Talking Entrepreneurship with Coils, Founder of 759 Store
We had lunch at the 759 Canteen with Coils Lam, Founder of 759 Store — which has somewhat changed my perception of what entrepreneurship and leadership is.
Coils is a very easy-going and friendly person, who walked around to greet and chat with everyone. We asked for an hour of his time, and he insisted that he’ll spend 3 hours with us. He recalled the day he decided to take his company public, and it was a rather spontaneous decision. Yet, there were many gems and wisdom along the casual conversation we had that reveals the secrets to his success. Here are some of them:
1) If you want to be an entrepreneur, don’t even fall asleep on the bus.
Coils says the skills to observe is one of the most important traits of an entrepreneur. He recalled learning about constructions and other random things just by hearing conversations on bus rides, restaurants and in daily life which somehow became handy and useful in building his business later on. Pro tip: always keep your eyes and ears open to observe and learn.
2) A leader is not measured by wealth, but by impact.
With lots of talk on startups and entrepreneurship in the media these days, Coils asks the students in the crowd why they’d like to be entrepreneurs. Then promptly reminded them what it really means.
“If you want to be a leader, it is not necessary to choose entrepreneurship as a career. Being a leader is not about possessing power or wealth but to drive for development.”
It is not about not having a boss or having the freedom to do whatever you want. It is about having impact and making a difference. Plus, it is not too late to succeed in your 50s, so be patient and arm yourself with the knowledge, skills and mentality before you start.
3) There aren’t any tips to being an entrepreneur.
Everyone had this question in mind — what makes a successful entrepreneur in Coils’ mind? He said he has no practical tips, but it boils down to this mentality:
“Always find the root cause of a problem, not just to solve the symptoms. The key is to be able to tell the root cause and symptoms apart.”
“Starting up a business is not about registering a license but to survive in a dynamic market. It could be mean a struggle of 10 years. Ask yourselves if you possess the ability, maturity and perseverance.”
4) Buy our goods but don’t buy our stock.
Coils has had a sense of mission to bring about social good since a young age. Charging a reasonable price is not about “being nice”, but it is a way to survive in the market. He doesn’t obsess over his own gains and loss, but has always considered himself a proletariat. This mentality of his may explain 759 Store’s unique positioning and business model.
Thank you Coils for generously donating a long lunch at 759 Canteen and indirectly contributing 115 volunteer hours to Food Angel, Junior Achievement, Jockey Club Yau Tong Children & Youth Integrated Service Center, Hong Kong Society for The Deaf, Arch Community Outreach and more.
By Karen Chiu, Time Auction Ambassador and Fion Leung, Co-founder of Time Auction
For more auctions, visit Time Auction, a platform connecting you with inspiring founders and top executives while encouraging volunteerism.
What did the volunteers think?
Kenneth Liu, Entrepreneur
“Meeting with Coils was memorable. He shared with us on how he turned 759 into a tremendous success, he made us think a thousand steps ahead of the game. I really enjoyed it. Thanks Time Auction for the arrangement.”
Berton Lee, Private Venture Investor
“Thank Time Auction Team very much for arranging the meeting. I have long heard of Mr Lam as a humble businessman that is not shy of sharing his out-of-the-box thinking. He provides room for young staffs to develop themselves, and providing the mass market more choice of quality imports. The meeting reinforced my impression.”
Yung Yeung Chan, HKUST Student
“I enjoyed the meeting with Mr Lam. He is very down to earth. I can feel that he has a sincere and good heart. He’s willing to share his experience and passes on these valuable knowledge to us. Also, he’s humble about his success. I agree very much with his ideas about the entrepreneurship trend among young people and the ethical way he runs business. If only the conglomerate run their business more like Mr Lam, we would live in a better society with higher living standard. Mr Lam, thank you very much for your sharing!”
Jason Yuen, HKUST Student
“Thank you Colis for sharing your story and experience with us. It was aspiring and surprising. It must be very exciting and amusing when dealing with other bosses from competitors, knowing others’ strategies and engaging in business wars. Seeing your story, I could feel how much hardship you have gone through. It was not easy for Store 759 to achieve today’s status. Thank you for fighting against the monopolies, making the market competitive. However, I think there will always be monopolies — one falls, another rises.”
Grace Xu, HKUST Student
“這次十分有幸可以同759阿信屋創始人Colis林先生吃飯，我感受到了一個經歷風風雨雨獲得成功的智者的智慧以及樸實。從林先生口中娓娓道來的，不是很虛的心靈雞湯，而是一個踏踏實實的有理想的人在為這個行業作出一些改變和影響。真正的leader不是掌握了最多的財富和最大的權利，而是你能為這個社會這個行業做出多大的影響和推動。我認為林先生是零售行業一位非常優秀的leader，從這次的談話中，我受益匪淺。感謝time auction的organization， 感謝林先生願意分享這麼多。”
Vincent Kwok, Architect
“Thanks for arranging a wonderful meeting with Coils.
Coil’s life is extraordinary. After listening to him talk, I think someone should write a book about him. I am sure the book will be a best seller.
His life from a protege to starting to his own company and fail then get back up and continue to be the King of Coils and then moving on to 759 is so inspiring. His philosophy of socialism and his understanding of capitalism is captivating for audiences to hear. And his thoughts and care to the general public and access to low cost products is very honorable. Not a lot of people in business can do that. He is a true hero and idol.
I also like how he opens up his mind and talk to us freely about everything. His willingness to share and give his insight to the youngster allowed us to learn a lot. I wish the talk didn’t end so soon and would love to hear more from him.
I want to thank Time Auction once again for arranging this talk. Thank you very much!”
Carmen Fung, Hong Kong Baptist University Student
“It was a great experience to meet Mr. Collis Lam. As a fresh graduate, he gave me a lot of insight on my future path. Also, it was nice to hear his story of founding 759 business. Aside the success of business, he also taught us some important life lesson on how to treat people. Thanks Time Auction for organizing this valuable event.”
Carlos Ka Nok, Open University of Hong Kong Student
“I thank Time Auction for giving me this opportunity to meet with Coils. Coils is a wise entrepreneur. The inspirational meeting reminded me that it is not easy to startup a business. He changed my concept on starting up a business. However, I do believe that there are some new ways to startup a new business in the new generation.”
Stef Lau, Sales & Marketing
“Thank Mr Lam very much for sharing his precious time with all of us. It was a great moment chatting with him. I have learnt so much from him e.g. his story, 759 strategy, attitude to start a business, vending machine ideas etc. He has inspired me a lot as I want to startup as well after graduated and he reminded us to prepare ourselves first. I hope that I will see him again in the future and share with him my new career path and success after that chat with him!”