Wearing a deep grey Polo shirt, a pair of dark blue jeans and a pair of sneakers, 36-year-old Gregory Sung is like any other man you would see on a busy street in Hong Kong. What makes him different is his startup experience.
“If you have a clear picture of how you are going to win the game, then start-up is never your choice,” said Sung, founder of two Internet startups. But 11 years ago, Sung never thought of starting a business, not to mention two businesses.
There were few Internet startups in Hong Kong and people perceived starting an Internet business was not as promising as working for a well-established company. But the environment seems to be changing.
As pointed out by the Invest Hong Kong, a Government Department, aiming to provide services for Hong Kong businesses, there were only three co-working spaces in 2010, but there are 45 in 2015. Co-working spaces are set up to foster startup communities.
Sung seized the startup trend and both of his startup ideas came from his own needs.
He first established aNobii, an online community for book lovers in 2006 because he could not find a less popular book that he wanted. During that time, he also spotted the importance of translation, which latter became the foundation of his second startup business Onesky, which focuses on translation service for companies.
“It’s always hard to choose a topic when starting a business,” said Sung, “you need to think about why is it worth exploring, what makes you unique and what is the best timing.”
For Sung, he decided to sell aNobii to HMV, a British venture capitalist in 2010, when he found out that aNobii could develop better with more resources and a bigger platform.
And he did not stop dreaming big.
The success of aNobii empowered him with the experiences and confidence to start Onesky, a translation management platform which lets app developers and professional translators communicate without countless emails.
“The biggest difference between this two platforms is the business model,” said Sung, “aNobii is based on a business-to-customer model and Onesky is based on a business-to-business model.”
“Obviously the latter makes more money,” he continued, laughing.
Within four years, Onesky has accumulated over 2,000 company customers including some online e-commerce platforms like Shopify and Scribd. And Onesky would be moving into a 5,000ft new office in the coming months because Sung emphasizes on building a team with better communication.
Sung has a team of 30 men whom he values very much. He said, “I care a lot about the thinking process, not so much about the conclusion, but I want to make sure you have a solid explanation.”
It seems that he has achieved these without any difficulties. But he didn’t doesn’t get what he wanted without any effort or struggle.
After graduating from the University of Michigan in 2001, Sung worked in Shanghai for Compaq, a well-established company selling computers, which he described as “boring” and “made me understand I would rather endure other sufferings than this.”
So he left and joined YesAsia, an e-commerce startup in Hong Kong. He worked as an online bookstore project manger. This experience became one of the foundation elements for him to start a business.
“The founder of YesAsia was 24 when I joined the company and he was just a normal person,” Sung said, “Why couldn’t I do something as my boss does?”
Sung reemphasized this particular experience, saying; “without the experience in YesAisa, I would not be doing Internet startups, this is for sure” in an article he wrote for Apple Daily on January 1st, 2011.
Google is the third element that drove him to start the business and influenced him all along. “We are friend and ally with Google and Apple,” said Sung when asked about how Onesky could stand out among its competitors.
He wanted to work for Google and built a website as one key to open the door, so aNobii was like a portfolio at the beginning. Although now he has his own business, he still keeps referring to Google and its founder, Larry Page as examples to talk about business models.
From 2006 to 2015, the startup experiences gave him the insights into not only his business, but also the insights of the Hong Kong startup environment and most important of all, himself.
“If you compare the atmosphere now with that in 2006, you will see now there are more co-working spaces and people begin to have a different view of doing Internet startups,” said Sung, “Many people in the past may want a job in a bank after graduating, but now you see some people that used to work for banks would leave and begin doing their own businesses.”
“For me, I think starting a business is a process of discovering myself,” Sung laughed, “because you are forced to encounter many difficulties through which you would see who you are.”
“But if my two daughters ask me what to do in the future, I would definitely want them to grow in a stable environment.”
Sung still goes to work wearing polo shirts, jeans and sneakers, and his WhatsApp image is picture of him and his daughter. This normal Hong Kong man might not want to be the next Steve Jobs, but he is being himself and discovering himself constantly through startup businesses.