Most fintech entrepreneurs decide to go it alone only after clocking up several years in big banks; Hung Lok Bun chose a more rapid path. He's launched a blockchain company, learned from his initial mistakes, and refocused his firm into a new field…and he's done all that while still a student.
Hung, who’s in his final year of an undergraduate finance degree, teamed up with three other students at the City University of Hong Kong in 2016 to form B-route, a blockchain platform that allows customers to buy or resell e-tickets and create their own events.
“I became interested in blockchain by accident,” says Hung. “A couple of years ago I was working at a DBS conference to earn some extra money. Because the room wasn’t full, they allowed me to sit in on the presentations, which happened to be about blockchain. From that point onwards, I knew it was the area I wanted to work in.”
Last year Hung and his classmates came up with the idea for B-route and entered the Cyberport University Partnership Programme, a Hong Kong government sponsored fintech competition.
After a one-week “entrepreneurship boot camp” at Stanford University in California, where his and rival student teams honed their pitching and fundraising skills, they presented their business plan to the Cyberport judges back in Hong Kong.
B-route was chosen as one of the winning teams. It received HK$100k (US$13k) in seed funding and was registered as a company. Hung, meanwhile, had gone from having a passion for blockchain to co-founding a fintech start-up.
“After we won, we used the money for product development and hardware, and were able to build a prototype,” says Hung. “We got the company off the ground because we had a complimentary combination of finance and technology skills – two of my partners were studying engineering and the other one was majoring in economics.”
Then came the harder part. “We took the prototype out to show potential clients, but a lot of the feedback was ‘your team is just students, how do we know you can deliver? We underestimated how difficult it would be,” says Hung.
Hung learned that success as a start-up in Hong Kong depends on your Guanxi as well as your technical and business prowess. “In Asia, it can be hard for an outsider to enter and disrupt a market. All the established platforms have a lot of personal connections behind them that you don’t have.”
Still, Hung and his fellow students have not turned their backs on fintech. They are currently teaming up with some experienced Hong Kong finance professionals – including a developer working for a hedge fund and a compliance manager at an investment bank – to remodel their company into a cryptocurrency platform.
“I can’t name their names or reveal our idea, because we’re just in the initial stage of creating a prototype. But it will be an original take on cryptocurrency,” says Hung.
Hung has also recently landed a two-days-a-week job as a fintech project assistant at Bank of East Asia. On other days, his college classes typically end at 6pm. “The team and I then spend time on the prototype, and we also have business meetings on Sunday mornings. I’m very busy and tired almost all the time, but if you want to succeed in fintech, you have to be constantly thinking of new ideas – even if you’re just walking down the street.”
While Hung would ideally like to begin his career at a bank after graduating, he is prepared to commit to the start-up full time. “All of the people involved share a common thought: if the cryptocurrency business goes well, we will quit our jobs.”