How parents can help Hong Kong create the next Google

Hong Kong’s telecommunications, transport and talent are among the very best in the world. Low taxes, efficiency and world-class infrastructure make the territory highly attractive to business start-ups. In a  Forbes article this year, Hong Kong was named first in “The World’s Top 4 Tech Capitals To Watch (After Silicon Valley and New York)”. With a  cosmopolitan population and a growing base of angel investors, our city has the potential to develop into a major regional start-up centre.

I have worked in Hong Kong’s technology sector for two decades, and it seems to me there is some room for improvement.

Despite the positive atmosphere and increased activity among the start-up community in recent times,   tech entrepreneurs are much more abundant in other Asian countries than in Hong Kong. So what can we do to encourage a more vibrant start-up culture?

When I started Outblaze more than 15 years ago, the local technology scene was dire. I was  often obliged to educate business acquaintances – including potential partners – by outlining the true potential of the internet. At the time, it was incredibly difficult to explain why our new business was a worthwhile venture. Prospective employees were sceptical of working for a cash-strapped start-up.

Thankfully, today those attitudes have changed radically: technology has become pervasive in everyday life and new tech opportunities are much more readily grasped by the business community. We all use Google, Wikipedia and Facebook on our digital devices, yet we tend to forget that the oldest of t

hese brands – Google – is   just a teenager. The success of young technology entrepreneurs is celebrated everywhere. Technology start-up fever is sweeping the world.

These are undoubtedly positive developments, but the global surge of technology entrepreneurship means that Hong Kong is merely moving in lockstep  with other markets; we are not producing any more start-ups than our neighbours and, in fact, the overall number employed in the local technology scene remains relatively low. Hong Kong needs to supercharge the entrepreneurship trend.

I believe parents hold the key to strengthening our start-up ecosystem. More specifically, the parents of “millennials” – children

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born in the 1980s and 1990s,  who are going to be our entrepreneurs of tomorrow.  A similar point was passionately debated at a panel I led at the recent StartmeupHK Venture Forum.

Hong Kong puts great emphasis on traditional Chinese values such as “face” and “respect for family”. The Chinese virtue of filial piety is   deeply ingrained in Hong Kong society, extolled in literature and culture. Because it is common for young  adults here to live with their parents well into their 30s, local parents often remain closely involved in their children’s lives.

In Hong Kong, parents have great influence over the adult decision-making  of their offspring. I remember vividly how some of our earliest university graduate recruits had to ask 8parental permission to join Outblaze when we were a start-up in the 1990s.

Today’s parents are beginning to accept that a job at a company  such as Google might just be superior to one at Citicorp or Morgan Stanley, but that’s still not enough. We need those same parents to encourage their children to work for a start-up or even convince them to set up a company of their own.

Society encourages us to revere successful people and to strive to match their achievements. As a result we often concentrate on a positive outcome instead of the effort required to achieve any outcome at all, be it success or failure. Our intense focus on attaining a desirable end point is a form of myopia, because we routinely neglect to appreciate the sweat, toil and occasional failures required to achieve success.

From our earliest school years, standardised education teaches us to avoid failure at all cost. This is a short-sighted miscalculation because success without failure is merely a lucky coincidence: it is by failing that we learn how to succeed.

Fear of failure and the need to save face are so deeply ingrained in the Hong Kong community that it has become difficult to accept any significant level of risk-taking. This attitude is often passed on to our children, for whom we want good, safe jobs.

We are doing our children a disservice. Parents of the millennial generation ought to consider the following:

Only five companies have exceeded US$500 billion in market capitalisation and  three of them are tech companies – Apple, Microsoft and Cisco. The five largest US companies by market cap at this time include no fewer than three tech companies – Apple, Google and Microsoft.

Many of the biggest companies by market capitalisation today,  such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, are still quite young and most did not even exist when we were children. There is a decent chance that your son or daughter will be a pioneer in the kind of company that does not yet exist today.

The richest phase of learning often begins after the completion of formal education, when one enters the workforce full time. Working for a cash-strapped, lean, management-by-crisis company (like a start-up) teaches efficiency, independence, a strong tactical approach and makes you more grateful for opportunities and resilient in character. This kind of experience is much more valuable than an MBA. Parents wield incredible influence over their children, even if they may not always appreciate this. Encourage your children to join a start-up or to set up their own company, and lend your love and emotional support to their cause.

