Jonathan Buford runs the coworking space and startup hub ‘BootHK’ in Hong Kong. He is also the cofounder of one of Hong Kong’s leading startup organizations startupsHK. Jon is working on his startup Makible which connects online communities of customers and works with them to create products that are not available in retail stores.Jon first started coming to HK in 2000 for manufacturing toys. Over time he spent more and more time here and eventually just stayed full time. “This is a very common story here. I think people either really like it here and see the opportunity or they don't. Around 2008, my product business tanked with the rest of the market, since then I have been doing online connected ventures that use my background in consumer products and the development of them” says Jon.
StartupsHK is two years old now. They started out in one of the local coffee shops just meeting and talking about what everyone was up to with a handful of local founders. This grew and after seeing that they needed some place for tech startups to meet and work in an open environment, Jon cofounded Boot Hong Kong to fill that role, which has been open for over a year now.
Being the cofounder of 2 initiatives to support the Hong Kong startup ecosystem, I ask Jon about the changes he has seen since they started out. “As far as changes go, I think as a community, we have been working hard to become more competitive and improve the quality of what is here. We don't have easy funding available and it is expensive here, so a lot of the focus is on approaching things in a sustainable bootstrapping way. The result after two years is a huge growth in the interest and also the number of active startups in Hong Kong. Also, we are seeing a steady increase in the number of local funded startups as well as some success stories from the local community” says Jon.
About educational institutions encouraging entrepreneurship, Jon says that although more schools are facilitating students to look at their own opportunities, there is still a lot of room for growth. He thinks once they have a couple of local Hong Kong success cases, they will see more and more support in general.
According to Jon, the biggest challenge for the local Chinese is similar to many other Asian countries where it is difficult to get support from family to do a startup. But this is changing with the financial climate making many jobs less certain than working for yourself. Also local investors have a difficult time with backing tech startups when they have more known investments in the market or real estate.
Startups in HK have many advantages too: HK is great hub in Asia that is fairly open and neutral as things go. HK has low taxes and is close to many great places to visit. HK is similar to Singapore, but with a larger local population. The government is very hands off, which is both a blessing and a curse. He thinks if someone would want someplace to run a global business, Hong Kong makes a lot of sense.
Startup funding is mostly dominated by private equity in Hong Kong as opposed to Venture Capital according to Jon. But he thinks the VC funding will see more development when there is more angel funding happening, creating a deal pipeline.
On his startup Makible Jon says that originally he wanted to create a crowd funding platform for products that licensed and manufactured the successful projects. This would have two benefits: supporters are more likely to get what they funded and in a shorter time, and innovators can focus on creating new things instead of getting stuck in manufacturing and distributing the product.
At this point they still offer this model, but are currently working on a new option based around rapid manufacturing. By using new technology, Makible can now start to bring products to market in 2-4 weeks with little initial investment. With projects using this new route, they plan to just set up a non-exclusive license for making a product.
“Our focus will be with enabling new rapid manufacturing technologies and looking at how to build a platform around that. We have a new project that we will be funding starting sometime later this week which is a $300 personal desktop 3D printer called the Makibox. This same technology will be used as the foundation for many of our internal processes” adds Jon.
To read other articles from our Hong Kong series click here.