EHK Chats with Entrepreneur Hugh Bell on his Startup Coco Color
Bell chimes in with advice on building your own business
Bell is no stranger to entrepreneurship. The former software developer left the UK and headed to Hong Kong a decade ago to market and develop Laserpod, a groovy looking laser lamp that saw its heyday in the 1990s. Prior, he had founded two startups in London, a software development company and a social software platform.
He’s now working on his latest project, Coco Color Company. Inspired by his three kids — enthusiasts of coloring and tablets — Bell wanted to combine their interests while helping them develop their motor skills. The result was Coco Color, which can be thought of as a portable coloring set that allows you to color, doodle or sketch in apps and touch screen devices.
Currently patent pending, Bell’s goal is to partner up with other companies ranging from educational to entertainment sectors, as the apparatus is compatible with all touch screen devices.
We asked Bell, who has successfully roped in seed funding in November 2014 to create his product (now undergoing its second prototype) to share with us some tips on starting a new business in Hong Kong.
5 tips on revving up your startup:
1. Show the money to get the money.
Make some deals. Make some transactions. VCs don’t invest in a good idea, they invest in a provable, profitable plan.
Many young entrepreneurs in Hong Kong aren’t sure how VC works, according to Bell, which is why many startups fail to secure funding.
“In Hong Kong, there’s not a lot of VC, because startups are not producing the returns required. VC guys are risk adverse,” says Bell. Thus, he advises startups create a business plan and try to enact it. Once investors see that the startup actually has money making potential, they are more willing to invest.
2. Market by territory.
Seek out how to do business in each specific market.
“Uber has spent a lot of money on PR. But in my opinion, GrabTaxi (Uber’s rival in Southeast Asia) has really done a lot to appeal to the local market. They’re not trying to import a business model directly,” says Bell.
This is especially important in Asia, as customs and practices aren’t one size fits all.
3. Partner with other companies.
Try and make it a business. Be a friend to other companies with big populations.
“True technology allows you to partner up,” says Bell. You also don’t need to look in the same sector to find a partner. Keep your options expansive, and think outside the box.
“Not all startups can be Angry Birds or Alibaba, but you can think about partnerships with bigger companies.”
4. Get involved in the local startup community.
Last year, Bell was living in Chengdu with his family, a city he found surprisingly bustling with the same startup energy experienced in the early 1990s dot com boom in London. Bell immersed himself in the entrepreneur community, where he was introduced to a potential investor in Hong Kong.
“Initially, I introduced the product to him thinking he had friends or other investors he could introduce me to. Eventually, he liked the product so much, he said, ‘well maybe I’ll invest.’ So he invested. This happened over three coffee meetings,” says Bell.
Immerse yourself fully in the community, because you never know what contacts you’ll make. Having a support network is important. Try to build a network of what Bell calls the “holy trinity of grassroots entrepreneurship” in Asia, comprised of local people, expats and Chinese returnees.
5. Discover your niche.
Sticking to what you know and carving out your niche market is what makes your product or service stand out from others.
Bell was motivated to create something that would appeal to his kids and hopes other parents and educators share similar interests.
“It doesn’t have to appeal to everyone to be successful,” he says.
This interview with Hugh Bell was conducted and condensed by Hannah Leung of EntrepreneurHK (EHK).