Category Archives: Tech in Asia, China Daily

Bridging the IT gender gap【China Daily 17.3.16】

Bridging the IT gender gap

By Nan-Hie In

Diversity problems in Silicon Valley continue to take center stage but to what extent do these issues also resonate in Hong Kong’s startup community? Tech experts weigh in on the topic. Nan-Hie In reports.

Bridging the IT gender gap

Diversity woes in Silicon Valley are making headlines again as Arjuna Capital’s push for transparency in the gender pay gap in the tech sector gains traction.

The investment firm is pressuring shareholders at seven tech giants, including eBay, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, to disclose salary disparities of men and women and more. Amazon and eBay have balked, whereas Intel and Apple have embraced them. Other firms will vote on the proposals this year.

The movement was ignited after an uproar over comments by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in 2014 that women should refrain from asking for pay raises but should have faith in the system.

Jennifer Carver, chief investment officer at Nest in Hong Kong, applauds Arjuna Capital’s movement but cautions companies not to get too carried away so as to overlook the meritocracy. Skills and experience should shape salaries. “Sometimes the conversation turns too much around pushing women as opposed to pushing capable women and helping women to be more effective in the work place,” she says.

The industry veteran also claims pay inequality is not as prevalent in Hong Kong, where the startup scene remains too green to have developed these issues to the same degree.

Eda Chow echoes that view. She’s a career tech entrepreneur who just opened Maker Lab, a hardware products innovation lab in North Point focused on digital fabrication technologies. “I was paid decently during my startup and tech career. I was even paid a little higher than my male counterparts,” she says. “When I’m the boss, I pay my staff based on their experience and not their gender,” adds the co-founder of Maker Lab.

In other areas of the industry gender imbalances are evident. Chow has attended tech events and mentoring programs where she was the only female entrepreneur present. Tech experts elaborate on various gender diversity issues and efforts to help close these gender gaps in Hong Kong.

Tech’s discrimination

Ping Wong, the CEO of Evention, a mobile-based event solution helping organizers stage events, has observed underrepresentation of women in her industry. For instance, Wong, who has 15 years of experience in the IT industry is the only woman on the eight-member board of the Hong Kong Internet Registration Corporation.

She recalls a dinner gathering at which tech peers asked everyone to count how many female tech startup founders they knew in Hong Kong. “I could count them on my 10 fingers,” she says.

Many factors are at work behind the gender imbalance. That includes what Wong dubs as “unconscious bias” in the industry. She says it’s not active discrimination but gender bias among industry professionals, rooted in social culture and expectations. “For example, employers are not conscious about wanting to recruit male developers but they believe it perhaps due to a long-held perception that men are better at coding than women,” she says.

She suggests women give voice to these issues to challenge such misperceptions in the hopes that decision-makers use more objective criteria in assessing tech professionals for hiring and promotion.

Another factor that deters women from the industry is the traditional Asian culture that expects women to carry the bulk of family responsibilities. “These (expectations) not only come from your husband but your husband’s family and your family, which amounts to a lot of pressure,” she says. Wong implores family members to encourage and support women with startup founder ambitions or other dreams in the field. That includes the sharing of family responsibilities.

Wong and some of her industry friends plan to launch Tech X Women within a few months. It’s planned as a platform to help women in the tech sector to connect, share knowledge, support and mentor each another.

One of the initiatives includes trips to Silicon Valley, to experience the startup culture and mindset. “When I went a few years ago to Silicon Valley, it changed my thinking, that I can do much more than I had thought,” she says, adding that the experience shaped her current startup.

On those trips, Wong observed stark differences  in the mindset of US and Hong Kong entrepreneurs. Startup founders in Silicon Valley tend to take bigger risks and hold grand visions of their concepts. “Often they would say ‘I want to make a product that changes the world,’” says Wong. Most young people in Hong Kong tend to aim to make lots of money to buy a flat, says Wong.

“If you don’t think big you will never be big; for young people and for startups, I think the mindset is very important,” she says.

Nothing ventured

In Silicon Valley, gender inequity is most amplified at the investor level, as Ellen Pao’s sex discrimination lawsuit in 2015 has highlighted. Studies also reflect this. Babson College’s survey in 2014 found that only 6 percent of decision makers in venture capital firms in the US were female, a decline from the 10 percent in 1999.

