Hong Kong’s unique mindset for entrepreneurship has inspired hundreds of women to tap into their creative sides and launch their own successful brands and businesses. Read on to learn more about these three industrious Hong Kong women entrepreneurs: Lauren Mead of Louella Odie, Julie Stockdale of Sqooll, and Laurie Goldberg of Americraft Imports. Introducing: the ladies who launch.
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When you meet Laurie Goldberg you would never believe that this petite Californian is a lover of beer, so much so that on arriving in Hong Kong she decided to change residents perceptions of craft beer. She shelved her career in law to focus on her passion and is now the city’s leading importer, distributor and retailer of American craft and artisan beers.
When did you arrive in Hong Kong?
Two and a half years ago. My husband was transferred here with his job but we love it so much that I think we’re staying indefinitely. We love the energy, and the expat community is so friendly.
What made you set up your business?
I was a lawyer for six years, but during that time I was always thinking of ideas. At law school I wanted to launch a range of foldable flipflops but I didn’t have the spare money for a prototype – of course someone else has since done it. I read the book Ladies who Launch within a month of being here and then just decided to go for it. I originally thought of wine or organic food but there was quite a lot of competition, so decided to go for beer. My husband and I are both beer enthusiasts.
What is AmeriCraft imports?
We are the leading importer, distributor, retailer and wholesaler of American craft beers in Hong Kong. We supply a collection of beers and ciders from ten American small breweries to online customers, members of our beer club and to over 70 bars and restaurants across the city including Blue Butcher, The Brickhouse and The Globe.
What were the challenges?
Setting up was actually very easy; you can set up a business here in a matter of hours. Marketing was my initial challenge, getting my name out there. I then had the mechanics of getting my volumes right as well as the logistics of finding warehouse space. Now the business is more established I have to manage my office staff and manage the growth of the business. My biggest challenge has been persuading beer-makers in the States to supply me in Hong Kong. Many of these artisan beers aren’t even available yet in all 50 States.
Where have you gone to for help and advice?
I’ve been to lots of workshops and networking events at Women in Charge, the American Chamber of Commerce and Heels and Deals. They have all been fantastic and really helpful. I’ve found the community of entrepreneurs here very open and sharing. How people are socially in Hong Kong is the same in the business world.
How has the business grown?
I started with just three breweries; we now work with ten. At the beginning I was packing boxes and delivering them to customers by taxi. Now I have a logistics company that warehouses, does the inventory and sends out orders, leaving me to sell the beer. We bring in a full-refrigerated container every month and now sell our beers in over 70 bars and restaurants, including some of Hong Kong’s speciality beer bars.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of launching?
Be realistic. Having your own business as a woman entrepreneur is not a part-time job. You’ve got to be prepared to work really hard – even the simplest idea takes a lot of effort. But don’t get overwhelmed. Go to some of the networking events; they will inspire you and people will be willing to help.
What’s your long-term goal?
I’m looking at other markets – China and Taiwan. I’ve still got other business ideas and I’d still love to create my prototype but I know for certain I’m never going back to the desk job.
Landing the role of marketing director for the HK launch of Jack Wills would be a dream come true for any 26-year-old but for Lauren Mead the experience also gave her the confidence and knowledge to launch her own unique HK-based lifestyle brand with the help of her talented mum.
How long have you been in Hong Kong?
I’ve lived here on and off for 15 years of my life. I’m actually the third generation of my family to live in Hong Kong. I grew up in Shouson Hill and my parents now live on Lamma, about two minutes from the beach. I came back here three years ago after studying Asian languages at university in London.
Why did you decide to launch your own business?
I was involved in launching the Jack Wills brand in Hong Kong but sadly they closed the office here last year so I was made redundant. Launching my own business has always been on my radar so it just seemed like the right time to try.
What is Louella Odie?
We have created a collection of unique handbags and accessories inspired by Hong Kong. My mother, Karen Mead, is a trained print-maker who is constantly inspired by her surroundings, so we have combined her work in high-quality leather and faux leather handbags and totes with silk and cotton scarfs and beach wraps. Our best-sellers are the bags and scarfs featuring the Hong Kong skyline. I’d say we are offering an alternative, tasteful take on the city.
How did you come up with the brand name?
Louella is my mother’s nickname and Odie is my Grandmother’s maiden name. Family is incredibly important to me.
What help did you receive pre- and post-launch?
I have a great group of mentors, from my father to my former director at Jack Wills. I’m also lucky to know a lot of people in different industries, so we have taken advice from all of them. The HK Trade and Development Council has been very helpful with its recommendations.
What have been the biggest challenges?
Finding quality suppliers that were willing to do smaller runs; also the language barrier – we’ve had to work with translators and do a lot by email. Finding premises has also caused some headaches. As a start-up woman entrepreneur, you don’t really have the cash flow for that. We’ve also had to try really hard to keep work and family separate. I love working with my mum; she inspires me every day, but we can’t have every family meal and life event converted to work!
What’s your long-term goal?
I would love to see a Louella Odie standalone shop but for now we’re working hard to find retail partners here and globally. We have just started working with Fang Fong projects; they stock the work of local designers and lots of brands that we admire. We’re also stocked by GNOSSEM, a Singapore-based online luxury boutique.
Do you think you would have launched your brand anywhere else?
Probably, but maybe not so young. I’m only 26 but the time was right and Hong Kong definitely facilitates entrepreneurship. What has also helped is that there is a growing local design scene here and now a greater sense of pride in calling Hong Kong home.
When a friend persuaded South African Julie Stockdale to dabble in teaching English during a short stopover in Hong Kong in 2000, little did she know that it was going to be the first step towards building her successful business in childhood education as a woman entrepreneur.
How long have you been in Hong Kong?
I’ve been here on and off since 2000. I came from the UK where I was in recruitment and almost fell into teaching. A friend suggested I do some private tutoring and it was through that I found my career. I went back home to South Africa to do my teaching degree before returning to Hong Kong.
Why did you start your own business?
After the birth of my daughter, I knew I wanted to do something. I missed teaching and helping kids and parents. I also found that friends were always asking me for advice on how to entertain and educate their children. I had the ideas, and mums and helpers needed my suggestions.
What is Sqooll?
We provide monthly activity packs for children aged two to six. The aim is for parents and helpers to educate their children through play. The activities help develop core learning skills through arts and crafts, songs, games and science. Children learn through play and I’m very happy that Sqooll promotes that as well as parent/child interaction.
What help did you receive to develop the business?
My husband has a business background and a degree in ecommerce, and he now works with me full-time. He is teaching me so much. I’ve also found networking through organisations such as Heels and Deals and The Entrepreneur Club invaluable; meeting women with different experiences, different ideas and seeking their opinions and advice has been brilliant.
What hurdles have you had to overcome?
The language barrier has been the biggest problem, especially when it comes to sourcing supplies and negotiating prices. I’ve also had to learn to hire and handle staff, which is something new to me; running your own business means you have to step out of your comfort zone.
What’s your long-term goal?
I’ve got plans for more products: an ABC pack, a number pack, a travel pack. As soon as we started the business I knew it was a good idea and wanted to take it global so that is still the plan. There are companies who do similar things but I think we do it better.
Advice to those thinking of launching their own idea?
Firstly, do a lot of research. Once you have a clear goal then be bold and go for it. It’s time-consuming and challenging so have patience, keep an open mind, ride the ups and downs and stay focussed.
Did you find these tips to starting a business helpful? Join the ranks of women entrepreneurs in Hong Kong with the following contacts: