How a miscalculation added up for this startup entrepreneur

August 22, 2015 08:03
Tom Grundy has a self-effacing attitude about his role in HKFP. He jokes that he is the only idiot on the team. Photo: HKEJ

Teach English, pay off a student loan and leave.

The plan was as straightforward as it gets but Tom Grundy somehow got sidetracked which is why he is still in Hong Kong years later.   

It didn't occur to him that he also had to learn Cantonese.

Grundy has called Hong Kong home for the past 10 years but he continues to have mixed feelings about it.

For instance, the unusually hot and humid weather and pollution drive him nuts, but he likes the fact that Hong Kong is a safe place with plenty of opportunities.

He also finds it fascinating.

He says older expatriates tend to treat Hong Kong as a stepping stone to mainland China. They would stay here for two years and move to Beijing, Shanghai or other big mainland cities.

On the other hand, young foreigners stay longer, even making an effort to pick up Cantonese.

Reason: Hong Kong is the only Chinese city that is free from awful things that can happen in a Chinese city.

Starting in 2012, while a full-time teacher, Grundy began a satirical blog called Hong Wrong, a light-hearted stab at local news and social issues.

“It's just for fun,” he says.

So he decided to go for "something more serious”.

After getting a permanent visa last year, Grundy quit his job and enrolled in a journalism master's degree program at the University of Hong Kong.

He is due to complete the course in December.

Grundy gained hands-on experience as an aspiring journalist during last year's Umbrella Movement.

By the end of the mass movement, Grundy and a friend had enough journalistic experience to launch an independent online English news website.

Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) was launched in June, a month after it secured more than HK$500,000 in a FringeBacker crowdfunding campaign.

It's only now that Grundy is realizing his shortcomings.

“I am the only one on the team who doesn’t know Chinese, the only idiot," he says with a laugh.

"I make sure that all our members are bilingual -- Chinese and English.”

As a startup entrepreneur, Grundy doesn’t want to run HKFP as a traditional company with a hierarchy system.

He wants everyone to be engaged and to contribute ideas, about 80 percent of which is accepted.

Grundy compares himself with those who were part of the Umbrella Movement who see with trepidation the end of "one, country, two systems" in 2047.

Hong Kong's future is becoming more uncertain, he says.

Meanwhile, Grundy is caught up in his startup.

“I used to have a social life and good meals every day,” says Grundy who has been working from 9 a.m. to 1 a.m. for the past two months.

“That’s how startups are. Everyone on the team is doing their best.”

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 21.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version中文版]

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Writer of the Hong Kong Economic Journal