How two social content startups are seeking to expand

September 07, 2018 15:16
9GAG's Co-founder and Chief Executive Ray Chan (L) and Manner's Founder and CEO Luk Chi-ho. The entrepreneurs have been looking to expand their business beyond social  content creation in a bid to diversify the revenue channels.  Photo: HKEJ

In recent years, many digital media startups found success by offering amusing and viral content via social media platforms. Keeping their finger on the pulse of the online world, some of them have been looking to expand their business beyond digital content creation, and diversify their revenue options.

Among such players in this region are 9GAG, a Hong Kong-based platform that hosts and distributes funny pictures, videos and memes; and Manner Production, a five-year-old Macau digital media startup that had focused largely on comedy video content promotion on social media.

The Hong Kong Economic Journal recently met up with 9GAG's Co-founder and Chief Executive Ray Chan and Manner's Founder and CEO Luk Chi-ho to learn about the firms' business plans and get the entrepreneurs' views on topics such as how to manage a media startup, and diversification to meet global competition.

Excerpts from the interview:

HKEJ: Mr. Luk, we know as Manner's CEO, you have been handling the roles of content creator and management executive simultaneously. As for the latter role, what are your business management principles?

Luk: We run the company following the Lao Tzu principle of Wu Wei, or “A light touch in governance”, as well as keeping in mind the Darwinian principles of natural selection—only the fittest will survive.

I personally believe that it is difficult to control talented creators through systems and regulations. Instead, it is better to build a good team spirit, filling them with a sense of mission. It is fair to say that the creative industry is still small in Macau, and they certainly have better choices [other than joining digital media startups] if they are aiming just for high salaries.

We set up mechanisms to increase the transparency of our business. For example, the company discloses its financial information and current plans in monthly meetings, encouraging our staff to get involved in decision-making. Our staff can also participate in recruitments, which helps the integration between newcomers and the existing team.

Q: With the twin roles of content creator and management executive on your shoulder, did you have any struggles in decision-making?

Luk: Before starting Manner, I was working as a choreographer, writing screenplays, and also working as a freelance lyricist. As a creator, I inevitably hated the business community at that time.

After running Manner, I did struggle whether content creation should be linked to a business model, back in the years 2014 and 2015. But as the company grew, I kept in mind the fact that the business is not about me alone, it’s about our staff and about the livelihood of their families as well.

I have gone through a lot of struggles, and I hope that our staff can work in what they are interested in, and earn a living for it at the same time.

Q: And Ray, what about your journey of starting 9GAG? Have you come across any change in the way you create content? And how would you describe your management style?

Chan: "Strive for self-improvement" is my motto, in my business and in my life. There is no such thing as a born leader. For me, I always try to be better than who I was yesterday. If there is a new idea coming up, just go ahead and test it out.

For staff not familiar with the business, we can introduce the "Operational and Key Results" (OKR) system to share with them the latest developments on the company. As long as there is enough communication, the staff will understand the company better, and the road to development will be clearer.

More importantly, for the management, train yourself to hire the right people. A candidate with the best talent may not necessarily be the perfect candidate; it should be about the kind of person the company needs most at the particular moment. You should take the company’s current status and future expectation into account in your hiring decisions, otherwise, how can you have the right people in line with the company’s needs in the future?

Q: We know that you are developing other products and services beyond 9GAG’s primary business. What is your plan?

Chan: When you look at all the large enterprises, most of them achieve better profits through developing various side-businesses. For digital media startups like 9GAG, if the company is highly dependent on the income from advertisers and marketers, the model is dangerous to run and move forward.

Take the clothing business as an example. With a relatively lower entry barrier, thousands of brands have been emerging in the market, each with their own fans. In developing our core business, we learn through trial and error along the way; and that’s the spirit we have in expanding to side-businesses now.

Luk: At Manner, we have a sub-brand called "LAJI", focusing on selling Macau specialties like almond biscuits, phoenix rolls, and many more. We have partnered with local brands, helping to diversify investment risk. While maintaining the original style of these brands and their products, we mix our humor into the promotion and marketing campaigns, leveraging the strengths of both sides.

This full article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept 7

Translation by Ben Ng with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal