Two years ago today I said goodbye to friends and colleagues, got on a plane and left Hong Kong. I had spent just a year in Hong Kong focused on working with the growing number of startups there by running AcceleratorHK and an earlier program called Startup Bootcamp. When I gave a farewell talk at Good Lab, I tried to sum up the year in front of what felt like the entire Hong Kong startup community.
(You haven’t heard much from me because in the two years since I left, I got married, had two kids, wrote a book on the emerging startup community experience, became a professor of entrepreneurship at USC and now run the USC Incubator.)
There are a lot of amazing things happening in the startup world — around the globe, around Asia and also specifically in Hong Kong. One thing that’s true the world over is how much groups like recognition. So when I saw today’s Global Startup Ecosystem Report I had to look it over. My new home of Los Angeles is doing well apparently, but what about Hong Kong? It was nowhere to be found on the list.
I don’t care about things like this. For a few years now and certainly the year I was in Hong Kong I tried to strip away the unnecessary things that didn’t contribute. Strip away the lists, many social events, reports and you’re left with what’s actually happening and what actually matters. I’d say that my new home of Los Angeles and several other up-and-coming startup locations suffer from a different extreme. The community gets buzz, it becomes cool to do a startup and all of a sudden I start to meet new founders who tell me they “caught the startup bug.” That is one of my least favorite phrases to hear a would-be founder say. If you become interested in something entrepreneurial just because everyone else is doing it, you’re less likely to be serious and follow through. In fact, one of the advantages I believe Hong Kong had when I was there was that when I met people working on a startup I could assume that they were more serious than the global norm. To work on something as uncertain as a startup in a place with only partial support means that you’re probably serious about it. I even remember one of the early Startup Bootcamp members tell me back in 2012 that if he ever went out and met a girl he would never say he was working on a startup because what would be heard was that he has no job, no money and no prospects. Quite different from what you’d hear in a top 20 hub on the list.
Still, there has been a lot of growth in Hong Kong in the last two years. There were several recent exits, including Taxiwise, Divide and AliveNotDead. There’s a new startup visa program, government and corporate funding from Google and Alibaba. The community, which when I left I had estimated to be several hundred startups strong on my old Hong Kong startup list now probably numbers several times that.
So don’t worry, Hong Kong startups. It doesn’t matter if you’re not on this list. It doesn’t matter if Dave McClure didn’t mention you in his comments either.
Just keep working.