Eye of the Distro Tigers: 500 Startups Growth Lessons Learned in Hong Kong

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I just got back to the Valley from a Distro Tour of Asia with a group of mentors from 500 Startups.

It sounds glamorous… AND IT WAS.

Aside from doing lots of eating, we also helped 60+ companies in Taiwan and Hong Kong (from a pre-selected applicant pool) tackle their biggest questions in growth marketing, b2b sales, fundraising / pitching, and team leadership with workshops and lots of hands-on office hours.

We learned a LOT about the realities of growing and funding a startup in Taipei and Hong Kong. These are two talent-filled ecosystems in the “Asian Tiger” constellation of developed economies, and they have a lot going for them.

In Hong Kong the companies we met had a solid grasp on their initial customer needs and how to find those first customers.

But, startups and their founders in these regions also face some big, non-obvious realities that pose unique challenges.

From our perspective focused on startup growth and distribution, here are the challenges that stood out to us the most.

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Are You Not Entertained? How to Win a Startup Pitch Competition in 5 Steps

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I’ve either attended, judged or put together so many pitch competitions I thought it would be a good time to share 5 main points on how to win one.

Yes, there is a formula and I’ve seen it work on big VC judges, media judges and the general audience. If you have these 5 things you will most likely win or at least place in audience favourite (as long as the other teams don’t read this post! ;-). When I sit as an audience member I can guess who will win everytime based on these factors no matter what the product is and no matter the founder’s experience level.

Luckily my friend Masaru Ikeda from The Bridge filmed the Lots of Buttons pitch at Startup Asia 2013 because that was one of the best pitches ever from Hong Kong. On the outside, it sounds like the dumbest idea for a startup – but it stole the show, the judges votes and showed the audience what makes a startup pitch work.

I’m going to discount a few obvious things like making sure the pitcher has fluent, non-accented English (this applies to obviously English pitch events), the slide deck is beautiful and not done with Comic Sans and that doing a live-demo is the kiss of death when wifi goes down and you have nothing else to show.

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Subject Lines and Twitter Intros: How Startups Can Build Relationships with the Media

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I was asked to moderate a panel at Blueprint’s 500 Startups Day event on how startups can engage the media to cover news about their startups – and there were some interesting discoveries made that I want to share here:

Build relationships BEFORE you want coverage

Raymond Yip of Shopline was on the panel and even though he has very newsworthy news about Shopline’s funding he still started relationships with the key media he wanted to target far before he started any press release writing. He also mentioned being available by email and phone 24/7 for any follow-up questions taking into account a reporters tight deadlines.

Use Twitter

In the immortal words of TechInAsia journalist Paul Bischoff “F*ck LinkedIn!”

Twitter is the way to go when approaching journalists. I personally love Twitter – even in Hong Kong where usage is low – but the world uses this to engage strangers, if you’re a startup in Hong Kong and not on Twitter get on it now and tweet me (@casey_lau) and I will follow you back immediately – and then go follow the journalists on my panel and introduce yourself:

  • Paul Bischoff (@pabischoff) from @TechInAsia
  • Iris Leung (@irismtleung) from @e27co
  • James Griffiths (@jgriffiths) from @SCMP
  • and if you’re reading this and not following @StartupsHK – then, you’re welcome!

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