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Passion drives start-ups forward with AngelHub

 

By FastLane Team, June 10, 2019 (5 mins)

Hong’s Kong’s start-up community has grown in leaps and bounds. One of the drivers behind this exponential growth is WHub and AngelHub; an organisation that has connected passionate startups, helped them innovate and scale, and developed an online ecosystem to boost a start-up culture in the city.

Karen Contet Farzam, co-founder & Chief Hustler WHub and co-founder & CEO of AngelHub and Karena Belin, co-founder & CEO of WHub and co-founder & COO of AngelHub, tell us about their journey and offer advice to start-ups.

How did you get your start?

 

KB: It started with what we stand for: #StartupPassion, as cheesy as it may sounds, we did this out of our passion for tech ecosystems and entrepreneurs and tried to help them solve problems and innovate. In 2013 Hong Kong was a small ecosystem and didn’t have much access to resources, so we said “this is where we step in and help entrepreneurs to scale their businesses.”. The other meaning of #StartupPassion is that passion is an entrepreneurs’ most important asset to attract resources, whether this is talent, investors or visibility.

 

KCF: We have known each other for 15 years, and we were saying that entrepreneurs are so passionate, but they have such a large scope of work and need flexibility. It hasn’t changed from the start of WHub and it continues in our mission with AngelHub (Hong Kong’s first regulated startup investment platform). We are opening up an asset class to investors here, and at the same time helping to change Hong Kong, and it feels like a natural continuation of our work.

Do you think successful entrepreneurs go solo or have co-founders?

 

KCF: People say that you shouldn’t start a business with a friend, but I think it is most important to find somebody who complements your skillset which is the crucial factor. And that is why it works between us in terms of our history but also that we trust each other. It’s a long and hard journey with lots of ups and downs – you can’t bother your family and friends all the time with entrepreneur problems – so you increase chances of success with a co-founder. In one day, you only have 24 hours – so more manpower helps! Some founders take all the spotlight, but behind our success is the team and that’s what makes a difference. You can do it alone but if you can have someone you can trust, to brainstorm, to go in the right direction, it changes everything.

 

KB: We are also united by the same passion to make a difference to the ecosystem and we always start with ‘why?’. That drives us, we are friends and similar in backgrounds but also complement each other. We have a strong relationship built on trust despite occasional healthy disagreements. In the end if we have a different opinion, we can debate and try out solutions – you never know who is going to be right or wrong. In start-ups, the right answer can come from many sources, from the founders to the intern – in the end it is often the consumer who will tell you what the correct way is. We have a diverse team and that helps to bring even more options to the table.

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Do you think successful entrepreneurs go solo or have co-founders?

 

KCF: People say that you shouldn’t start a business with a friend, but I think it is most important to find somebody who complements your skillset which is the crucial factor. And that is why it works between us in terms of our history but also that we trust each other. It’s a long and hard journey with lots of ups and downs – you can’t bother your family and friends all the time with entrepreneur problems – so you increase chances of success with a co-founder. In one day, you only have 24 hours – so more manpower helps! Some founders take all the spotlight, but behind our success is the team and that’s what makes a difference. You can do it alone but if you can have someone you can trust, to brainstorm, to go in the right direction, it changes everything.

 

KB: We are also united by the same passion to make a difference to the ecosystem and we always start with ‘why?’. That drives us, we are friends and similar in backgrounds but also complement each other. We have a strong relationship built on trust despite occasional healthy disagreements. In the end if we have a different opinion, we can debate and try out solutions – you never know who is going to be right or wrong. In start-ups, the right answer can come from many sources, from the founders to the intern – in the end it is often the consumer who will tell you what the correct way is. We have a diverse team and that helps to bring even more options to the table.

What stage of the journey are you in?

 

KB: I’d say in terms of our objectives we are very far. The beauty of it is that we continue to grow with the ecosystem. Our key objective is to be a key connector of the Hong Kong start-up scene. At the beginning, we never thought we could scale to this size, and you can’t really plan for this. We are thrilled to export Hong Kong outside of the city, and also have companies soft land here as well, and this includes a partnership with Crunchbase in the US, Sina in China and e27 in Singapore to share content and information to empower start-ups, as well as agreements with government entities and accelerators in India, China, South Korea, Nordic countries and Germany.

 

KCF: That vision of making Hong Kong a main player on the global tech map is still a while away. It’s a fulfilling place to be, to help the city become a premier FinTech hub, because now we can see the progress in everything from banking to insurance. We say this is just the beginning – when we started people used to wonder what we do, but now they know who we are.

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Have your ambitions changed?

 

KCF: Obviously when you grow from two people to 25, things change, especially in terms of operations. We used to do everything from presentations to designing banners, but now the team offers speed, synergy, and more capability. The challenge becomes how you scale further, to stay lean, and organize your company. These are really good problems to have! It’s amazing to empower the team and make them even more passionate about your mission. Keep in mind that the only boss you have is your consumer – focus on what you do and keep the customer experience great. You cannot have all the answers, but you can help your team find solutions – people development is so enjoyable for this reason.

 

KB: It’s still way more about chemistry than structure, finding the right people who are collaborative and have team spirit. We are proud that we have 25 people, but chemistry is the glue and driving force of what we do. It’s good to start to do everything yourself to understand that every job is key. But as you grow, trusting people, hiring the right people, allows you to focus on the vision and the long term plan to look at the big picture. Your job will evolve, and you need to let go, even when it is something you love doing.  You need to ask yourself – are you really adding value? If not, it’s time to let go of that and let someone else do it. Let your team leverage their strengths. We recruit based on mindset and passion – we don’t even have a job description that people in the market can fit! We need them to be flexible and learn with us. We want to be surrounded by people who are smarter and better than us.

What are common problems faced by start-ups?

 

KB: Scaling is the hardest aspect and that takes talent, money and visibility. That in itself hasn’t changed – but nowadays the infrastructure is different. For example, in FinTech, regulations and sandboxes make things easier. Overall, how to scale has not changed in the slightest, and much of it is doing the right things and being open to discussion.

 

KCF: For example, Hong Kong regulators are very savvy, and they are helping a lot. The good thing is when they don’t know about something and they are open to discussing solutions. This is something we discovered about when we started developing AngelHub, which is Hong Kong’s first regulated startup investment platform. It always takes time, but just keep the bigger picture in mind and make sure you are moving forward. We have closed our Series A round and this is great news. We have been through the long process ourselves and so we can impart this experience to the start-ups we are helping, we have the empathy to assist them and understand their pain points. Of course it’s not about the money, but really how you develop the business, talent and keep your mission in mind.

 

What are the fundamental characteristics of successful entrepreneurs?

 

KCF: Again, it starts with passion! Resilience is important and the team is key. Successful people and organisations can work and manage problems, and not just focus on technology and buzzwords. Tech is great, but you should be asking yourself: ‘what you are doing for users?’ People see overnight successes but there is no such thing. It’s a long journey – make sure you have the strength to see it through.

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