7 Things We’ve Learned Investing In & Mentoring Hong Kong Startups
At the beginning of our Betatron startup accelerator, one of the missions, which all of our founding partners shared, was that we wanted to be as transparent as possible about the inner workings of the programme with the rest of the startup ecosystem.
Therefore, we held an event on Tuesday 9th May at WeWork, Wanchai and decided to share some of the insights we’ve learned so far with the community.
Here are seven of the main takeaways.
1. Lead Mentors Are Vital
One of the key differentiators between Betatron and other accelerator programmes is our lead mentor format. Each startup is assigned a lead mentor from one of our founding partners to provide hands-on help, advice, and guidance throughout the four-month process.
Sometimes, the closest relationships are built outside of the working environment, which is why our lead mentors have all made themselves available 24/7 to our startups.
They’ve met for after-work drinks, accompanied them to important meetings, and even arranged hikes with successful founders from their other portfolio companies.
“The key to being a successful mentor isn’t just about helping them with their business and providing technical advice. It’s also about being there to provide mental and emotional support, too!”
Roland Yau — Managing Partner of CoCoon Ignite Ventures and Lead Mentor of Pakpobox
Building a startup is often a rollercoaster ride, as explained to our cohort by one of our mentors and successful, serial entrepreneur, Andy Ann. He shared some useful advice about how to survive the journey here — check it out if you haven’t already.
2. Challenge Your Startup’s Assumptions
Having a mentor who’s a ‘yes-man’ is not effective in the long run. It might give you support and encouragement in the short-term, but it’s not effective business-wise.
No-one likes to hear negative feedback. Sometimes, it can be hard for founders to hear their business assumptions being challenged and critically analysed.
But, if you want to build a successful company, you have to embrace and appreciate constructive criticism and remember to never take it personally.
Often, when you build a startup, you’ll notice family and friends are very encouraging, and will often tell you how great your idea is, even if they don’t believe it.
What you need though, are people around you who are 100% honest and transparent, and have your business interests in mind. And, aren’t afraid to hurt your feelings and tell you if they think your idea sucks!
This approach has led to some great success, in particularly, for one of our startups, LogFlows.
Joe challenged LogFlow’s business model, which has resulted in the team optimising their product to provide an additional feature. LogFlows are now developing a platform which facilitates the tendering process between manufacturers and logistic companies.
The development has already helped increase their platform’s usage rate, decreased the time it takes to onboard a new client, and also increased the lifetime value of each user.
The changes have helped LogFlows’ platform to now process over 30,000 orders per month in Hong Kong and China.
3. Find Your Accelerator’s ‘Sweet Spot’ & Stick To It.
Deciding upon your accelerator’s niche is crucial. For Betatron, we decided to stay vertical agnostic, but focus our attention regionally, on Hong Kong startups.
The main goal of our programme is to position each startup to raise their first institutional round of funding, using the startup investment experience of our founding partners.
When launching the application process, we wanted our startups to ideally have the following attributes:
- A Built Product / Service
- Demonstrated Product / Market fit (Ideally with paying customers)
- Solid Team
- Large Addressable Target Market
- Generating Traction
- Based in Hong Kong
We are often asked, “Why didn’t you choose five startups and only four?”
Well, the honest answer, as Tony Zander (VP of Product & Development at Vectr Ventures and Lead Mentor of OffMenu) mentioned during the panel discussion, is that, “We couldn’t find five startups who ticked every box.”
We’re investing money into each startup from the beginning, so if they’re not the perfect fit for the program, we can’t pick them.
There’s no hidden agenda behind our accelerator. Our only goal is to find startups with potential, invest money into them from the beginning, and then help them accelerate their growth.
4. Build A Community
Building a strong community and encouraging collaboration between all of the different parties is one of the keys to running a successful accelerator.
We’ve endeavoured from the start to build a strong network of industry specific experts, successful entrepreneurs and experienced investors.
As time is of the essence during an accelerator, we don’t want to waste any time — we want to move as fast as possible. The strong network we’ve built has been crucial to enabling that whenever one of our startups is facing a problem, we have the best person possible to immediately help them.
For example, Pakpobox needed help to close investment from a strategic partner. Roland Yau, with his years of high-level experience structuring deals, was there to support.
OffMenu needed to find a launch partner to help roll out their product to the market. Tony Zander and Arthur Law (General Partner at Vectr Ventures) were there to help and connect them to some of the major players in the industry.
5. Focus On The Long-Term
Betatron isn’t just about the four-month programme for our startups. Yes, we want them to accelerate as fast as possible. But, it’s important not to rush the startups through the process to the detriment of their long-term potential.
As we invest into the startups from the beginning, we have to think long-term. Betatron only makes money if the startups are successful.
It’s not about putting on a show for the duration of the programme and then kicking them out the door. After the four months, we’ll continue to keep working with them and build a family and our own internal ecosystem, who can help each other.
Building accountability is a crucial productivity hack, which can give you the motivation needed to push through challenges and complete difficult tasks.
To build accountability, we ensure that our startups meet with their lead mentors once per week, every week, which keeps them on track.
We also structure Thursday afternoons to be cohort update sessions, between the startups and the Betatron team. During the session, each startup presents an update of their week’s activities (the good, the bad and the ugly!). The group then provides feedback and offers to help and support where possible.
Setting and monitoring KPIs is important for every startup’s growth. Therefore, each week, each startup sets goals for themselves to achieve and shares them with the group. For example, it could be reaching out to 50 potential customers, completing the development of a new product feature, or hiring a new team member.
Accountability really kicks in when you have to update the group on whether you’ve hit your weekly goals. And if you haven’t, why not?!
7. Team Spirit
Once a week, we have a ‘social night’, where we invite a successful entrepreneur to come in and share their startup journey with our cohort over beers and pizza (plus the occasional salad to keep everyone happy!).
Getting the opportunity to hear the inspirational personal stories of successful Hong Kong-based entrepreneurs, who are making millions in revenue, is very inspiring. And, sometimes it’s needed to show our startups that it can be done from Hong Kong and anything is possible.
Meeting successful people like Luke Grana (Founder of Grana), Andy Ann (Founder of NDN Group), Alvin Hung (Founder of GoAnimate), Derek Kwik (Managing Partner of BraveSoldier Ventures) and many, many more, in a closed and private environment, has been extremely beneficial and motivating for our teams. And, it’s allowed them to build close relationships with them, which would be hard to achieve otherwise.
Have you learned something while running an accelerator?
Would you like to be part of our next cohort?
Would you like to mentor our startups?
Please reach out and connect with me — firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Sam Ameen is the Head of Digital Marketing at IC Studio, one of the founding partners of Betatron. He’s passionate about helping companies acquire new customers using unique growth hacking and user acquisition strategies. Sam is also a contributor to Forbes and covers Entrepreneurship & Startups in Hong Kong.