Carver says this is because “the old boy network is just too difficult to overcome.” However the situation is not the same in Hong Kong’s young startup ecosystem. For example, four or five years ago there were no early stage venture capital firms in Hong Kong, so that issue didn’t even exist.

“Among the early stage venture capitalists we work with, there are still fewer women than men but it’s not 6 percent; it’s maybe 40 percent or 30 percent,” she reveals.

There was a time  gender equality in the Hong Kong investment scene was worse. Carver’s nearly 30-year career in asset management began in 1987, in equity sales in Hong Kong. Back then, brokers and clients were predominately male. “I went to a lot of hostess clubs and drank a lot of scotch and smoked a lot of cigars,” she recalls. That was how you got business back then.

She found she was excluded from after-hour outings where deal-making, idea-sharing and networking were done. She couldn’t get into The Chinnery Bar at the Mandarin Oriental, a popular hangout for brokers. In those days women were not allowed.

Conditions have changed dramatically since. In the tech field, for example, Chow, Carver and Wong claim they do not feel excluded from social occasions because of their gender. “Because of the early stage of the ecosystem, everybody wants to include many people so they can get things moving,” explains Carver.

The investment head at Nest foresees more women participating in the industry, as Hong Kong’s startup culture matures. Her firm is at the forefront of advancing this community. Nest’s founder Simon Squibb, for example, has been persuading InvestHK to do more to build the city’s startup culture and his efforts have paid off. StartmeupHK was one result: a week-long events and activities for new and promising companies, organized by InvestHK. Its recent launch drew considerable attention with Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk as its keynote speaker.

Nest also launched the Step Up series at its AIA Accelerator debut in Hong Kong this month. The aim was to highlight issues such as raising capital to help female entrepreneurs. However, as its first event, the lack of men in the audience concerned Carver. “We need to engage men but they don’t show up for those conversations. Without them, things won’t change as rapidly as they need to,” she says.

Education can also be improved to help close the gender gap. Local schools must shift away from its heavy test-oriented approach and an educational culture that fosters a negative stay-within-your-confines mindset. She has noticed some universities now focus on entrepreneurial studies. “That’s a good move to teach kids to think out of the box but it needs to start earlier,” she says.

Tackling the cultures that define gender roles and women’s pressures at home are trickier. As she says, it’s a challenging global issue. Male support of women including willingness to share family responsibilities are key to recalibrating gender imbalances in the sector. “It comes back to having more men involved in these conversations to understand the issues and participate in them,” she explains.

While it is important to have this dialogue among men and women, at the same time she takes issue with the fact that question is still under discussion in 2016. “I look forward to the day these conversations doesn’t need to happen.”


The opinions expressed are solely her own.

Female serial entrepreneur, CEO and Co-founder of EVENTION, her 2nd tech startup.Business development & marketing professional with >15 yrs’ exp in IT. Writer for HK & regional media.


Original article was published on《Tech in Asia》on 17 Mar 2016

日本長青企業給創業者的三個啟示 (信報﹣StartUpBeat 22.3.2016)

創業者總喜歡向創業先驅取經,每天必看Tim Cook、Mark Zuckerberg、Elon Musk等成功創業家的博客,以及將《Zero to One》、《The Hard Thing About The Hard



1. 開發產品首要原則:少即是多








另一間實行「這樣就好」理念的企業,是休閒服飾設計、生產及零售商 - Uniqlo。


創業者必然知道「以客為先」, 也會在開發產品前做不少市場調查,但事實是,由於資源和技術的限制,創業者往往難以同時「滿足消費者的要求」,亦能「發展產品的獨特性」,平衡兩者實不易。




2. 親身觀察用戶,不僅是透過機器或大數據

從傳統製造業到資訊科技行業, 「如何了解用戶」永遠是個棘手的問題。




3. 斷絕不需要的東西,捨棄多餘的事物,專注核心業務





說到底,通往成功之路並沒有特定既有的公式,但在通往成功的道路上,創業者既要向科技巨頭、成功創業者學習,也應從傳統「長青」企業身上學習,明白「少即是多」(Less is more) 的美學,以穩健、扎實的每一小步朝著大目標進發。








香港互聯網協會 總監及創業小組召集人



3 things entrepreneurs should learn from established Japanese brands like Muji and Nissan(Tech in Asia 9.3.2016)

Entrepreneurs like to learn from the pioneers in the industry – they hunt for the key to success from the blogs of successful entrepreneurs like Tim Cook, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk; they read books like Zero to One and The Hard Thing About Hard Things from end to end, regarding as bibles for starting up companies.

