The Next Big Thing

'Don't rely on government' tech industry veteran Walt Mossberg tells Hong Kong start-ups

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 March, 2015, 11:22pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 March, 2015, 11:44pm

Start-ups in Hong Kong should work to build an environment in which they can grow, rather than wait for the government to do it for them, according to longtime tech reporter Walt Mossberg.

Mossberg, a hugely influential 24 year veteran of technology reporting who worked at the Wall Street Journal for many years before leaving to launch tech blog Re/Code, has been described as "The Kingmaker" for his ability to make or break a product with his reviews. He was in Hong Kong to speak at an event organised by local incubator StartupsHK

Responding to a question from the South China Morning Post about what needs to be done to make Hong Kong a more fertile place for start-ups and innovative businesses, Mossberg said that founders and entrepreneurs needed to take the responsibility on themselves.

"It's a gigantic mistake to assume the government will do it for you," he said.

"If you look at examples [of successful start-ups] in the US, do you think those guys waited around for the government to create some special economic zone for them or open some shared workspace?"

While the government can help a great deal, Mossberg advised against companies dragging their heels waiting for the perfect environment.

"You have to make this a place where smart engineers and designers want to stay [or move to]," he said.

"The government can help with that, but don't wait for it, you can do it yourselves."

Mossberg said that start-up founders need to be ruthless in their determination if they are to succeed: "You have to be megalomaniacal about it, and it’s not always pleasant."

StartupsHK executive director Casey Lau said that while the local ecosystem is thriving for early-stage companies, things become more difficult as start-ups grow.

"There are not a lot of Series A investors here," he said, referring to the first round of venture capital investment.

Lau added that Hong Kong also faces obstacles in terms of a lack of education about start-ups and innovation, as well as a shortage of successful role models for prospective local entrepreneurs.

Ray Chan, founder of humour website, said that while there is a culture gap, particularly with older investors, ultimately money talks.

"There are tons of rich people [in Hong Kong], they might not understand tech, but if you show traction, they will invest in you," he said.

There are tons of rich people [in Hong Kong], they might not understand tech, but if you show traction, they will invest in you
Ray Chan, co-founder

The Hong Kong government has been attempting in recent months to encourage investment in start-ups and technology firms as it faces increased competition from Shenzhen and other mainland Chinese tech hubs.

Start-ups and technological innovation was also a key point at the recent National People's Congress in Beijing, where Chinese premier Li Keqiang urged university students and prospective entrepreneurs to start their own companies and help drive growth and employment in the world's largest economy.

Mossberg said he thought the Chinese tech industry was at "a tipping point" between being a fabricator of and a market for other people's products, and a genuine innovator.

"I see no reason why a Chinese company couldn't be a household name in the US," he said.