I recently had the opportunity to chat with Karen Farzam, a name that’s well-known in Hong Kong’s tech and startup circles. A software engineer and former JP Morgan equity trader, Karen is working non-stop to raise the bar of Hong Kong’s startup scene.
Karen is the Co-Founder of W Hub, a slice of the Internet for Hong Kong that promotes community building, startup product insights and also serves as a resource for startup job openings in Hong Kong.
Karen is also the Co-Founder of womenwhocodehk.com, a non-profit organization that serves to inspire women to excel in careers in technology. ‘Women Who Code’ has informative talks, exciting hackathons and collaborative forums for women in tech to learn and share from one another.
Hi Karen! Can you give us a little summary of your background for those who don’t know of some of your movements outside of the startup world?
I grew up in Tokyo, lived in Canada and France for my studies and then eventually returned to Tokyo for my career, most notably working sell-side equity trading for JP Morgan. I’ve always loved Tokyo very much. I moved to Hong Kong to help the startup and technology scene here reach new, inspiring levels.
What is it about working with startups that excites you? Why Hong Kong, and is there anything unique about the people and the ideas coming from Hong Kong?
I love the idea of startups – it’s all about novel creation. The idea that, if you did not exist, a product may not have happened. For the most part, ventures and startups regardless of location begin as the same thing – startups begin as solutions to important problems – if it’s not a real problem, then a startup may not create a worthy product.
In Paris, startups are the “hip thing” at the moment. Everyone wants to work for a startup. In Hong Kong, I find people are more likely to create startups than work for one.
Most importantly, its the passion and energy I get from working with these incredible people. It’s something that’s rarely focused on in lieu of the product being created, but most of these founders and startup workers have an infectious passion and outlook on life. The clear love they have for their work gives me boundless energy.
Interesting! Why do you feel there are relatively fewer people looking for startup opportunities in Hong Kong?
I think one reason is that Hong Kong parents are always pushing kids to go for the “good jobs” in Hong Kong. However, a good thing is the situation for startups is rapidly changing. A positive sign is that the government is showing interest and incorporating startup initiatives as part of its Hong Kong economic plan. This should bring more interest and investment into the ecosystem. This maybe good or bad… startups do want help from the government, but not too much.
The co-working spaces in Hong Kong are meant to grow the community, yet are still very much a business. With such a conflict of interest, how do most spaces deal with this?
The co-working spaces here do seem to have regular communication. We sometimes coordinate events so there’s no “cannibalism” of the audience coming to our events. I do worry about the survival of many co-working spaces. Is there enough demand to support everyone? This will depend on a space’s ability to find their own niche and build a solid, unique community. Blueprint and GOOD Lab are good examples of this.
Can you tell us more about why you started Women Who Code HK?
I co-founded Women Who Code with Michelle Sun of First Code Academy – the real goal has always been diversity in programming and tech, not just a focus on women. I’ve read article that Hong Kong is number 2 in terms of women’s entrepreneurs?!? It really does not seem like it – where are these women?! More women need to get to the top of organizations, like Sheryl Sandberg writes about in her book, Lean In. This would definitely help with the diversity overall.
What do you enjoy doing on your spare time?
I love spending my spare time with family, when I have it! I’ve always been a bit of a workaholic by personality – I want to make a special mention that my husband is the most supportive person of my career aspirations, which take up a lot of time! Other things I enjoy include hiking – Barclay’s competitive Moontrekker hike is very cool! I am also a runner, I go to the gym regularly and enjoy trips to the beach.
It’s been great chatting with you Karen! So, what’s next for W Hub?
W Hubs’s focus is on Hong Kong right now helping startups grow, but we definitely have aspirations of starting satellite offices soon in other parts of Asia.