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Adam Wong: Run your startup like a triathlete

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The private banker and passionate triathlete is part of our ‘Meet The Investors’ event that’s aimed at helping startups find backing. He speaks to us about the importance of discipline and determination, both in and out of the office…

Question: what do triathletes and entrepreneurs have in common? “Discipline and determination,” says Adam Wong, a private banker with a US bank. According to him, helming your own startup business requires a similar stamina and endurance, both mentally and physically, to races so tough that most of us would never even dream of entering, let alone completing. “Nothing is ever easy,” he adds. “It’s not always going to be a straight, flat road.” And we should believe him, because aside from being a dedicated private banker for an ultra high net-worth market at 34 years old, he’s also (you guessed it) a very passionate triathlete, regularly challenging himself through the most gruelling of training regimens and bravely exposing himself to the elements.

Having spent most of his life in Hong Kong, graduating with a degree in economics and finance at HKU with first-class honours, Wong is now dedicated to facilitating the success of young people in the city. “We need them,” he tells us. “Hong Kong students are often taught to work for big companies and corporations, like myself. But people in Hong Kong are committed, talented and have great ideas. They just need a push.” We speak to Wong ahead of our ‘Meet The Investors’ event at theDesk co-working and events space in Sai Wan on Thursday, June 1, which sees a panel of investment experts speaking to startup businesses from theDesk, as well as firms in the Sai Wan, Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town neighbourhoods, about how they can effectively procure investments for their new businesses and what financial resources there are in the city to tap into.

“People in Hong Kong are committed, talented and have great ideas. They just need a push. I may be old-school, but that’s the Lion Rock spirit.”

Seeing a real need for inspiring, motivating forces for Hong Kong’s youth to encourage them to believe in their own potential, Wong tells us: “Some young people think they don’t have a chance. But by having successful people born in and raised in Hong Kong who are able to excel in the city, that’s truly inspiring. It’s not that there aren’t opportunities – it’s just we need more people to share where these opportunities are.” Wong speaks emphatically and sincerely about the need to foster talent in the city that he warmly considers home. “I may be old-school,” he says, “but that’s the Lion Rock spirit. That’s the Hong Kong spirit.”

With such a strong belief in the potential of Hong Kong, Wong thinks the youth in the city needs a few positive examples that can inspire them to take the first step in business. “Like myself,” he says, “because of the triathlons I’ve competed in, I hope to inspire others to work out more, to eat better and have a more disciplined life.” Wong also believes that young entrepreneurs should be proactive and take control of their future, telling us: “Hong Kong is small. It’s easy to get connected with really great people. Reach out. Don’t be shy and ask if they can be your mentors.”

SEE ALSO: Alex So: your guardian ‘angel investor’

Wong practices what he preaches when it comes to meeting new people, citing that, due to his work, he meets at least a couple of new people every week. “I do it pretty often,” he says. “If I see someone I admire, I’m not embarrassed. I just go and say hello.” Wong carries this ethos outside of work as well, telling us: “I’d never met my running coach before I began training with him. But I researched him online, made a call and told him ‘I really want to learn from you’. And he said ‘why not?’ People love that.” And as for those who are too shy to take the first step? Wong has some sage advice: “There are no boundaries. The boundaries aren’t there. They’re just in our heads.”

For Wong, a huge part of success is overcoming barriers and being curious and learning from everyone and anyone. “People have different passions,” he says. “We can learn a lot from different individuals.” Humbly, he adds: “I still feel very ignorant, though. I love reading but every time I go to the bookstore, I only go to one or two corners that I’m already knowledgeable in and I think ‘come on, there are still so many other corners I can learn from’.” But it’s the urge to know more that truly drives him. “I always want to learn more,” he tells us. “Everything can be improved.”

Wong’s instincts and strong personal beliefs have been honed over years of self-reflection and gleaning insight from different inspiring people. He credits his high-school teachers and mentors in the Hang Seng School of Commerce with encouraging him to become more disciplined, determined and curious as a young student. But for those who are just starting out, setting standards as high as Wong’s may seem like a daunting, almost torturous enterprise. And he recognises this, telling us: “Beginning a startup is a thousand times more challenging than working for a firm.” But, just like any other young person, Wong had to start somewhere. Now, he can tell us with clear hindsight: “Break everything down into small steps. Start with something easy, then gradually increase either the intensity or the difficulty.” And, of course, he adds: “That’s how I train for my triathlons.”

It’s difficult to judge whether it’s his extensive athletic training that influences the way Wong conducts his business or the other way around. But there’s no doubt that his core values and work ethic have allowed him to thrive in both fields. Speaking of a recent race in Tai Po, he tells us: “When I was swimming, it was the first time I’d seen so many jellyfish. They were as big as my head. I asked myself ‘is it worth it? Will I be the first triathlete to die of a jellyfish attack?’ But I assessed the situation and just kept going.” So on the same vein, he advises young entrepreneurs: “It’s small steps. Keep your head down and just keep swimming. One day you’ll look up and be proud of what you achieved.” With Wong’s sentiments in mind, everything can only come after you take the first step. Come to theDesk and meet him on June 1 so he can help you take yours.

By Grace FungAdam Wong, in brief
Name: Adam Wong
Business: Private banking/financial services industry
Position: Private Banker
Age: 34
From: Hong Kong
Business Location: Central, Hong Kong

Special Event: ‘Meet The Investors’ at theDesk
What are investors and VCs looking for? How do I distribute shares? What is the best business structure to attract investors? If you’re a startup looking for advice, tips and connections to funding and investment sources, then join us for an evening with three Hong Kong investment and finance experts. This event explains all the dos and don’ts of funding types, business structures and exit strategies. Join us on Thursday, June 1, between 7pm and 9pm at theDesk, 511 Queen’s Road West in Sai Wan. Fire questions at and meet our guardian ‘angel investor’ Alex So, as well as private banker Adam Wong and theDesk’s chief financial officer Adrian Yap, who’s a former director at EY. This is a free event but seats are limited. Register using the form below or at thedesk-fundyourstartup.eventbrite.hk. See you there!

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