This article first appeared on the South China Morning Post on 22nd December, 2013 http://bit.ly/J9KRbm

Moms & Gaming

The ESA just released this very interesting study Mom Gamers Study: A New Generation of Gamer that says that 74% of Mothers today play video games and most of them do so on a mobile device of some sort (Smartphone most likely).  Mothers today are also more likely to be playing a game at least once a week (and most play every day).

Mom Gamer Stats

What I also found important is that the the majority of them (71%) also indicate that they closely monitor the video game content of their children and that 56% of gaming Mom’s agree that they video gaming can be a family activity.

I think this is potentially a critical shift in the relationship of Parenting and Video Games. There are still a lot of influential people who consider video games as generally bad, especially for children. I disagree with this view but I won’t go into this debate today as I and many others have argued  previously that there are benefits in playing video games for children which has become a common discussion topic these days. What I have also said is that one can never expect any sort of  medium (TV and Video Games included) to replace Parenting and this shift of Mothers as active video game players who can also effectively monitor/play video games together with their kids is important as it could finally indicate a bridging of generations rather than a widening generation gap which has been the general trend so far.

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Only if Parents actually play video games will they understand it and therefore be able to correctly assess and appreciate their children’s video game play time for all the right reasons. I remember when I was answering questions in a parenting conference (Organized by Dr. Louise Porter) not too long ago it became clear to me that it was difficult for them to assess what was suitable for their child because they were unfamiliar with Video Games in general. Imagine if you had to try to determine the appropriate reading materials for your child but you were illiterate? Perhaps an exaggerated example but it’s in the same ballpark. If you don’t play video games at all or try to play together with your child, how will you ever understand why kids (and adults) are so fascinated with it?

The trend is clear. For all the parents who are not yet playing Video Games, apparently you are now in the minority so get moving and start playing games with your Kids if you want to get to know them better!

Shedding New Idea Resistance

Dr. Peter Attia: Is the obesity crisis hiding a bigger problem is a great self-reflective and very personal speech about his experience in the Medical Profession. He talks about his previous (mis)understanding of obesity/diabetes and how previous prejudice and wrong assumptions led to incorrect treatment that was never questioned and ultimately always led to blaming the patient for not taking better care of their health. Listen to the whole speech below but I liked this quote: “As medical professionals we’d shed our excess mental baggage and cured ourselves of new idea resistance […] the courage to throw out yesterdays ideas and the understanding that scientific truth isn’t final but constantly evolving”.

Shedding excess mental baggage isn’t just limited to the Medical Profession but to every aspect of our personal and professional life. Whatever we were taught before, a lot of it is just completely wrong or completely irrelevant today be it in nutrition, science, healthcare, education, parenting or business practices etc. Many of us have experienced resistance to new ideas and are likely also guilty of the same (including myself) because personal prejudice is developed over time, like plaque on teeth because as we gain new life experiences not all of them are positive and it affects us and it is something that we need to constantly trim and clean as we constantly develop new forms of “prejudicial plaque of the mind”

Keep an open mind and have the courage to throw out yesterdays ideas and know that any “truth” (not just scientific) isn’t final but constantly evolving. Change is what gives us progress, embrace it.

Think Blaze

Think Blaze

ThinkBlaze is a project we’ve been working on the last few months; it is a research and idea generation organization, a think tank of sorts and it has issued its first work, a study titled “Does the Learning Medium Matter?” It looks at the impact of low-cost tablets on children in elementary school with some considerations about the very serious problem of the Digital Divide.

Being cloned is a compliment?

 

They say Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I suppose it says something about your presumed success that ones Apps are being cloned and we’ve had our own case of apps being copied identical to our design and mechanic, but the below really takes the cake!

wearecloned

I’ve never heard of this company (Grass Roots Apps) before but they didn’t even bother changing the icon and are still calling it a Pet Salon of sorts. Even in the world of fast cloning and the business realities surrounding it, this is a bit too much. Luckily we own the trademark on our designs and will likely take action but what does this mean for many other app makers that don’t have such legal support?

I suppose we should be flattered for having been so audaciously cloned Winking smile

A simple tweak could improve app discovery for everyone

One of the most common problems in the world of apps is app discovery. In our most recent blog post we discuss this idea in some more detail.

The summary of the suggestion is: don’t show apps that have already been installed on your device when you are browsing the top rankings. If you are a moderately active user, chances are you already have a fair number of the Top 25 apps installed, so you are already engaged with those products and don’t need to see them again when you browse top lists. This simple tweak would benefit app developers, consumers and the platform. For more on this click here.

