Hong Kong, the pearl of the orient, has been carrying the dreams of many. People sailed onshore with nothing have in the past decades created one of the wealthiest cities on earth. Political liberty and economic freedom have seen the rise of boundless entrepreneurial activities. World Bank’s ease of doing business ranking put Hong Kong the 3rd on top last year. It is a living testament of the city’s attractiveness to start-ups.
When I met Robson Hayashida on 7 May 2016 his IT solutions start-up has been in
operation for over eight years and moved office five times. Magario International Co Ltd, named after Mr Hayashida’s middle name, was founded in February 2008 by the then new settler in Hong Kong. A trained industrial and computer engineer, Mr Hayashida is Sao Paulo-born of Japanese ancestry who was taken to the US at the age of two months and went back to Brazil at six, where he grew up until completing high school. Magario’s offices have always been co-working spaces, open environment without the confines of secluded office rooms. The company has just moved out of The Good Lab, a social enterprise providing such co-working spaces to its members, and is renovating its own Co-working Space Hong Kong which is owned by his business partner and located at Hong Kong Industrial Centre. “So many of our consolidated shipments stuck at The God Lab. That’s why we decided to leave. We are expanding but you have to pay more [for working spaces] when you hire more people [at The Good Lab]”, told Mr Hayashida.
A website designer from origin, Magario’s five-staff team has provided server management services from the outset for a list of clients whose profiles range from law firms to consulting businesses, from accountants to dance schools. “We make website and take care of whatever you call a server,” said Mr Hayashida. When he was 17, Mr Hayashida’s father spotted a scholarship application for studying in Japan on newspaper and encouraged him to apply. Surprisingly enough for him, Mr Hayashida did got admitted into Tokyo University of Science’s bachelor’s degree programme in industrial engineering and despite that he also tested into Brazil’s second best university, he sailed off to the orient where his ancestors were from and had since lived overseas. “I think I did the right thing”, reflected Mr Hayashida, “Out of Brazil our degrees are not recognised, not internationally recognised as Japanese qualifications do”.
That decision made Japan his new home for the next 12 years, when Mr Hayashida also studied a master’s degree in Computer Engineering at University of Tokyo and worked for an investment bank in the city, before been sent to station in Hong Kong in 2008. In between 2008 and 2009, whilst working on the job, Mr Hayashida conceived the Magario idea to “do your own thing”, referring to his IT profession, and realise “a long time dream”. His dream was soon to expand beyond website design.
Helping Japanese companies localise into Hong Kong market has been an addition in Mr Hayashida’s portfolio. Most notably was his role in setting up Hong Kong dollar payment system for Japanese hedge funds. Social media feeds management was another addition, with services ranging from texts to graphics to videos uploading. In order to market these services and increase clients’ profile, Mr Hayashida has also tested waters in the field of Search Engine Optimisation by designing a few mobile apps and a news portal FutureHanding which publish Magario’s product lunches and services. Clicks by computer or smartphone readers will “back link” Magario’s products and services to Google robots to rank such offerings higher on search lists because the publications mostly contain information on the same products and services. In Mr Hayashida’s word, “How to automise to minimise human error” has been his constant drive.
Beyond the electronic realm, Magario has also become many Brazilian internet consumers’ purchasing agent on Taobao, one of the largest Chinese e-commerce sites under Abibaba. “We do not have international credit card or criteria for getting international credit card is very strict and on Taobao is it mainly Chinese language”, said Mr Hayashida, referring to Brazil’s cumbersome foreign exchange regulation. When the Hong Kong Co-working Space is ready by late June 2016, Magario will possess its own storage room for better consolidating transited goods from Taobao sellers into larger freights for shipment to Brazil. Meanwhile, Mr Hayashida is also planning to recruit his own co-working space members, a new frontier of rental income and to which to market Margario’s services. “We can’t only focus on website design. Otherwise we are dead. People need a place to work and also need technology”, said Mr Hayashida.
When being asked why Hong Kong was chosen for his long time dream, Mr Hayashida frankly revealed Japan’s high taxes and Brazil’s undesirability. “Japanese taxes are five times more than [what is charged in] Hong Kong,” told Mr Hayashida, who went on to explain that “All considers Brazil a bad place for start-ups. Government does not encourage entrepreneurs and taxes are high. We have the most expansive iPhones in the world after a 60% import tax, which all goes to the pockets of the politicians. We do not have the infrastructure in place like Hong Kong does. InvestHK provides free consultation and free incubation spaces at Hong Kong Science Park for approved projects. More and more people in Europe, America and South America are coming to Hong Kong to work.”
Mr Hayashida continued to argue his frustration over corruption and violence in Brazil. Speaking of corruption, Mr Hayashida lamented, “The whole country is in a bad shape. Economic crisis followed by political crisis. [The Real] devaluated over 50 per cent against US dollar since last year. There are a lot of corruptions. They are impeaching the president and the speaker of the House is also found involved in scandals. People want to end corruption”. When reflecting on violent encounters, Mr Hayashida revealed, “My family’s house in Sao Paulo was robbed three times and once a robber pointed a gun at my brother’s head.” According to Mr Hayashida, violence in Brazil is largely an urban phenomenon concentrated in metropolises such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and committed to complete strangers. Occurrence in small towns and villages is few.
Gory scenes of being threatened by a gang of three sealed clearly in Mr Hayashida’s memory, an incident when the gangs broke into his family’s car. The police came and chased the robbers who drove the car away which was only to fell over a cliff. An officer was wounded during exchanges of gun fire but the gangs managed to escape. “I still don’t know how they managed to survive when the car fell off the cliff”, recalled Mr Hayashida. However the car was completely damaged and insurance company paid for it.
When the one-and-half hour interview was over, Mr Hayashida’s mind was already moved on to an appointment that night. A dream that carried an entrepreneur from new world to the orient is undoubtedly going to go on in Hong Kong’s land of opportunity and creation. “I feel so relived whenever I come back to Hong Kong. In Brazil if you go out at night you may not come back alive.”
By Hongyu Wang. Hongyu Wang is a Hong Kong-based real estate trader and author of Grameen in Kosovo: a post-war humanitarian