Elaine Tsung is the founder and CEO of Hong Kong based coworking space provider Garage Society. She is an investment banker turned serial entrepreneur and founded Garage Society in the year 2014 to address the changing workspace needs of the young population across Asia. She successfully identified coworking as an emerging business opportunity during its nascent stage and successfully created a sustainable business. Garage Society has gone on to become a leader in the coworking space in Asia in the last 5 years and Elaine is rightly called the pioneer of coworking in Asia.
Elaine began her career at Jardine Fleming Investment Management. Later she entered the coworking industry in the year 2010 and founded Hive, the first co-working space in Hong Kong opening 4 offices in Hong Kong and Thailand.
In 2018, she was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year by the American Chamber of Commerce and was also a finalist at Verve Clicquot Woman in Business Award. She is highly respected as a visionary and successful female entrepreneur.
In an exclusive interview with AsiaTechDaily, she says –
“Don’t go after money but focus on doing the right thing”
In the modern business world, it’s easy to get lost and one may focus on going after the money. But remember, it’s more important to focus on ‘doing the right thing’, and to me it’s delivering value to our members. Once you are doing the right things, money will naturally, or at least usually follow. This is the only way to build a sustainable and valuable business.
Read on to know more about Elaine Tsung, her views on running a successful business and lots more.
What background and domain expertise do you have? What makes you turning into your current job and role? Additionally, how did your earlier career choices lead you to where you are now?
Elaine Tsung: Having graduated almost 20 years ago, my first job was investment banking. I did it for a bit more than 5 years. I really enjoyed the experience and I must say money was good too.
However, I felt like my calling was different as I really wanted to build something from scratch. Hence, I started my first venture which was confectionery trading. I exited that business afterwards and when I was reconsidering to get involved in another business, I was really fascinated with the concept of co-working, which I think is a disruptive real estate business. Hence, Garage Society was founded in 2014 and we have evolved from a traditional coworking (i.e. real estate service) to an O2O edu-innovation infrastructure model.
Please describe what your typical workday looks like so that readers can understand more about you and your roles.
Elaine Tsung: I am not an early person I must admit and I don’t usually get out of bed at 5 am unless I need to catch an early flight, but I do need to do quite often these days.
When I am in Hong Kong, where Garage HQ is based at, I usually start my day at 8:30 am at home, doing a round of emails before I head out. This saves me some time by beating the morning round of traffic. Then there are usually quite a number of meetings and calls between 11 am to 6 pm, and then there will be another 2 hours of emails before I wrap my day in the office. Dinner usually starts at 9 pm and I get a bit of time at home with my pets and husband before bed-time.
What are the key skills and attributes needed to be among the top influencers in your industry?
Elaine Tsung: Being in a community business, I believe in adopting a very community-centric approach. I always try to see things from the shoes of our members (our customers.) and have been encouraging the Garage team to do the same. But since our key audience is the younger crowd, this means I need to be very open-minded and willing to learn new perspectives, which I find very important in the modern dynamic business environment.
I also believe strongly in business discipline. In this world where valuation gets a lot of spotlight as an entrepreneur, I believe we must not forget to build a profitable and sustainable business.
Lastly, another attribute which is very close to my heart is social impact. I believe businesses can contribute more than pure profits, so at Garage Society, CSR plays a big part in how we run our business.
What career mistake has given you the biggest lesson? What is the biggest risk that you’ve taken?
Elaine Tsung: When I was doing my first venture (confectionery trading), I was not really good at business projections and sales forecasting. As a result, there was one Christmas when we over-ordered inventory and that led to a bit of loss. So I had learnt to be very disciplined with my numbers from my early days in business.
Talking about risks, I just did some tests with my coach and realized that I am a born risk-taker. If I had $10, I am willing to put $9+ in a business I believe in. What I am trying to say is that I don’t really see “risks” as being too “risky”. So, I really don’t know what is the biggest risk I’ve taken so far.
To me, the biggest risk you can take is not taking any risks.
What was your first “win” that made you confident that you were doing the right thing?
Elaine Tsung: Garage Society was founded in 2014 and we were one of the earlier ones in the region so business had been quite good since day 1. However, when WeWork launched in Hong Kong in 2017, it had caused a bit of disruption in the local cowork market and a number of local operations exited that year.
At launch, WeWork adopted very aggressive pricing strategy by offering free workspaces. However, we decided to maintain our pricing levels. Instead of competing on discounts, we focused on offering value to our members. By the end of 2017, we still managed to maintain an annual occupancy of 95% with a positive margin that year so we believe we are doing a pretty fair job. 🙂
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? What advice do you have for someone who is interested in doing similar things like yours or in a similar direction?
Elaine Tsung: “Don’t go after money but focus on doing the right thing” is the best advice I’d received.
In modern business world, it’s easy to get lost and one may focus on going after the money. But remember, it’s more important to focus on ‘doing the right thing’, and to me it’s delivering value to our members. Once you are doing the right things, the money will naturally, or at least usually follow. This is the only way to build a sustainable and valuable business.
What’s your general thought about the term “Global” and ”What are the important factors (criteria) for local startups to consider for an international expansion based on your experiences or expertise”?
Elaine Tsung: To me, being global means your business is well received by different markets in the world, including Asia, Europe, and America. Having expanded from Hong Kong to other Asian countries, I believe understanding the local market landscape and culture are both important when one starts to look into expanding outside of their home market.
And once you get a good comprehension of the market you are expanding to, be prepared that adaptations to your product or even business approach that may be required. So be agile!
What kind of startup (or tech) industry will impact the world in the near future like 2-3 years locally (in your country) and globally in your own personal view?
Elaine Tsung: I think AI will be a key one. After work automation which has affected some workflows, AI will change the landscape furthermore. As machines learn to process data faster and smarter, we must learn to adapt. A winning formula may be to use AI smart and add value to build stronger businesses.
What are the one or two things that you would do differently if you could go back to 10 years ago?
Elaine Tsung: I won’t say there will be a lot of difference as I try to live my life without regret. But maybe I will encourage myself to hesitate even less. 😉
As you know, our company group name is “beSUCCESS”, what’s your definition of the term “success” as an individual human being?
To me, it’s about leaving a legacy and being able to build a sustainable business which is socially impactful. I want to be remembered as someone who people respect and love.
Are you looking to secure investment for your startup or a keen startup enthusiast, keep an eye on our interview section.
Follow Asia Tech Daily to know about the innovative startups and how they are revolutionizing the ecosystem.