Starting a Startup in Hong Kong with Truong Lam, Co-Founder of TaxiWise

Truong, please introduce yourself…

My name is Truong Lam and my other cofounder are Jean-Marc Ly and Lawrence Tse. Jean-Marc and I are originally from Silicon Valley. San Jose, California to be exact.

Lawrence has many IT and startup experiences under his belt. I went to CSU East Bay in Hayward, California. Jean-Marc went to San Jose State University. Lawrence went to University of Houston.

We all have background in the technology sector while Jean-Marc’s main focus is marketing and communications.

How did you get the idea of starting TaxiWise?

When arriving to Hong Kong, we wanted to do something where everyone benefits. We chose taxis because it is something we found interesting due to the fact that the taxi industry is fragmented and dispersed.

How do you see the startup ecosystem developing in Hong Kong?

The startup ecosystem is budding for sure, but Hong Kong has a long way to go. Most of the people who are doing one will have a hard time getting the resources they need.

They first are grown up to graduate college, get a good degree and work at a bank, finance firm or accounting firm for the rest of their lives. That is the culture here. When we came here (Jean-Marc and I), we see the lack in sweat equity and the difference of cultures here.

What are the challenges of running a startup in Hong Kong?

The challenges vary. For us it is the language barrier. The only person in the founding team that speaks Cantonese is Lawrence. Jean-Marc and I don’t speak Cantonese so it makes it hard for us to communicate with a potential customer or partner.

The other challenge we have is finding the right ‘fit’ of talent to work with us. That also ties in with the stigma and culture here in Hong Kong. Though I am sure a lot of people want to build the next BIG thing in Hong Kong, but they aren’t willing to bleed out sweat, wake up early mornings to send thank you emails to clients, work long and endless hours on end just to meet expectations.

What advice can you share with entrepreneurs looking to venture into Hong Kong to start a startup?

Best advice would be find cheap housing. Living here isn’t like living in the US where you have a walk in closet and a car to drive. Well, you can have those, but it will cost you! Your expenses will rise and it will bite you in the ass.

I would say cost of housing is the #1 thing we have to watch out for. Jean-Marc wrote an article about entrepreneurs and housing. Check it out here.

Secondly, a lot of people want to venture into Hong Kong because they want to tap the China market. Depending what you do, it is quite difficult to tap into China because their market is so much different. Sometimes running into government officials aren’t worth it.

What is the best way to become a part of the startup community in Hong Kong?

StartupsHK, Cocoon, The Good Lab, events, and many many more. Theres co-working spaces popping up everywhere. You can even find a calendar of events that you can attend. Check it out here. The site is ran by Paul Orlando.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of running a startup in Hong Kong vs. the US and other countries in the region?

Strengths in the US is that talent is everywhere. You can walk into a coffee shop with your notebook and pen and hear people talk about the next programming language or how they made an exit from a startup. They are also nice to share to you what they’re building and not afraid to keep everything to themselves.

Here in HK its a bit different. Finding the talent is always the main issue, but finding the right talent that wants to do a startup is quite hard.

In the US, you have many incubators and resources to tap into. Theres Y Combinator, Tech Stars, even Hacker Dojo, a donation only coworking space in Mountain View. There you can find many resources you need. Just buy them a bottle of beer.

In HK it’s more like ‘what’s in it for me?’?

Are the government getting involved with the startup/investment ecosystem in Hong Kong?

Startmeup is a fairly new event that fosters entrepreneurs coming to Hong Kong. It is ran by InvestHK. There are other incubation programs available, such a Cybertport and Hong Kong Science and Technology Park where we are the incubatee in the Incu-App program. HKSTP offers up to 300K HKD reimbursement for costs.

What business opportunities do you see emerging in Hong Kong right now?

Other new business opportunities we see popping up are coworking spaces! Theres so many now and all over Hong Kong.

The other hot thing we see popping up is Bitcoins. Not sure how that will be played out in the near future, but it looks like its a hot thing here. Especially, HK being the financial gem of Asia.

What’s next for TaxiWise?

Next for Taxiwise is releasing the iOS app for the consumers. Making it stable in Hong Kong and expanding to other Asian countries is our next plan.

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