Appstore optimization

Might Google’s China exit improve its business?

The Wall Street Journal wrote that Google’s China threat carries long term business risks to Google. Some others have commented on how Google will have to work very hard to replace the revenues it is leaving behind in China.  Still others claim that departing the world’s largest internet market (by users) was a thoroughly bad idea.

Let us hypothesize for a moment: Google’s exit is not necessarily a face saving move or  a public stab at Baidu, but a tactic calculated to gain market share in more lucrative western markets, which represent the vast majority of Google’s currently reported financials (Q1-3 USD 16.974 billion with Q4 results also expected to be strong). Google is getting excellent publicity globally about this issue  (outside of China, that is). Even more interestingly, Google has recently become proactive on similar sensitive topics and I would not be surprised if this situation ends up creating a significant rise in activity and demand for Google products and services.

Imagine for a moment that Google does not care much about China as a domestic market at present. Sound foolish? Not if you have tried to do business in China as a foreign company, which is famously difficult and frustrating. It is almost a taboo to talk about China as a market to ignore, but just because Google might not be planning to focus on the domestic market that doesn’t mean there isn’t a Chinese market to address.

Google won’t exit China completely. Even if Google is forced to shut down all operations (which I think is unlikely), it will continue to have a growing and lucrative base of Chinese companies advertising outside of China for as long as China will continue to globalize and export to the world. This is something that Baidu is absolutely not in a position to do today or in the near to medium term.

As  Rebecca MacKinnon points out on her blog, Google’s actions – like the actions of any other company – are automatically motivated by self-interest. There can be no exception to this rule in the world of business.

The search market in China is still emerging. Baidu, the clear market leader, generated USD 466 million in the first three quarters of 2009, which is roughly 3% of Google’s overall revenue for the same period. It is very likely that Google’s domestic China revenue is much smaller than Baidu’s. Even the projected USD 310 million of Google China revenues that some analysts were predicting for 2010 would be tiny in comparison to what Google could earn if it increased market share in the US and Europe by just a few percentage points.

I think a legitimate question that few (if any) seem to have asked so far is whether Google’s exit from China may not actually lift its short or mid-term business prospects.

Will Google increase their search market share because they have earned higher public trust? After all, trust and safety are key issues in the battle for the cloud. Google has a lot of new enemies today across a dizzying range of sectors, and may feel it is more relevant to address them than to struggle in China. Also noteworthy,  Google has advertised its China stance, making it clear to the public that Google’s exit is motivated by a mixture of idealism and security. The battle in core western markets is heating up as never before, and Google knows that few if any US technology or media companies owe their success to China markets.

It doesn’t sound particularly plausible that a concentrated hacker attack and espionage concerns could trigger a company to exit a whole market. If the hackers were interested in dissidents’ Gmail accounts there is nothing that prevents them from more hacking after Google exits China (cyber-attacks are not geographically restricted). And if Google was  concerned about espionage then why would it want to maintain a significant development presence inside China?

As a business person, I can see the business and financial logic of retreating from China: Google will regroup and live to fight another day in a market that is not only extremely difficult to penetrate but that also has a hideously complex and fluid regulatory framework that all foreign companies must adhere to. Google is no exception, having struggled for domestic market share in China just like other foreign media and technology companies.

Anyone who has attempted to do serious business in China will tell you that it is very difficult and challenging. For one thing, the playing field is not level by any definition or stretch of the imagination, as recently illustrated by China moving to ban foreign investment into the lucrative domestic online gaming market (in China, revenues in the online gaming market are substantially higher than online advertising and search).

We know Google’s imperative is to do no evil, but as an individual I don’t think Google’s departure is good for China or the Chinese or Internet freedom, and on that basis I think the exit is a bad idea. I certainly agree that China and the Chinese are better off with Google than not, but I have no doubt that Google’s motives are also informed by very pragmatic business reasoning.

There is, of course, no question that China offers significant opportunities and (as I  noted earlier) China is not necessarily closed to Google. This is a country still squirming its way through Internet adolescence and Google will no doubt find the right moment to re-enter that market, probably as a more serious and better prepared player.  I don’t believe the present spat between Google and China should be interpreted as a long term Google exit from China. Let’s not forget this is Google, one of the world’s mightiest and savviest corporations, with more than enough resources and talent to re-enter China when they think the time is right. After all, they can start the process of re-entry simply by  making an acquisition or two.