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[BB32] From MBA to startup

From MBA to startup
An interview with founders of Hong Kong Fire Services Co. Ltd.
 

Most of us pursue an MBA with the idea of taking the careers to next new heights with a broadened knowledge base and personal network. How many would have thought that MBA studies would take one onto a startup journey? Well, not so many.
 

Here is an exception. A collective of four - George Lee, Salim Rumjahn, King Cheung and Simon Leung - met while studying MBA at HKBU School of Business and, after they graduated in 2014, they started their own company - Hong Kong Fire Services Co. Ltd., the first local company in Hong Kong to provide an “all-in-one” fire extinguisher rental services to families.
 
We interviewed the four alumni to find out how they transformed classroom collaboration into business partnership.
 


Turning an idea into a real business
It all started with group projects.
 
“The four of us had been working in the same group for course assignments and projects since the first day of our MBA studies. There’s obviously a strong rapport amongst us. And, we always knew we could do something together to test out some of the business ideas we had come up with in class,” says George. So one day during the field study in Xian, they just sat down in the hotel and decided to give the business idea of fire extinguisher rental services a go. George recalls, “Rather than planning down to the last detail, our gut instincts told us that we had got to register a company first and work out the details along the way.” And so they did, in just a few months’ time.
 
With start-ups, the chemistry amongst partners matters a great deal. It decides whether the initial entrepreneurial spark can be taken forward, developing into a promising and sustainable business.
 
“The fact that we all come from different fields and that we are able to leverage resources from George's fire service system engineering company and my digital marketing consultancy helps create the synergy we need to start small and keep our costs low,” says Salim. 
 
While George knows about the industry, people and products, Salim helps build the website and social media channels for the company, and the other two partners, King and Simon, take care of developing sales strategies, image-building and customer relations of the business, given their expertise in sales and account management.
 

Being the first-mover: the pros and cons

Being the first company that offers subscription plans of fire extinguisher rental services specifically to local household customers, covering installation, inspection and replacement, no doubt, the team’s “brainchild” taps into a previously unexplored niche market. But, is it easy to be the first-mover?
 
According to the team, while most potential customers are aware of the need to install fire extinguishers at home for safety reason, such a thought does not automatically translate into action. Although the customer base is potentially huge, their new business idea does require a bit of education in order to thrive in the market.
 
“Actually, for us, installation is just the first step. Our business concept is to ensure our family users know how to use fire extinguishers in the hour of need, and to teach them how to maintain the equipment properly,” George explains.
 
Now, they promote their business mostly through online marketing, roadshow and by word of mouth.
 

Inspired by MBA Programme
Apart from bringing four of them together in the first place, inspiration from MBA programme has been a major driving force for their startup.
 
Courses on social media marketing, business creativity and entrepreneurship, in particular, have ignited their entrepreneurial spirits and reshaped the way they think of business.
 
King, whose bachelor’s degree is in psychology, says, “In a way, the MBA programme has given me more tools to look at the business world from a three-dimensional perspective. And, it’s fun to start a business.”
 
For all of them, the insight gained from MBA programme comes in the form of an instinct for spotting out business opportunities everywhere and a different mindset towards entrepreneurship. As Salim shares, “Early on, we thought of business from the point of view of capital, money comes first, but now we have changed the way we look at it,” adding that, “Actually, it doesn’t take that much money to start a business; as long as you have a good business idea, there are many ways out there to make things work.”
 
Following Eric Ries’s Lean Startup method, starting a business is not all that difficult. The story of a new entrepreneur can begin anywhere, and the classroom can surely be a very good choice.
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