Doing a startup is hard. Doing a startup in another country is even harder.

I wanted to take the time to write a reflection post today after spending more than a year here in Hong Kong. As many of you know, I came from the Bay Area of Sunny California. The warm weather, the nice drive with a convertible on highway 17 to the beach or the special brewery house and munching on my family’s trade bagels. Boy do I miss these little seemingly nothing moment.

When you’re exposed in the Bay Area to all the happenings, the tech stories, the people changing the world, you feel your life is boring; but a dot in a sea of sand. One wise man once said, “The greatest struggle is to be something different from what the average man is.” And I guess that was my feeling too at that time I decided to embark for Hong Kong. Although the original plan was to come for only three months, it grew to 7 and still until now.

There are times where I wonder if this is the place where I really belong. Life is challenging, cost are high, there is a somewhat language/culture barrier yet Hong Kong has this magical feeling about itself. Although most expat view Hong Kong as a hub where one comes and goes in life, to learn about himself and learn what is most important. There are friends here like my buddy Vladimir, who reminded me to keep going through the tough time, the impact on the community I’ve made, and the important of finding oneself in your own journey of life. “A man can tell another man’s worth just by looking him. Men do not have to speak to each other, it’s a feeling we just get, we just understand. JM, you’re a good man.”

There are days where I just feel the world is a wall too tall to climb. Not enough grip for me to hold on to and one wrong step and everything will come crashing down. These moments are quickly forgotten thanks to my group of supporting friends. These friends who encourage me during the tough times, I cannot never be thankful enough. I’m often reminded of a quote by Will Smith, “If you’re absent during my struggle, don’t expect to be present during my success.” 

Being in Hong Kong, you never truly feel as if you belong. I did not come here seeking love or here to work at a bank. Hong Kong was never more then just a temporary stop. The fast lifestyle, the distant feeling you get from people and most of all the somewhat fake friendship that seems the common norm especially during networking session. Although these are prevalent throughout the world, you glimpse at it from an outside perspective and cannot help to surprise you. People here are focused and often called rude because they only see themselves and where they should be heading. No fault in that, its normal but I do miss the times when I could go to a bar in California and pick up a chat with the guy next to me with ease. Here people don’t want to be bothered…

Recently I was interviewed in a local newspaper about the lack of funding in Hong Kong, another disadvantage for startups (that and the housing difficulties i’ve had). I’ve pitched publicly so much that an executive assistant who trains executive to give public presentation says I speak like a pro (I’m sure he was exaggerating as its his job) but the hunt is still on with no sight yet of the treasure.

We are having tough times and plenty more to come. I know I will be alright in the end. I’ve always been positive and optimistic. I just need to ride through this wave. Time to go polish my surfboard…

bob marley quote

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Reply to article: Hong Kong Housing vs the World, a Startup’s Real Real Estate Cost

I wanted to share my reply to this article: Hong Kong Housing vs the World, a Startup’s Real Real Estate Cost because It really hits me. I really agree a lot with this post and wanted to share my response to this article and others from the startup community who have questioned the sense or believes it is just a rant from a dissatisfied expat.

I would like to share my humble opinion on the article as someone who came here from SF Bay Area. I must say that I agree with the author of the article.

I came here for Paul’s Startup Bootcamp and AcceleratorHK and ultimately decided to stick it here some more. I feel that HK’s startup ecosystem will rather benefit from having outside entrepreneurs come here, as Hong Kong’s mentality is still somewhat traditional. The more entrepreneurs you have, especially from different background and experience, the better the community.

I too live in a little “shack” that I call Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs (my room is even smaller than the one in the article, 6 stairs to climb and no AC…summer I’m looking forward.) I rent a room in a shared flat partly because it is what I can afford and partly because I don’t know how long I will stay here. Every time that I come home, I’m reminded how my one room in US is 3 times the size of my current place and that’s a shocker from many American entrepreneurs trying to create something here. It’s not something you can get used to overnight. The conveniences here actually become inconveniences and you start missing things such as having a car, driving and able to do grocery shopping in one go.

 The reason a lot of people choose to seek housing in Central (I don’t know any entrepreneur living in mid-levels), CWB, HK side compared to NT etc… (I live in Kowloon) is because as a non-Cantonese speaker, there are shared flats and even some landlords who will rent on short-term basis because they are used to foreigners. Startup founders do not have the means and knowledge of the future to sign a one-year contract, throw two months deposit and one month prepaid. Its absurd! NT is daunting to some of us because of two reasons. 1. Transportation time, not so much cost. Time is money. Spending 1.5 hours commuting to HK Island and back is wasted time doing something else. 2. Communication. There are likely fewer English-speaking people there, which make going to eat rather a challenge.

 I think the author is trying to shed some light for people who may want to come to Hong Kong and give a fair warning. Thank you for that.



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