A strong advocate of human capital management excellence in Hong Kong, the Human Capital Management Society (HCMS), one of the specialist clubs of the Hong Kong Management Association (HKMA), held a seminar entitled “How Does Entrepreneurship of Talents Make Start-ups Success?” at the HKMA Advanced Management Development Centre on August 24th. The seminar ran in partnership with cpjobs.com, which acted as the media sponsor for the event.
The HCMS runs regular seminars on the practical aspects of human capital management. Its latest edition was intended to shed light on Hong Kong’s start-up scene and effective ways of managing human resources in a start-up company. Sporting an eye-catching title and targeting HR experts and would-be entrepreneurs, the seminar drew a packed audience and featured four guest speakers widely regarded as heavyweights in the latest wave of the city’s entrepreneurial spirit.
Peter Mok, head of incubation and acceleration programmes at the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation (HKSTP), kicked off the 150-minute seminar with a short speech on the city’s apparent complacency with the status quo and growing resistance to change.
Hong Kong’s start-up ecosystem
Reputed as one of the major enablers of Hong Kong’s improved start-up ecosystem, Mok pointed out that Hong Kong has stayed within its comfort zone for quite a long while, and a sense of inertia might have slowly set in and threatened to chip away at the usual vibrancy of Hong Kong. “The city in the past has undergone a series of major economic transformations and managed to reinvent itself as one of the top financial cities in the world,” he said. “We used to have the power to change out of recognition and yet remain competitive and eager to innovate. Alas, success has made us slow down somewhat and rest on our laurels.”
“We were known for our swashbuckling sense of entrepreneurship. So many of us dreamed of making our mark and being our own boss, which in turned inspired countless success stories and produced a long, intriguing list of Hong Kong-based international businesses. However, this sense of entrepreneurship seems to have gone out the window these days,” Mok continued. “Our society now eulogises job security and dismisses risk-taking. The predominance of well-off professionals sends a signal to youngsters about how they should choose their path and pursue their career. It has been the mainstream belief for the past decade.”
It has been generally viewed that Hong Kong lags behind its fellow Asian cities in innovation and technology. But the past few years have seen a concerted effort to buck the trend, as evidenced by the emergence of many promising local start-ups, some of which have even hit the headlines.
“The number of start-ups has increased markedly in the last couple of years. Entrepreneurship courses and programmes have been introduced to the curricula of our universities. Some of the city’s academic institutions even have entrepreneurship centres in place. I believe more and more people will start their own businesses in the near future,” said Mok. “While start-ups are all the rage in many other places, ours are still more or less at the starting line. There is still a lot of catching up to do. However, a small yet crucial step in the right direction has been made.”
Another guest speaker was Jimmy Tao, CEO of Vitargent, a pioneering start-up in the field of safety testing technology. Tao is jokingly described as a “serial entrepreneur”, as he has founded and run four different companies in as many industries over the past 13 years. “My CV does look a little jumpy,” Tao quipped.
Many of the local start-ups face the problem of high turnover rates. As a seasoned start-up founder, Tao admitted that employee turnover is a widespread phenomenon in the start-up sector. “I myself have witnessed 100 per cent turnover. I believe one of the major reasons is that there exists a huge gap between new hires’ job expectations and the reality at a start-up or what their employers can really offer. It can sometimes lead to bitter disappointment,” said Tao. “Many new employees are fresh out of college. They have lofty ideas and are passionate about their jobs, which they know next to nothing about. They also want to be actively involved in every aspect of the company, which is not possible. I’d say a lack of basic understanding of the internal workings of a company is prevalent among the younger generation.”
Key elements of talent strategy
Anthony So, co-founder and CEO of OnGrad, the first local start-up that serves fresh graduates and corporates in the career market, gave his two cents on retention strategies. “In my case, I would be more than happy if someone is willing to join us. I founded OnGrad a year ago. The company now has a staff of seven. I believe many in the employment market fit our requirements but very few of them would consider joining a start-up of OnGrad’s small stature.”
“I think a good rule of thumb to attract talent a start-up is that the job nature has to be intriguing. On the other hand, some leeway should be given to employees to let them get on with their work. In doing so, we are able to develop an employee in terms of creativity, initiative and sense of belonging, all of which are of vital importance to the survival of a budding start-up”
Katherine Cheung, head of marketing (Asia-Pacific) at Snapask, an education technology start-up that offers tutoring services to more than 500,000 students across eight regions in Asia, echoed So’s opinions on staff retention.
“We set the KPIs and let the employees handle the rest. The way they achieve the targets is entirely up to them. I think it is a good way to build your self-confidence and enhance your job satisfaction. The bottom line is we always let them have their say about what they are working on. Speaking from experience, I believe it holds especially true for alignment between employee expectations and organisational goals.”