Navigating the startup scene in China

October 06, 2017 10:19
Business environment in mainland China is a lot different now compared to the past, says Kenny Chien (inset, left), vice president for China of Cherrypicks. Photos: Xinhua, HKEJ

Startups have been blossoming in mainland China in recent years. Among the various realms of startup businesses, those pertaining to shared economy and artificial intelligence have seen the fastest growth. Mobile payments, meanwhile, is one area where China has already made a name for itself. Singapore's leader, Lee Hsien-loong, once remarked that the city-state has much to learn from China in relation to mobile payments.

Kenny Chien, vice president for China of Cherrypicks, a Hong Kong developer of branded online-to-offline platforms that is now owned by Chinese tech company NetDragon, shares his views on how startups can tap the China market. Here are some edited excerpts from an interview he gave to the Hong Kong Economic Journal's StartUpBeat:

HKEJ: You ran a business in mainland China many years ago. Looking at the scene now, how would you describe the changes in the business environment there, in terms of career development prospects for Hongkongers who want a piece of the action?

Chien: I started doing business in China in the 1990s. At that time, the situation was very different from what it is today.

Hongkongers used to have an edge because of our strong connections with the global market and more professional management skills.

But today, such advantage has become less significant. Meanwhile, it has become easier for mainlanders to reach and understand international markets, and they have also developed management systems better suited to the China situation.

Currently, competition in the mainland is very intense. If Hongkongers want to develop their careers there, they will have to have a thorough understanding of the sector they are interested in pursuing, the social conditions and the unique culture in China.

When Hong Kong was still enjoying a lead years ago, we could take time to make local friends and slowly get to know the local practices. But nowadays, we can no longer afford such luxury.

The biggest disadvantage for Hongkongers seeking business opportunities in the mainland is their lack of understanding of China. Hongkongers can reap fruits in China only if they overcome this obstacle.

HKEJ: What tips would you offer to those would like to launch a startup in China?

Chien: Startups ought to venture outside Hong Kong, but it does not have to be China. Hong Kong startups can consider other markets, Southeast Asian countries for example. These markets are developing fast and are hungry for technologies.

In terms of management skills and legal system, Hong Kong is still highly regarded by these countries. Our startups would therefore be quite competitive in these markets.

For startups looking to enter China’s battlefield, their teams need to have people who are very familiar with the culture in the mainland.

Otherwise, the ventures may have to go through a costly learning period, which is not necessarily a good way to get started.

Note: The views expressed in this interview are personal opinions of the industry professional and do not necessarily reflect those of HKEJ.

The full article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept 22

Translation by Jonathan Chong

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ writer