken feet. We then joined in on the RISE conference pub crawl where we were able to experience Hong Kong’s night life alongside other event attendees.
Day 2: Pitching, Networking and Learning
For the first day of the conference we were given an exhibition stand to exhibit our startup. When we arrived the stand was already set up for us and within minutes we were pitching our startup to investors, venture capitalist’s and entrepreneurs. We came prepared with laptops to display our website, business cards and a pitch deck that we could email to interested parties.
Know your startup inside out
As a very early stage startup we were somewhat underprepared and inexperienced at pitching to investors. It’s one thing to pitch a business to a user, however, pitching to a potential investor or VC is a totally different ball game. You really need to know your business inside out. You need have a well thought out revenue model and be able to show accurate financial projections upon request. Investors want to know exactly how they are going to get a return on their investment.
Practice makes perfect
This was a great opportunity to practice pitching. Through practice we were able to significantly improve our pitch. Although we are still far from perfect, this experience really highlighted how much you can learn and how much your confidence can grow by just jumping in the deep end and having a go at pitching.
Believe in yourself and have fun!
After explaining what the business is, people’s natural response was to ask personal questions like why we are starting it, what motivates us, where do we see this going and other things we weren’t really expecting. This threw us off at first, but after running through it a few times not only did we get better results, but also gained some motivation by articulating why we believe in ourselves! Also, not everyone liked our idea, so we had to keep a positive mind and ultimately just have fun and enjoy the feedback we got, positive or negative.
That afternoon we headed to the centre stage and listened to some inspiring talks from enterprise thought leaders who are changing the way we live. The first talk was on how big data can help save and make lives. The talk featured Michael Huang, Glow founder and CEO, Danny Yeung, Prenetics CEO, and Saeju Jeong, Noom CEO. I was particularly blown away by how glow are uniquely applying the power of data science to women’s health and tackling issues relating to fertility, pregnancy, menopause and beyond.
The second talk was on the key to millennial engagement. This talk featured 9GAG co-founder and CEO, Ray Chan and Activate founder and MD Michael Wolf. This discussion was focused on how to reach the digital savvy millennial generation who are now the key target audience for so many companies. Ray Chan put a lot of emphasis on understanding your users to the extent of being a user yourself and knowing first hand what’s ‘cool’ and ‘what’s not’ amongst your user demographic.
To end the afternoon we decided to check out some other startups who were exhibiting. This was a great chance to network with other founders and learn from each other’s successes and failures. It was also interesting hearing a variety of startups pitch their businesses. We were able to learn from what was and wasn’t effective in their pitches and apply it to our own.
Day 3: Pitching Finals
The final day of the conference brought the pitching finals. These were startups from all over the world who were pictchig to venture capitalists that have critiqued more businesses than I could imagine. I was getting nervous just thinking of the finalists’s situation. There was media crews and an eager crowd to set the scene and make for good spectating.
We were lucky to see a variety of different ideas, ranging from a wearable metronome, to smart air-conditioning that knows everything about you, to genetic testing to improve the effectiveness of medicine. What was even more interesting was the background of the presenters. There were business professional, engineers, musicians and scientists all brought to the one common ground of sharing their ideas with the world.
After the pitching there was time for more expert talks. One particular one that stood out was insights to how the notion of money transactions was changing, how payments were becoming ‘invisible’. I had never thought about this before and it was great to hear forward thinking thoughts from industry experts about things like university students will just use ‘digital wallets’ in the not too distant future.
One thing that stood out was the way that international events can bring not only different academic backgrounds together, but people from all over the world together. We were fortunate enough to meet people from all over the globe, from Mexico, Sweden, Asia and more. Not only that, we met this one person in line for a talk from Australia. After chatting for a bit about his ideas, we found out that he was actually a QUT Alumni! Was great to see there’s a bit of QUT wherever you go!
After the formalities of the conference had finished, we had the opportunity to do some extra brand promotion and explore some more of Hong Kong. After a quick ferry ride, we had the chance to quickly explore a small village before heading back to the city centre for some more dim sims!
Day 4: Final Day in Hong Kong
It was a quick few days, and it was time to head home. We carried out our normal routine of heading to the streets for some interesting Asian bakery food. The activities of the last few days had tired us out and we hopped into one the adrenaline-raising cabs for the last time. We were able to check-in our luggage at the city train station and lightly head to the airport. They should definitely have this option in more cities!
The flight home allowed time to reflect on our learning for the conference that we can apply to wantmarket and hopefully translate to the QUT community. Firstly, no matter what country or background you have, startups are a community that bring people together to the common goal of wanting to create change through new ideas. Also, practice in the confidence to exert the belief in yourself and belief in your idea is key to connecting with people in this scene. Lastly, we would again like to bring to light the fact that none of this would have been possible without the help from QUT’s EDF funding.
If you have any questions about Hong Kong, feel free to reach out to us on Facebook or throw us an email. We could talk all day about startups and Hong Kong!