I gave a presentation at InvestHK’s San Francisco office last night, talking about why I opened an office for my agency MWI in Hong Kong, why I think it’s a compelling place for businesses and startups, and what it’s like living there. A large part of my point was that just about everyone should be aware of the opportunities in Asia. It’s a massive market. Half the world’s population lives within a 5 hour flight of Hong Kong. There is a huge and growing middle class. Case in point–how many new smartphone users will there be in the US in five years vs. today? Virtually zero. Maybe a few million, or tens of millions at best. How many new smartphone users will there be in Asia five years from now vs. today? A few to perhaps several hundred million. If you’re launching an app, do you want to ignore that kind of opportunity and focus on English only?
So why Hong Kong? Here are a few key points:
1. Location. It’s right there in the heart of everything. It’s right next to China, close to Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, and everywhere else in Asia. For IoT and hardware startups, it’s right next to Shenzhen, but enjoys the freedoms and unfiltered Internet Shenzhen can’t offer. So live and work in Hong Kong, and commute to Shenzhen an hour away when you need to visit factories. Shoutout to HAX, a hardware startup accelerator in Shenzhen.
2. Language. Everyone in the business world speaks English. Very easy to get around. I know people who have lived there for 40 years and don’t speak more than a few words of Cantonese. That’s a shame, but shows how well you can live there as an English speaker.
3. Startup support. The government is supportive (unless you’re Uber), and unlike just a few years ago there are now a ton of startup organizations, VCs, angels, etc.
Why Not Singapore?
I get asked this all the time. Singapore is great. It’s cleaner and more orderly than Hong Kong. It’s also hot all year round, whereas Hong Kong has seasons and is only hot in the summer. They’re both expensive in terms of cost of living. They both have IP protection. They both have good rule of law. It’s easy to get along with English in both countries. They’re really very similar. Hong Kong definitely wins if you’re doing a hardware/IoT startup, due to Shenzhen being next door. Otherwise you have to dig deeper into the specifics. As Lawrence Tang at InvestHK said last night to someone asking this question, “Look at where your business is going to be in 5 years if you’re in Hong Kong vs. Singapore, and make the choice that’s best for you.” The details of your business will dictate what that choice is, not the generalities of the two locations.
For me, the question has never been why not Singapore, but where to first? Hong Kong won out because I wanted to be closer to China. But we’re in the process of opening an office in Singapore as well. Why not both?
Yes, there are some challenges to living in Hong Kong. There is no Walmart nor anything like it, so you can’t go to one place and find everything you need. What would take you an hour to buy in the US might take you a full day in Hong Kong. Also no Amazon. Well, you can pay for international shipping but that can get expensive, although it is getting less so all the time, I’ve noticed. I sometimes order hard to find items and ship them over. But there’s no easy way to order a color laser printer, for example, and have it show up on your doorstep two days later. Eating out is expensive (plan to pay 2-3 times as much for 1/2 the food when getting lunch). Living spaces are small and expensive. But all this is manageable.Liked it? Share it!