Convocation Newsletter, Spring 2019

TO SILICON VALLEY Paul co-founded GoTalents at iDendron in 2017. A year later, the South Korea native was in Silicon Valley pitching to venture capitalists at Y Combinator, a top seed accelerator in the US. David, right, who grew up in a working-class family in Sham Shui Po, launched his first start-up as an HKU student more than 15 years ago. He is now the CEO of Silicon Valley company NEX Team. Q. What does your app do? A. It’s like a LinkedIn for creatives, which allows creators to find work opportunities nearby and showcase talents to fans directly using visual content. The platform helps artists and freelancers monetise and collaborate without middlemen. We launched a beta version in December 2018, and within the first few weeks already had 500 users. Q. How did you prepare for your Y Combinator pitch? A. I looked up Y Combinator alumni and studied their companies. We made the final interview after two rounds. We had a Skype interview with the head of admissions, who acknowledged our market perspective and vision. We were invited to a fully-paid five-day trip to Mountain View, California. Q. What surprised you during your Silicon Valley trip? A. Things appeared less about formalities and idealism. Things stay down-to-earth and practical. I appreciate that Y Combinator gives applicants a yes or no, the very same day as the interview. They recognise how important time is to start-ups. They personally write emails with tailor-made feedback, that same day. Q. How have you dealt with setbacks? A. I recall my father once told me that sometimes you gain the most clarity in times of difficulty. I am keeping that in mind as we try for this round of fundraising. Q. What advice did Y Combinator give you? A. To create a repeatable growth mechanism, to have more focus, and to apply again. Q. As a student, you seed-funded your first start-up on the HKU Main Building roof? A. We had an idea, so we decided to start a company. Eight of us went up to the roof for a picnic, eating sandwiches and strawberries. We each pitched in HK$2,500. Q. How did you get support in those days? A. We asked the Department of Computer Science if starting a company qualified as our internship – and then asked to borrow some servers. We asked the School of Business to borrow a classroom. We signed up the HKU Computer Centre as one of our first customers, along with other HKU departments. So in a summer, we had a company, a client, an office, servers and a team of five. Q. Your HomeCourt app has been backed by NBA luminaries. Why a basketball app? A. It was a technical challenge – the excitement of starting something from scratch, the excitement of solving a problem with AI and a mobile. Our goal is to make something useful and fun, and to create new experiences. Q. What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs? A. Treat people fairly. Build a cluster of great people for your team and do good work. What attracts talent is talent. The most difficult moments are when you want to pivot – to change direction. I didn’t know in the beginning if HomeCourt would work, but you just need to keep moving. DAVID LEE 李景輝 (BBA (IS) 2003; BEng (SE) 2004) Two alumni at different points of their careers – one a budding start-up, one a Silicon Valley CEO – talk about the ups and downs of being entrepreneurs. PAUL LEE (BBA 2015)