23 October 2016
A chance encounter with financial commentator Patrick Wong (R) a few years ago helped Silver Yu (L) win another opportunity to test his entrepreneurial skills. Photo: HKEJ
A chance encounter with financial commentator Patrick Wong (R) a few years ago helped Silver Yu (L) win another opportunity to test his entrepreneurial skills. Photo: HKEJ

An entrepreneur recounts lessons learnt from early failures

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. This axiom is especially true in the case of Silver Yu Wing-fung, who has tasted failure seven times in startup ventures before finally achieving success.

Yu, who is now 31, is the chief executive of Skytree, a firm which focuses on developing mobile games.

“If you knock me down right now, I will do it again. I will start a new company all over again. It is an ability that I obtained after experiencing all these failures, and this is not something fresh entrepreneurs can manage. If you abandon me in a desert today, I could still make a comeback and start another company in three years,” says Yu.

The dream of being his own boss took root in Yu’s mind since his student days.

During Yu’s freshman year when he was studying internet engineering at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, he started a web hosting company with a friend. Yu was responsible for technology development while his friend was to look after marketing.

But both Yu and his friend wanted to have the final say on decision making, leading to some friction. Eventually, the pair split up.

The first thing that Yu learnt from this experience was realizing how important it is to get along with your business partners.

However, finding business partners is never an easy task. Yu said most of his classmates considered it extremely risky to join a startup.

“People think you are crazy if you persuade them not to work for HSBC but to start a new business with me,” Yu recalled.

He started a few companies since he graduated, but nothing lasted. For example, he set up a website “eternity love letter” in 2006, which he tried to sell for US$200,000. The website managed to attract huge traffic, but Yu failed to monetize it. In the end, he abandoned the site.

One day, Yu checked the website’s email on a whim. Much to his surprise, he found out that BBC had sent an interview request to him and the site. However, opportunity only knocks once.

“If we knew earlier and let BBC cover us, someone may have probably purchased our site,” Yu says.

The year 2010 was the time when smartphones began getting popular; it was also the year that Yu got another chance in becoming his own boss.

One night when he was having dinner with his friends in Wan Chai, he bumped into Patrick Wong Koon-yuet, a well-known financial commentator. Yu wanted to have a picture with Wong.

“I told him that I read an interview about him a week ago. He was very impressed as I could recount fluently about what he said in that interview. He then asked me what I do for living, and I said I develop apps.”

Coincidentally, Wong was looking for someone to do an app for his financial TV program.

Yu was then working as a salesperson for a legal information system platform. After signing a contract with Wong, the first thing he did was resign from his post.

Wong became the first client of iZENSE, Yu’s new company. “Actually I didn’t even know how to write an app that time,” Yu recalled.

But he devoted a lot of efforts on learning and wrote the first app of his life.

iZENSE proved to be a success that time. Besides developing apps for its clients, the group also applied ultrasonic technology to in-door positioning. However, Yu had to once again deal with different opinions within the management.

A telecom company approached Yu and said it was interested in investing in the technology.

Yu felt that the company actually wanted to take advantage of iZENSE’s technology. However, his business partners clearly didn’t feel the same. “They thought I was an obstacle to our business development.”

“And one day when I got to work, my partners said they had held a shareholder meeting the day before. They told me that they have voted me out of the company’s board, and I am no longer part of the company.”

Although iZENSE shut down after operating for a few more years, the experience remained heavily on Yu’s mind.

“It was the darkest period of my life; I hadn’t left my home for 10 days. I invited the smartest people I know into the company and I worked extremely hard, but things still didn’t turn out as I hoped.”

Despite all the ups and downs, Yu didn’t give up his dream of becoming an entrepreneur.

He later teamed up with a friend named Andy and the two together invested HK$600,000 to set up Skytree. The company currently operates out of Cyberport.

Hachi Hachi is the latest project of the company; the game received warm welcome from gamers when it was launched through the iOS platform last month.

After all these failures, there is one thing that Yu finds extremely important.

“Do not ever half-split the shares with your business partners! One has to be a majority shareholder, say one holds 51 percent of stake and the other 49 percent.”

“If you have equal stakes and have difference of opinion with the partner, the problem cannot be resolved by voting and break-up will be the final outcome.”

Having a clear majority owner will also ensure that the company can develop smoothly, Yu added.

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