Redefining Hong Kong

Allow young the freedom to fail, says start-up founder in SCMP debate

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 July, 2015, 6:59am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 September, 2015, 4:58pm

An entrepreneur who found success only at the third attempt says that for young Hongkongers to succeed in business, there must be room in society to confront and discuss failure.

The question of whether the young generation can succeed in an environment where there seems to be fewer opportunities was discussed in the latest Redefining Hong Kong forum yesterday, organised by the South China Morning Post.

Panellist Rex Sham Pui-sum said Hongkongers lacked an acceptance of failure, often not learning from their mistakes.

Hong Kong's high rents, combined with relatively fewer opportunities compared to the 1980s and 1990s, and a plateauing economy, posed challenges for young people - the city's most well-educated generation.

"Successes are usually not replicable [in another context], but failures are always replicable," said Sham, 30, founder of a robotics firm. Sham said being able to reflect on failures was part of the soft skills needed for young people to do well in society.

Sham's first two start-ups were complete failures, he said. His third venture is the only successful one - and it took years of bootstrapping. Sham's firm created a fire detection robot that can be used in country parks to find and put out small fires.

"Now I talk about my failures, not my success," he said. "Hong Kong is very worldwide-connected ... I think it's important to think out of the box - to think globally. If you cannot fit into society's rules, make your own rules. Pick out a social issue or problem and create a product to deal with it. That is always something you can market globally."

Another panellist, barrister Laurence Li, argued that instead of being focused on "key performance indicators", there should be more room for youngsters to experiment.

"Instead of having people focus on reality ... real salary, real [key performance indicators], maybe we should actually try to make our young people feel better," said Li, convenor of the young professional forum 30S Group.

"Let's get into a feel-good mentality, give more space and more opportunities and not just calculate how many will fail ... if they feel better, they will learn, they will mature, and they will be better salarymen, better professionals in the future."

Search for more on the SCMP’s Redefining Hong Kong series on social media with the hashtag #redefininghk