Startups are becoming trendy in the United States – so trendy that a controversial piece in the Washington Post chided entrepreneurs for their Hollywood mentality. But in the financial center of Hong Kong, startup founder is not a job title to brag about.
“Hong Kong is still very very conservative and very, very risk averse,” explains founder Paul Lee of Ximplar, a startup that creates spreadsheet software for businesses and hearing enhancement technology. “The whole mentality is not really supportive of startups.”
Rather, businessmen gravitate toward the high returns of an investing career, Lee says. “I think Hong Kong’s people have a lot of creativity and potential, but the atmosphere is very heavily slanted to quick financial gains in the stock market or real estate.”
That also means that hiring programmers can be challenging, as Stephen Leung of social game company Playday has experienced. “Programmers want to work in the financial field as IT support,” says Leung, who worked in finance in Hong Kong himself for a few years. “The salary is higher and the social status is also higher.”
Lee contrasts this with Silicon Valley, where he lived for 9 years after growing up in Hong Kong. There, he says, most people respect your business ideas and are willing to chat about them. “In Hong Kong, you get that same superficial reaction,” he explains. “But you can tell that underlying that they would be like, ‘Why aren’t you in banking? Why aren’t you in real estate? You probably couldn’t find a job and then you had to start a company.’”
But banking and startups can coexist; in New York, the startup scene has blossomed despite the city’s financial credentials. In any case, a culture shift is in order if startups in Hong Kong want to claim the limelight.