One of the common themes you spot amongst many of the Leaders interviewed in these pages is that they are disruptors. Not just of industries, but even of ways of thinking. By applying technology to problems that come up in day-to-day life they are changing forever the way we view certain aspects of our life. Mark Sims is certainly doing that with his storage service. He is giving urbanites a much needed virtual basement to dump stuff in. Read on.
What’s your story?
Born in Melbourne, Australia – I have worked in various parts of the world as an Accountant and Auditor with PwC. A Risk Manager with an Energy company. With Oracle as an IT Consultant, and later as a Sales Management Executive. I arrived in HK in 2003 on the day that the WHO declared HK a quarantine zone over SARS.
In 2012, after having successfully built an Asian operation for the Oracle Utility Global Business Unit, I embarked on an MBA trying to work out what was next. In 2013, as part of the program I had to pitch a Business idea in Silicon Valley. This is where the concept of Valet Storage first surfaced and the idea was well received. With encouragement and an offer for investment, I returned to Hong Kong – quit my job and GNL was born.
I have a beautiful supportive wife and an adorable son.
What excites you most about your industry?
We are defining a new market segment. We are literally inventing this within the Hong Kong context. And what is better is it fills a need that people didn’t know they had and is changing how people live their life. That is awesome!! To most people storage is boring – but because we are a valet service and looking to enable people to Go N Live their life – we are always looking at ways to improve and looking for new products or services to offer our customers. We were the first to offer valet storage by the box, the first to offer valet storage by the item, the first to offer a valet wardrobe service, the first to offer an online catalog/closet for our customers, and the first to offer a product tailored for students. This industry allows us to keep doing new things and being original. I love my job.
What’s your connection to Asia?
My wife was born in Hong Kong, but was raised in the UK and Australia and my son was born here. Hong Kong is now home. My family and I have now been here for 12 years. It started with a 12 months project – but we fell in love with Hong Kong and Asia. And Hong Kong has been good to us – so we decide to do something that would be good for Hong Kong.
Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Hong Kong has to be it. It is so easy to get started and there is an amazing support network as long as you get out there and do it – Hong Kong will help you. But HK is probably not as mature on the venture capital front as other cities in Asia.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Probably 3 pieces of advice if we are talking about business.
- Believe in yourself – because if you don’t why would anybody else
- Fail quick, fail big and adapt.
- Test test test. Dont waste time building a product that the market will not want.
Who inspires you?
Going to sound really really contrived – but my son. He is my inspiration. AT his age he can be anything he wants – the world is still developing for him and his path is yet to be determined. This inspires me to write my own path – even this late in life.
I have many great mentors that I would not be where I am today without (and I highly recommend people to find good mentors) but my inspiration is definitely sourced from my son.
What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
How many competitors I now have in the space of 1 month. I had many people telling me that my idea would not work in Hong Kong. For a year I was the only 1 doing this with lots of ‘ney sayers’. Then over December 2014 and January 2015 – 4 brand new start ups entered HK. What really blew me away was that in 2 cases of these startups – the founders or the family of the founders were my customers….
But thsi is Hong Kong – and its not a good idea unless it is imitiated.
If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I would have more guts to get out and try to succeed on my own. I am now 40, and I wish I had had the courage to start my own business when I was 25. Don’t get me wrong – everything I have done has lead me to this – and I have had a great life and a great career. But the excitement, the thrill and the level of engagement you have when you are building something of your own is so much more compelling than when you are working for somebody else. It is also so much more scary and a great deal riskier. So I guess it goes both ways.
How do you unwind?
HA! I have a new startup. Spare time is a luxury…
But seriously. I make time to spend with my son. He is 5 (about to be 6) and he is awesome fun. We build model robots together, try as many Ramen shops as we can and generally just hang out. A 5 year old has such a good view on the world you cant help but smile and laugh and that is an amazing way to unwind.
Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Japan!!!! Neisako. Have you have felt the snow there? It is so soft – so when u are a bad skiier like me it doesn’t hurt when you fall down!! Plus Japan is sooooo quiet and the food is awesome.
Everyone in business should read this book:
The Lean Startup – How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation To Create Radically Successful Businesses. This is relevant whether you are a startup or a massive corporate.
Shameless plug for your business:
Go ‘N’ Live Storage (GNL) is disrupting the Hong Kong Self Storage industry. By taking the concept of “DROPBOX” and applying it to the Hong Kong storage industry – GNL is providing customers a Virtual Cupboard for their physical things. Customers never visit a storage facility again and have the luxury of their stored items being delivered to them WHENEVER and WHEREVER they want. GNL introduced the concept of Valet storage by the box and by the item to Hong Kong.
How can people connect with you?
This interview was part of the Callum Connect’s column found on The Asian Entrepreneur:
Callum Laing has started, built, bought and sold half a dozen businesses in a range of industries across two continents. He is the owner of Fitness-Buffet a company delivering employee wellness solutions in 11 countries and he is also the CEO of Entrevo Asia, a company that runs 40 week Growth Accelerator programs.
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