Why an Australian online retail success left everything behind for China

Wai Hong Fong founded his online retail company OZHut with the idea of building specific niches into sustainable businesses. The plan worked – the company, which sells telescopes and even bubble wrap, turned over $4.2 million last year.

But in 2012, Wai Hong sold out of the company and moved to China to explore new opportunities. He spoke to SmartCompany about his life since getting out of the business, and the start-up culture in China.

I’ve spent my first five months in China studying the language. I was in a full-time class with all these younglings, and a few older people too. I studied the language, travelled, and met a whole bunch of people.

In the last couple of months I’ve been working on a cloud-based point-of-sale solution for retailers.

The biggest shift has been perspective. Just looking at certain ideas and thinking it can be done on this type of scale, at this speed, but also a shift in terms of how I view Chinese people. I’m Chinese, but I didn’t grow up here.

Living here is way better than Australia in terms of a digital experience. Once I got my bank account set up, I can buy groceries online at night and have them delivered by the next morning. When I’m not here, the couriers call me.

The whole experience has been online. I’ve never once gone to a supermarket in the past six months since I discovered I could buy online.

It’s exciting for the consumer. It’s exciting see how Chinese people have embraced eCommerce, but also to see how that has surrounded every aspect of life.

When I first got here, I had difficulty finding good people. But I ended up putting together a team, and I found them just through friends of a friend. It’s difficult to find good people here, but once you find them, they’re fantastic.

Setting up a business is a nightmare. It takes about a month if you want to set up as a sole trader. About three months for a jointly owned company, and six months for a foreign company. It’s ridiculous.

The reality is that if you want to do stuff in China, you really have to be serious.

Beijing is really the place for start-ups. But the support culture in general has been good for business.

I’ve got a two-year visa. My plan is to get the software going, grow the business, get some investments, and then get the cashflow to a point where it can help run itself. I want to leverage that to start building and investing in technology.

The software game is a fun one to play. There are no real boundaries except for the support you can give the business.

The Chinese venture capital market is still immature. There are people who can get money easily, but…it’s still in early stages.

When I was at OzHut we experienced six times growth. We were able to do that with a small team, to be agile and quick. Now, I want to be able to get to that team size again, and be fast and quick again.

I’ve never had that product development experience before, either. So it’s all new to me. But it’s exciting.

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