OL-turned-entrepreneur, who Sees Silver Lining after Five Years, Reveals Passion is Key to Perseverance
I enjoy doing something from scratch. I derive the greatest satisfaction from my business when the final product can receive a “wow” feedback.
Nicole OR 柯昕晴
Co-founder, NoMatterWhat Technologies Limited 共同創辦人
‘Entrepreneurship is so difficult,’ said Nicole with a firm voice. ‘If you didn’t start with enough passion, you will quit fast when you encounter just a few small setbacks in the way.’ No one is born to be an entrepreneur. In Nicole’s hands was a camera lens for mobile phone – the seemingly unremarkable accessory was the first product she and her team successfully launched in the market five years since the company’s inception. ‘I enjoy doing something from scratch. I derive the greatest satisfaction from my business when the final product can receive a “wow” feedback.’
「創業實在太艱難，假如你的熱情不夠，中途遇到少許挫折就會很快放棄。」Nicole 聲線堅定地說。沒有人天生懂得創業。Nicole雙手捧著一枚手機鏡頭，這看似平平無奇的配件，卻是她跟團隊自創業五年來首次成功走入市場的商品。「我喜歡由零開始去做一件事，成品能令人有『Wow』 一聲的反應，這是我創業最大的滿足感。」
Since the advent of smartphones, both the markets for mobile apps and mobile phone accessories have seen increasingly fierce competition. To deliver a wow-worthy product and raise funds in seven digits, how much efforts have Nicole and her team devoted to making it all happen?
Just a moment ago the 34-year-old business owner murmured, ‘I don't know what to say.’ Once the camcorder was up and running, however, she gave an introduction of the company and products like a silver-tongued salesperson. Nicole said she has a restrained character and is not good at rhetoric. But as pitching is part of the entrepreneur’s routine, she could only put her head down and plough ahead. ‘A clip I saw earlier says fake it till you make it. Open arms make yourself look stronger and more confident.’
34歲的Nicole瞇著笑眼，前一秒才呢喃著「不知道說甚麼」，但正式拍攝時即能流暢地道出公司及產品的介紹。Nicole坦言性格較內斂，不擅辭令，但創業過程中往往要不斷叩門，她說只能找方法硬著頭皮撐過去。「早前看過一段影片，說『fake it till you make it』，張開雙臂能令自己看起來強大一點，自信多一點。」
Nicole does not only boost her confidence with her straightened waist and opening arms, that was also her posture in quitting her full-time job for entrepreneurship five years ago. ‘At that time, I worked in the human resources department of a company. But due to personnel problems and corporate culture, I was working quite unhappily and I decided to leave.’ Others might switch job or launch a new career, but instead she accepted an invitation from her former secondary school classmate to open a start-up together. She was resolved to steer into uncharted waters. ‘The company is called NoMatterWhat Technologies Limited, which made our attitude pretty clear - we will carry on no matter what.’
挺直腰肢，張開雙臂，不只是Nicole增強自信的方法，也是她五年前離開正職決意創業的姿態。「那時候在一間公司任職人力資源部，但因為人事問題及公司文化，令我工作得不太開心，就決意離開。」旁人或會轉投別間公司或轉行，但碰巧當時Nicole的中學同學邀請她一同創業，她就決定踏上未知的路途。「公司叫NoMatterWhat Technologies Limited，已經說明了我們的態度——無論如何都會一直做下去。」
From Nowhere to Silicon Valley
Nicole's first product with her partner was an interactive projection device targeted at shopping malls and colleges, but it was not well received and she admitted it was a bad situation. ‘We had to set up meetings with investors one after the other, apply for government funds and borrow loans from banks to maintain operations. Unpaid at that time, I had to stick with a simple diet.’
When the interactive projection device failed to bring them good fortunes, they continued to explore other potential opportunities. In 2016, the team developed a 360-degree camera app with the support of the HKSTP-PolyU Tech Incubation Fund. The experience brought by the free app was priceless – they took part in the Techcrunch Startup Battlefield, in which only 25 teams of the 1,000 worldwide applicants could present their business cases at Silicon Valley in the United States. Nicole's team was among the chosen ones. ‘We did not win the cash prize, but we had many interviews with media from different countries. Awareness of our product spiked and we secured funding from angel investors.’
當投影互動裝置未能為他們帶來可觀的收入，Nicole跟拍檔決定繼續往前發掘別的可能性。2016年，團隊開發了具360度拍攝功能的應用程式，項目獲得科技園—理大科技培育基金的支持，而這免費的程式亦為他們帶來難能可貴的經驗。當時他們參加了Techcrunch Startup Battlefield 比賽，全球1,000名申請者中，只有25隊獲機會到美國矽谷發佈，而Nicole的團隊就是其中之一，「雖然當時沒有赢到獎金，但有很多來自不同國家的傳媒訪問，一下子很多人認識這個產品，更找到天使投資者注資。」
From the first product that made no noise to presenting a product on a stage in Silicon Valley, it took two years to draw people’s attention. Nicole smiled again, ‘I was really grateful because I had been preparing all the time without knowing where it would go before the product received global recognition in a competition. I felt that all the efforts became worthwhile.’
Daring to Break Through Conventions
Even though the Silicon Valley presentation brought them awareness and investors, Nicole and her partner did not settle for complacent. She recalled a Silicon Valley investor asking, ‘when you take a 360-degree photo, yourself can't be photographed, right?’ This question had been lingering in Nicole's mind and the team began to develop a 360 lens for mobile phone, an idea that has respectively been funded by the PolyU Micro Fund Scheme and the PolyU Tech Launchpad Fund. ‘We first considered solving it within the mobile app, but that turned out to be impossible. Then an idea sparked - why don’t I jump out the mobile app framework? So I started designing the lens.’ Developing a hardware is very different from writing a programme. With no expertise in optics, Nicole's team had to do it all over again - starting with a research of other brands' lenses. ‘From gathering to research to looking for the right factory in Mainland China, it had taken more than a year.’
But things did not turn out the way they wanted after the first generation of lens was introduced to the market. Later, the team set out to develop a more versatile second-generation 360 lens – when used with the mobile app, a user can shoot panorama and ultra-wide-angle photos, in addition to anti-shake and movie camera movement features.
Did they worry about repeating the first generation’s mistake? ‘I had full confidence in it because a 360 camera generally costs over a thousand dollars, but our lens is relatively affordable and delivers the same result without consuming power. It was a major breakthrough.’
‘Persevere in Doing What You Love.’
In her 5th year as an entrepreneur, Nicole’s company is finally earning a monthly income of six digits from selling the second-generation 360 lenses. The figure still fell short of their target, the product nonetheless is the team's first successful product to enter the market. In hindsight, Nicole's road to entrepreneurship was strenuous. At its worst, she had struggled with payroll and rent at the end of every month. ‘There was a time that though I was fully aware that we couldn’t pay for wages, I had to pretend everything was fine in office while frantically contemplating ways to raise new funds.’
When talking about the tough times, Nicole always spoke fervently with a smile. Has she ever thought about giving up? ‘No, because this is what I really love.’ Her smile was replaced with a firm expression. ‘I know myself better and become stronger after starting a business. Because it is what I love, I will always try to solve a problem instead of giving up.’