Editor’s Update: According to Jan Wong, co-founder of OpenMinds, the company’s valuation is currently at USD 5 million. The title and text have been updated to reflect that.
It’s a year that keeps on going for team OpenMinds Resources. Last month, co-founder Jan Wong was listed as one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30, and now they’ve spread their wings to Hong Kong in their latest bid to continue their Digital Marketing in a new official home base.
OpenMinds actually started out as a tech startup that focused on recruitment back in 2009, but they pivoted towards digital marketing when they found that the investors they pitched to were more interested in offering them business deals in digital media rather than funding.
Now, OpenMinds is a digital media consultancy that takes on a more active role than their usual contemporaries in the business. Based on their digital-marketing know-how, they work on understanding the clients’ cornerstone, and what they need in their business.
They then try to formulate plans based on their clients’ needs, the customers’ expectations, the current industry trends, and how sustainable and viable the plans might be before brainstorming and execution.
“OpenMinds is created to plug the gap between marketing and technology in today’s businesses,” said Jan about the expansion strategy.
The Hong Kong Expansion
With 96% of the Hong Kong population on their smartphone as of 2013, and a statistic by Go-Globe telling us that 64% of Hong Kongians are active on social media, the small territory is fertile ground ready for OpenMinds to plough—if they can figure out how.
“We believe our consultative approach to digital marketing is a model that has proven to work, so we are excited to see what we can achieve in Hong Kong,” said Eliza Lee, the director of the Hong Kong arm.
“The startup scene in Hong Kong is growing; the excellent infrastructure, government support, high internet penetration rate and reputation as an ‘international business hub’ shows us that there is much potential for OpenMinds and our business model in this place. Hopefully, Hong Kong marks the start of our international expansion—we believe there are always greater things to come!”
“At present, the biggest objective is to break even. After that, we will focus on growth and by our third year in Hong Kong, hopefully start incubating and mentoring startups we really believe in. ”
And here’s how they’re going to go about it.
According to Eliza, they want to bring their passion for startups over from Malaysia and impact the startup industry in Hong Kong, “while doing well financially, of course, so we can also contribute to the ecosystem here in whatever ways we can”.
Despite Hong Kong’s population totalling at about 22% of Malaysia’s 31.2 million people, Hong Kong ranks as the 5th fastest growing startup ecosystem, and as of the 2015 research by the San Francisco based research firm Compass, ranks as 25th in the world.
The study further states that Hong Kong’s location is ideal for entrepreneurs to tap into the territory’s financial industry, as well as the hardware manufacturing hub a short ride away from the city of Shenzhen.
But like most infants, Hong Kong’s scene is still in its fast-growing infancy. There was no prior IT industry to motivate the founders, which led to a shortage of tech talent as of 2016, even as the need for fintech grows in the territory.
OpenMinds will be bringing in their digital marketing breadth of knowledge, as well as their continuous interest in Malaysia’s startup scene into the fold in Hong Kong.
A Bootstrapping Success
Now that they are slowly inching their way towards a global presence, it may be hard to remember that they spent these 5 years without any external funding to run their business, which has granted them 5 million USD in valuation today. We asked the team for protips on how to bootstrap to the top, and this is what they had to say.
“I think bootstrapping really pushes you to manage and plan your finances well and not take whatever resources you have for granted. At the end of the day, perseverance and determination will always be the winning factor,” said Eliza.
She further states that whenever times are difficult, as they will be, never forget the ‘why’ of the journey and the reason you started the venture in the first place. “Even if you get a thousand ‘No’s, push through, and the ‘Yes’ you’re looking for might just be around the corner. ”
OpenMinds Over The Years
This won’t be the first time OpenMinds has made international forays. They have previously consulted for established brands across different industries like BOSCH, CIMB Bank, NIDA Rooms and Nestle.
Moreover, they also had an experimental expansion in Kazakhstan that, while ended one year after they started, helped them figure out some of the art behind a global expansion.
- Their biggest takeaway from Kazakhstan is to invest in people with the same vision, as it might be difficult to align individuals with different mindsets. Eliza further states that while her business partners may be different people, but they hold a common vision, which ensures they walk the same path.
- The landscape in Hong Kong is more familiar to this Malaysian team than Kazakhstan was. Many of the team members can already speak the commonly spoken Cantonese in Hong Kong, versus Kazakhstan’s Kazakh and Russian.
Plus, Eliza has a personal investment in Hong Kong, calling it her ‘favourite city’. The costs of living in Hong Kong might be steep, especially considering our declining ringgit. But the team hopes that their bootstrapping history will carry them far in Hong Kong.
On top of that, they can already at least speak to the local businesses, and have already identified suitable content partners who will be helping out with their early projects. Eventually, the team does hope to be able to build their own internal team in Hong Kong to mitigate that issue.
“I also believe that you can’t achieve greatness on your own and you always need an amazing team to help you grow. One of my personal goals is to grow a high-achieving, highly ambitious and diverse team in Hong Kong,” said Eliza.
Eliza told us that miss her friends and family back here, as she leaves behind everything that is familiar to start all over again from scratch. This includes her own personal branding, having headlined startups like Dirty Benefits and Phat Culture.
But as their successful bid to the Hong Kong government for immigration shows, their track record in Malaysia has been solid. Whether the different ecosystem in Hong Kong will prove to be a challenge, or if their experience will carry them remains to be seen, but OpenMinds clearly has big ideas and big dreams for the territory.