A birthday is generally a time for introspection. Just past his 33rd, Jeremy Tang - who has watched his dotcom turn into a dotbomb - has plenty to think about. Mr Tang has begun closing down Rebound International, an award-winning company that used the Internet to help suppliers and retailers in Asia and North America move unwanted inventory. During his career, the Australian-born executive has ridden several trends: cigar smoking, the China goods craze of the 1997 handover, and the huge run-up of the technology stock market. But Mr Tang says it was the subsequent tech plunge that taught him a few harsh lessons. 'If there is one thing I have learned . . . in the last 18 months, it is just humility,' he said. 'All these young Net entrepreneurs, people like myself, have been very lucky in a morbid sort of a way to have experienced such a heavy boom-bust cycle in such a compressed period of time. Because as long as we learn from that, or as long as I learn from that, it is an incredibly valuable piece of business experience.' Mr Tang co-founded Rebound with Marybeth Dee, revamping her small liquidator called Tradepac. They estimated the global market for consumer goods that companies could not sell on home turf for branding, relationship or late shipping reasons was about US$100 billion a year. But few firms handled such inventory in Asia. The business partners secured US$650,000 seed money - US$50,000 from Mr Tang's pocket - and a US$3 million round of funding from brokerage Goldman Sachs and Chengwai Ventures in late 1999. In March last year, they launched a Web site equipped for online auctions. Rebound, so named because it would bring excess Palm Pilots or rejected frozen teriyaki chicken wings back from the graveyard of unwanted goods, had a bright future due to the tech frenzy. The company grew to about 80 employees with 14 offices worldwide, including joint headquarters in Hong Kong and San Francisco. It was burning through US$500,000 a month. Despite the need for a second round of funding, things looked good on November 9 last year, when Rebound won the IgniteAsia business-plan competition for companies worth more than US$1 million. About 240 plans from firms around Asia had been submitted. Venture capitalists, judges and an audience voted Rebound the heavyweight winner. The award brought a blaze of media attention, both at home and abroad. Money negotiations, with a group of investors headed by Crystal Internet Venture Funds, looked like they were leading to a US$12 million injection until December 29, when they fell apart. No more professional investors were willing to step up to the plate. Rebound executives clung to the hope that Best3C, a business-to-business firm based in Taiwan and the United States that moves communications gear, electronics and computers, would provide a buyout offer. They worked for months to cut a deal, with the help of Goldman Sachs which had invested in both firms. Mr Tang had not been paid his salary in months. Rebound turned off its Web site while talks dragged. In mid-April, a deal between Rebound and Best3C fell through. Despite the unhappy ending, and a professional future that is up in the air, Mr Tang said he had learned a lot. 'Rebound went through the cycle and we tried to do everything bigger, better, faster and were sort of caught up in the momentum of that craze,' Mr Tang said. 'The people that sat back on the sidelines and took a more traditional, conservative approach to the whole Internet craze are the ones that will probably end up coming out ahead. It is like the hare and the tortoise,' he said. 'To come in, guns blazing, is not going to win in Asia.' Now, Mr Tang does not know if he will stay in his adopted home. Born in 1968 to a Chinese father and Australian mother, Mr Tang was the oldest of three. After his parents split up, his mother remarried and his stepfather brought the family to Hong Kong in 1982. His stepfather worked with the Government on environmental issues while his mother became a primary school teacher. After finishing high school, he took a year off to work and travel through Europe and North America. The interest in finance came while he was working for markets-related firms. Mr Tang was excited by the drama in his offices - 'screaming and shouting' - and he saw the stock market crash in 1987. He went to Curtin University in Perth and studied economics, finance and marketing. After two years, he went on an exchange programme to a university in Illinois. During a course, he applied to get a franchise option for skin care company The Body Shop in the US Mid-West. The firm was interested in his plan but interest dwindled after it asked about his financial status. He came back to Hong Kong to find a job, read about tycoon David Tang (no relation) in the papers, and sent in his resume. Early one Saturday morning in 1992, the businessman called him in for an interview. It turned out that David Tang, had opened his mail and Mr Tang's Body Shop experience caught his eye. Mr Tang was tasked with a feasibility study to see if it was profitable to open a franchise with clothes from ex-model Ines De La Fressange. Mr Tang concluded it would not work as a stand-alone boutique in Hong Kong's pricey retail space. But Mr Tang got hired for another project: building a Cuban cigar distribution business called Pacific Cigar in the Asia-Pacific region. For the next six years, he would start the ball rolling on one idea and then hop to the next. Mr Tang helped take over Havana House, the Cuban cigar distributor in Canada. Then, he launched the Beijing branch of the China Club. 'David had these ideas, like China Club, and then somebody had to come in and actually make it happen,' Mr Tang said. He and David Tang were on good terms despite 'some pretty fiery exchanges. He must have fired me at least three or four times', Mr Tang said. with a laugh. However, after his firings Mr Tang would show up for work the next day and life went on. In 1995, Mr Tang became project manager for Chinese clothing and products store Shanghai Tang. After opening stores in Hong Kong and New York City, and serving as the company's chief executive, sales dropped off during the Asian crisis. New investors were recruited, but installed their own chief executive. In 1998 Mr Tang chose to become an entrepreneur. Mr Tang, who had met Ms Dee years earlier in Canada during his cigar years, took a leap of faith. Once they saw how business-to-consumer firm eBay was doing, they were sold. There are several parallels, in Mr Tang's mind, among his projects. The cigar business and Shanghai Tang capitalised on trends, but Rebound was led by markets. 'And the capital markets have been a lot less forgiving. Live by the sword, die by the sword,' he said. Some of the companies with strong business models are just dying on the vine for lack of funding, but that is the way it goes. 'We rode the dotcom curve . . . last year but we were also hit by it at the end of last year when we were trying to raise money,' he said. Mr Tang feels he should have learned, given his experience with Shanghai Tang and the Asian recession, that cycles do not last. Being first might work for consumer-oriented companies such as online bookstore Amazon, which has fast customer dealings. But that was not critical for business-to-business Rebound, he said. Some mass retailers were Internet or e-commerce phobic. And Asian firms wanted to do business in a more traditional way by meeting people. Although e-commerce made Rebound more efficient, it was not a big selling point with their clients, Mr Tang said. Also, it took a long time to go through the proper channels to show samples, get approval and move stock. 'In Asia, you have so many diverse cultures, languages, existing business processes,' Mr Tang said. 'Business-to-business in Asia is going to be challenging, tougher.' With self-deprecating humour, he admits he has yet to learn Cantonese and his Porsche might be a sign of an 'ego unchecked'. Although friends these days are offering to buy his Porsche, Mr Tang has not been burned by his experience and turned into an e-commerce sceptic. He is looking for work in Hong Kong, Singapore or London. One day, if the trend is right, he would return to being an entrepreneur. 'But this time when I go into it, it is to take a more conservative approach to running or launching a company. Again, taking and eating humble pie, as opposed to getting caught up in the markets.' Biography Dotcom entrepreneur is the latest title to Jeremy Tang's list. Born on March 22, 1968, in Australia, Mr Tang's family moved to Hong Kong in 1982. The eldest in his family, with a sister and brother, he went to Curtin University in Australia and the University of Illinois to study international economics and marketing. In 1992, he joined the private investment firm of tycoon David Tang. He helped raise money and start several corporations, including Pacific Cigar, Asia-Pacific's exclusive distributor of Cuban cigars. He also turned around and managed Havana House, the Cuban cigar distributor in Canada, and helped launch China Club Beijing. Then he became project manager and chief executive of Chinese-lifestyle retail chain Shanghai Tang, opening stores in Hong Kong and New York. He left in 1998, and co-started Rebound International, an e-commerce excess inventory mover, with Marybeth Dee. The unmarried Mr Tang now seeks his next executive role.