Many would think it crazy to open a business during Hong Kong’s 2003 Sars pandemic, but not Ricky Chu, group managing director of mobile marketing firm Gravitas. Taking advantage of falling office rents and low salaries, Chu successfully built his two-man band into a booming business of 40 employees that makes millions of Hong Kong dollars annually.
How has your educational background and work experience helped you develop your business?
I graduated from Hong Kong Baptist College [now Hong Kong Baptist University] with a graduate diploma in China marketing and e-business. After graduating, I began work, marketing for telecom companies. I learned a lot about the products and services, which benefited me greatly.
What inspired you to open your own company?
In 2003, at the age of 30, I was facing a career crisis. I was told that the telecoms department where I worked was going to fold within a few months. At the time, the internet was beginning to take off, but going online with a mobile phone was not at all popular. I could see the huge potential and so set up a company with my brother.
How has your company developed?
When we first began, we were making use of mobile phones as platforms for promotions via text messaging and quick response codes (QR code) – both low-budget marketing strategies. Hong Kong was struck by Sars around the time we opened our company, but we worked the gloomy economy to our advantage. No matter how poor the economy, companies will have to invest in marketing and our low-budget style fits in beautifully with the cost-cutting concept during Sars. In our early days, we did around a million Hong Kong dollars of business a year. As of 2008, we have recorded 100 per cent revenue growth every year.
What was the turning point?
The introduction of iPhones led to our boom. [Apple chairman and former CEO] Steve Jobs forever changed the market with the apps store concept. Today, developers of software or games no longer have to depend on telecoms companies to release their products. With the apps store, anyone can share their work. The maturation of going online and using mobile phones and the introduction of tablet computers have further boosted our business.
How do you stand out from competitors?
The apps store concept has empowered many to design apps, making the apps design business ultra-competitive. We do help clients design apps, but that is only a small part of our business. The core is to provide clients with one-stop promotion strategies and advertising services using the mobile media and skills. To my knowledge, we are the only company in Hong Kong to position ourselves in such a way.
What is your motto?
Have long-term planning and be relentless. The first three years of a new business is the toughest. Income is unsteady and many give up to return to being an employee. Sometimes one has to wait for the opportunity to come. Stay on guard. Set a goal, pursue it step by step and you will get there. In life, there are no short cuts. People don’t become successful overnight.
What are your future plans?
We plan to expand our business beyond Hong Kong. Branches will open in Singapore and Malaysia in the next few years. I also hope that Gravitas will be the mobile marketing industry’s leading company by 2013.
What is your company vision?
I founded Mobile Friday in 2008. Since then, it has been held more than 30 times, acting as a platform to share the latest mobile marketing trends and strategies, with more than 1,000 marketers from various industries. I hope that through these meetings, I can let more marketers know about the benefits of mobile marketing.
As a boss who employs mostly post-’80s staff, what comments do you have about them?
My staff are capable and responsible high achievers. I think society and the media are too tough on them. But I do have some bad experience working with young people. I had employed youngsters who simply disappeared after a day or two at work. I understand that they had a better offer elsewhere or did not like the job, but whatever it is, you have to let me know and not just disappear. In the end, I had to ask them to come back to take their pay cheques. It’s really strange.