Business entrepreneur launch: The women of Web Summit’s RISE Conference
Those in-the-know about all things business and leadership-slash-tech and start-up related will be excited to welcome Web Summit’s RISE to the city this week! This huge business tech conference kicks off today and goes on until Thursday 2 June 2016. With speakers from a range of exciting companies flying in from all over the world, this is a major event in the start-up community that is sure to give valuable insights, advice and create new connections.
We teamed up with Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide to interview two RISE attendees. FEW has worked with RISE to offer more tickets to women in tech, increasing the presence of women leadership at the conference… and we are all about showing off the many talented female entrepreneurs in the city we call home (just take a look at our That Girls for some serious inspo). We talked to Michelle Sun, founder of First Code Academy, and Iella Peter, Co-Founder of BloomMe, about their experiences launching a start-up, what they are most excited for at RISE and the most important quality or trait you need to be successful.
Read more about Ines, Co-Founder of Female Entrepreneurs Worldwide here.
Tell us about your business and why you went into it?
Michelle (pictured on the left): First Code Academy is an education institute that teaches kids from age six and above how to code, write computer programmes, games and websites. First launched in 2013, we have taught over 3,000 students in Hong Kong and Singapore how to code. We offer both holiday camps and regular semester programmes to students in both cities.
I first went into it when I moved back from San Francisco Bay Area to my hometown, Hong Kong. When I was working full time in the Bay Area as a software engineer, I volunteered my time to teach students how to code. I realised the empowering impact of coding to this generation of young children when I saw them create their first app and their eyes sparkled. This very same realisation is why I wanted to bring this back to where I grew up, Asia.
Iella (pictured on the right): The idea for BloomMe was born out of the frustration I experienced when I couldn’t conveniently find high quality salons and hidden gems for beauty whilst travelling to Hong Kong on short business trips. Being unfamiliar with the city, I had trouble finding spas and hair salons that weren’t the obvious, high-priced “hotel spas”. I also has issues booking on short notice without incurring the hassle of making several phone calls and experiencing language barriers.
This is when the idea for BloomMe was born: an app providing a fast and user-friendly spa and salon booking process for every beauty category under the sun, with the ability to instantly know time availabilities of treatments, their prices and being able to book immediately. All topped by amazing discounts every day! Today BloomMe is the market leader in HK for all app based spa and beauty bookings.
What has been the most challenging aspect of owning and running your own business?
M: Staying focused on the big picture and celebrating small wins along the way. Running your own business is like a marathon and a sprint at the same time.
I: From my point of view, team recruitment and building is an extremely important, and at the same time, difficult task for every company. It’s easy to have an idea, and even relatively easy to start a business, but to find staff who complement your own strengths and weaknesses and ultimately help to expedite the growth of your company is a tricky task.
Tell us about a career highlight and a moment when you feel like you’d ‘made it’.
M: As we are an education company, my highlight moment at First Code Academy is seeing our students succeed. Last year, one of our students was invited to speak at a TEDx event about his passion in coding. I felt really proud to see him shine on stage. This year, four of our students were invited to speak at a conference in MIT, Boston, I feel it’s amazing to see them shine internationally.
I: I guess, I have two moments. First, and for me personally, a very touching moment was when I first met a stranger at a bar knew about BloomMe and booked with us. That was, to be honest, a totally surreal moment but in the best and most positive way!
The other is when we were able to close our first investment round, for sure! At that point I realised we’d created something to last. An investor, basically a stranger, believes in the same thing you believe in – you’ve put all your energy, all your heart and soul (and money) in and they’re willing to fund this idea. That was a very empowering moment.
The secret to success – what’s the most important quality/trait you need to succeed as a female entrepreneur?
M: I believe being an entrepreneur means learning fast. Every few months I find my role shifting dramatically – from hiring, to product development, to operational policies – being able to learn and adapt in face of challenge is key.
I: To simply keep going, to believe in your strength and to acknowledge your weaknesses at the same time. Which is, by the way, a particular strength of female entrepreneurs and business owners. Men usually find it difficult to accept the naturally given fact that everyone has weaknesses, and therefore don’t (for example) recruit staff fast enough who can complement those to grow their business.
As a female entrepreneur you sometimes need to simply close your eyes and ears in a male dominated business world and just continue your work – “business as usual”. At the same time, it’s also important that you don’t take yourself too seriously either. Ego is the not what you need to reach your goal. It’s energy, the will to succeed and also to let go sometimes and to simply rest for a moment and relax. To acknowledge the fact that you won’t be able to finish a task today and to accept it for tomorrow.
Where do you feel the HK start-up ecosystem will be in 5 years time, and where do you hope your business will be then?
M: I believe HK startups will start to have more experienced entrepreneurs giving back to the ecosystem, mentoring and guiding new entrepreneurs. I hope that in some way, I can also contribute on that front going forward.
I: Thanks to its high population density, strong credit card penetration and affluence, Hong Kong is especially well positioned to be a startup hub for convenience focussed O2O and e-commerce businesses. For example Hong Kong’s revenue potential to BloomMe is about 70% that of the whole of Indonesia, while Hong Kong is operationally much easier to execute thanks to its world class infrastructure and business friendly legal environment. As such, BloomMe will likely focus on similar markets in the future.
How do you create a harmonious workplace and what makes a productive team?
M: Over-communicate – I believe as a team grows, there is increasing need to double down communication between different stakeholders.
I: To create a harmonious workplace that’s still ambitious and success driven is a difficult task. Especially because your team is built with very different personalities which ideally complement each other, but of course at the same time has the chance to lead to tensions. I’m very lucky though; my team are all very passionate about BloomMe so there is always a “buzz” in the air every day with excitement for the business. One thing I think is important and do for my team is show my appreciation regularly – whether its organising a staff BBQ or even just a memo with thanks, I show my team how valuable they are to the business, and how grateful I am of their work.
In general, I think, clear tasks and responsibilities are the best way to avoid tension. Of course that’s a very tricky part as often startups naturally lack this. We need to be very flexible, new tasks come up every day and in order to succeed, the whole team has to simply go with the flow. Weekly team meetings where you can share your thoughts, present your finished tasks and ask for help if you need it always work.
Any advice on how to deal with failure?
M: Remember that failure is a way to learn and it is important to focus on the lessons behind. Once you can move beyond that, you’re one step closer to success.
I: Simply keep going. Shit happens. To everyone. You won’t make the same mistake twice.
What are you most excited for at RISE and who are you looking forward to hearing speak?
M: I’m excited to meet entrepreneurs and startup community members regionally at RISE. I’m looking forward to hearing about the era of drones from DJI.
I: Networking is a very important part of a startup life. Therefore I think it’s an amazing idea to bring entrepreneurs and investors together to be able to do exactly that. I think RISE is a great chance to learn, share and grow as an entrepreneur and company!
Do you have a mentor/a person you admire in terms of their career?
M: I admire Sheryl Sandberg for her tenacity, leadership and grace in face of personal tragedy. I believe leaders today have to embrace being vulnerable and open in their communications. She’s a great example of that.
Any advice for aspiring female entrepreneurs and business owners?
M: Get out there and talk to your customers, start small and iterate from there
I: Believe in yourself, your product, learn from your mistakes and take on tasks head on.
Tickets for RISE have unfortunately sold out this year, but there’s good news! If you haven’t bagged one you’re in luck, as they’ll be live streaming the conference from 9.30am on their Facebook page. Check out the schedule, speakers, attendees like Michelle and Iella, and start-ups that will be there!