Last month we got the opportunity to be a part of Rise, Hong Kong, a global startup summit. Not only was the summit a high-on-energy and idea-packed valuable experience, but Hong Kong was a great host too, elegantly blending all its natural beauty with it's unique urban vibe.
It all made for a pleasing and productive combination of building new relationships, promoting our startup and exploring things. Here’s what I thought the highlights of the conference were for me:
Conference schedules and the conversations that fill them are often great indicators of what's the talk of the town. With those and a few other indicators, the top five spaces that appeared to be in trend and were seeing great discussion were:
1. AI & VR: These are buzzwords everywhere, and they dominated a lot of the talks too, with widespread applications discussed across industries.
2. Social et al: Over 50 startups exhibited in this space covering social discovery, content creation, distribution, influencer marketing and yes, e-commerce.
3. Blockchain and Fintech: A whole one-day conference was dedicated to these subjects, so you know what’s coming up.
4. Education: Over 15 startups in this space and the winner of the Pitch competition was a startup that’s gamified math leaning and made it fun.
5. Skills & HR: Quite a few startups from various countries were working on bridging the skills gap aimed at mitigating many recruitment nightmares too. Much needed.
The Ecosystem’s EQ
What added to the conference’s emotional quotient (EQ) was how the Centre space provoked people to think about inclusivity within the startup ecosystem.
Giant boards (above) coaxed people to vote on if they thought there was sexism or racism in startups, and there was enough supply of stickers to cast your vote. Or if there was classism (might we add caste in India?). Or if AI will wipe out jobs real soon. There was also one on if China will overthrow Silicon Valley as the hub for startups and innovation. Well, what do you think?
These subjects are rarely discussed, so the prominence given to them was refreshing. A take away here was how the community is trying to stay progressive socially too, and not just advance in terms of tech. As many come to understand, it’s a need too, for innovation thrives on diversity.
Top Advice For Startups
During the conference, we got a day to exhibit our startup to all attendees too.
At the stall and over the many keynotes and discussions, one did get quite a bit of tips on startups. Here are the top ones that I picked up:
1. On How To Pitch: On the last day, two leading investors (one an investor in Slack, and another one from China’s Zhen Fund), shared what they look for in pitches. In their words, what matters most are team, product, passion and revenue models. Prototypes should be added, investors love to see them. An understanding of the industry and possible exits is preferred too. Exits not always though. So be careful balancing that.
2. Everything Is A Media Company: This one came from Gary Vaynerchuk during his keynote. The tip was that every startup/individual must see itself as a media company too because of how mass content consumption on social media is a big source of branding and leads generation. Create value, via media.
3. Tech Cofounders Are Gold: Like a lot of us have already learnt, this is something we heard from quite a few people; from investors during the day, and from startups at pubs. So before you start thinking about that investment round, ensure your tech stack is really sound.
4. Culture Is Crucial: Another one coming from Gary V, another one that seems pretty obvious but repeating doesn’t harm. Team culture and talent management are two of the biggest things that contribute towards successful startups. Know what matters to whom in your team and get it right. And weed out politics where you see it, asap.
5. Keep At It: This is something I heard from many people. While Razer’s CEO Min-Liang Tan said they were successful mainly because they stuck to their vision, 9Gag co-founder Ray Chan’s tip in a 2-minute chat when we caught up with him was focus on particular category and keep at it. Funny cats, he said, was the category that worked for him. And then there were so many others who said people give up too soon. Always easier said than done, but this was coming from people who’ve done things.
Hong Kong diaries
And while all this kept us really engaged, we did get some time (just a little) to soak in the city’s vibe. On the left is the view from our hostel lobby. The regular night summits at some great pubs helped too. So again, five tips for a first-time Hong Kong visitor:
1. Get The Octopus Card: This is like their Metro Card, but so much more. It works on all public transport, shops and cafes as well. Really helpful!
2. Metro > Cab: Cabs are hard to get at some places and can be expensive. Uber is difficult to get too and the pick-up location is hard to match. Metro works best.
3. Places To Visit: While Lan Kwai Fong on a hill is home to lot of upscale bars, Sheung Wan, a short walk away, is an art district with beautiful street art. Soak it in. And Victoria Peak is a good spot for the view of the city. A friend had said Hong Kong's outer lying islands are where the real beauty is. Well, we couldn't make it to them, but if you are there next, do take time out. Her suggestions on travel are top notch.
4. Great Place To Shop: This every Hong Kong returnee must tell you. Yup, they’ve got great stores and the rates (even after converting to Indian rupees) are good. Uniqlo and Muji fans are likely to enjoy this the most.
5. Carry a universal converter: The power points use different sockets. I forgot to pack mine in, and it would have been dreadful had my team-mates not been carrying theirs. Do take note.
So in a few packed days we were able to take in a lot more than I’d imagined. Not only was the trip productive for us as a startup, but I gained a lot personally too. The session where we pitched MYOLO almost like a live Shark Tank episode and the hands-on sessions by Facebook on analytics were certainly helpful. So much depends on how you seek and soak in knowledge and relationships.
Something’s missing, or is it just me?
And amidst it all, as we processed the talk about Asia really taking over as the innovation leader and Africa being the continent where the next wave of developers will come from, I couldn’t help but notice the absence of some conversations.
What I particularly felt would have added more value was if there was some talk and representation from government and policy makers. Maybe I missed those sessions, did someone else think otherwise? While innovators often lead things, policies do tend to play catalyst. There's got to be a blend, somewhere, no?
And of all the over 500 startups exhibiting, the lowly representation of social entrepreneurs among them was striking as well. Sure, gettinWeg to Hong Kong costs and they may have skipped it, but even local representation in this space seemed less. A conscious decision maybe. Either way, telling perhaps of the social impact versus profit conundrum and where we lie on it.
But then again, this was still arguably Asia’s biggest startup conference to date. So while it’ll likely grow, include more spaces and create new opportunities, I hope it continues to add value for every participant, attendee and investor. A value-adding experience quite cherished and a definite recommend to startups.
So, that was Rise for me.
What was it like for you? What did you learn there or at other startup conferences?