As an entrepreneur, I totally agree that it’s much easier to kickstart your journey on the shoulders of giants. But there is no single formula for success.

I recently came across several books and studies about Japanese companies with decades of history, and I found that these brands perfectly embodied the beauty of subtraction. From their design philosophies to management strategies, they seemed to be born with the power of building business lean. These are the 3 things entrepreneurs can definitely learn from them.

1. When developing your product, less is more



Photo credit: MUJIglobal

Tagged as “brandless brand”, Muji is a retail company selling no-logo household and consumer goods with minimalist design. The brand goes by the philosophy of “no flash, just functions” to indicate what’s appropriate for every day life.

This goal is manifested for example, in their development process of household appliances. When manufacturers from China and South Korea targeted the Japan-dominated market with a low pricing strategy after the 1990s, most manufacturers in Japan tried to reclaim the lost ground with a wide variety of functions. Muji steered the opposite way – developing products with basic functions so as to keep the quality and price competitive. The company believes that household appliances with basic functions are enough for most families. On the contrary, customers might get lost in the fancy functions which also bloat the price of the product.

This is also true when entrepreneurs turn ideas into products. Innovation-oriented market positioning often leads to fancy features that fail to meet the consumer’s basic needs. While Muji’s approach is to make something people want and need, but not more, “nice to have” functions should be eliminated. Entrepreneurs should figure out problems that need to be solved and develop corresponding solutions that touch on the right pain points.

Uniqlo, the casual wear designer, manufacturer and retailer, is another Japanese brand with a no-frills design philosophy. Uniqlo is quite the rebel in the apparel industry — producing and selling clothes designed for everyone. In an industry stressing on one’s personality and individuality, Uniqlo focuses more on customers than clothes, and believes that customers can develop their own styles by mixing and matching its simply-designed clothes.

Entrepreneurs must have read quite a few suggestions on putting “customers first” and done market research before developing their products. But the truth is that balancing customers’ needs and product differentiation is not easy, due to limitations in resources and technology.

Uniqlo is one example of a brand that takes away the personalized features of their clothes and enables customers to personalize their styles on their own accord, indeed reaching the “customer-oriented” goal that many entrepreneurs have long sought.

2. Observe users, and not just through big data

Here comes another thorny issue – how could I know what my customers want? From manufacturing to the IT industry, conducting customer research is never easy.

Muji tries to communicate with costumers through different channels, including service counters in retail stores, their website, through the telephone and from market research.

However, what inspires me the most is the way Muji observes their customers. Muji built investigation teams composed of designers, buyers and management-level staff for customer home visits, in order to observe customers’ usage behaviors from different angles with the team members from different backgrounds. After the observation, they would interview these customers, directly getting comments on products and a sense of their customer’s sentiments.

During the process, investigation teams would find out about how different customers use the same product, some in innovative ways the product designers had never expected.

For entrepreneurs, there are some tools in the market for analysing consumer behavior. Although these could be used to get insights on consumer preferences, it is important not to neglect the human touch in trying to understand aspects of people where machines fall short.

3. Be decisive, and stay focused on the core of the business




Photo credit: Nissan USA

After launching products and scaling, entrepreneurs would probably pause to review their strategies before progressing further.

Multinational automobile manufacturer Nissan once dipped their toes in the aviation industry. But after 2000, the company successfully sold this high-end profitable business, in order to hold the lead on the global automobile market with a centralized set of resources.

This strategy is similar to that of snack food manufacturer Calbee, which has persisted in only selling potato-based snacks for over 60 years. And in order to keep businesses lean, it holds regular “off-shelf” meeting for superfluous product lines.

Apart from the products they have initially launched, entrepreneurs would also invest resources in side projects, hoping to boost revenues along both lines. However, this approach may cause them to sidetrack and deviate away from their original intentions for the business. I would suggest never to linger on businesses that do not coincide with your future plans for your business.

In conclusion, there is no foolproof formula for success. But on the way, most entrepreneurs should not only learn from technology giants, but from traditional industries, understanding the beauty of “less is more” and chasing big goals with small, manageable steps.

The opinions expressed are solely her own.



Female serial entrepreneur, CEO and Co-founder of EVENTION, her 2nd tech startup.Business development & marketing professional with >15 yrs’ exp in IT. Writer for HK & regional media.


Original article was published on《Tech in Asia》on 9 Mar 2016