Overcoming the obstacles to a start-up dream

“When you face a challenge, do whatever it takes to solve it.”
Fiona LAU
Co-Founder & COO of SHOPLINE

Some say that there can be no sweet without sweat.

Although a start-up journey may be gruelling, that blissful satisfaction that comes after holding fast to one’s convictions and overcoming all obstacles to realise a dream is without equal.

SHOPLINE’s founder and COO Fiona Lau is passionate about technology and the internet. A few years ago, she observed that, despite the rapid growth of the internet and e-commerce, many SMEs had yet to take their businesses online. Fiona discovered that the SMEs were not reluctant to start an online business, but rather did not have the knowledge, means, or time to do so.

This gave Fiona an idea. If she could offer one-stop e-commerce support services to SMEs, she could help them adapt to e-commerce and survive.

“The internet is quickly evolving. One must start up to catch up.”

Fiona LAU

After developing her business idea, Fiona soon encountered her first obstacle: her lack of tech expertise. Determined to learn, Fiona joined a start-up event in 2013 and presented her business idea to the investors and start-ups at a pitching session. The event brought Fiona to Tony Wong, an app developer, who decided to partner up with her to build a platform to help SMEs set up their online stores.

To give these “Instagram shop” owners a taste of real e-commerce, Fiona and Tony developed a prototype that lets a user convert his or her Instagram account into an online shopping platform with the click of a button.

But the duo soon faced a new challenge: finding clients.

At the time, SHOPLINE was unknown to the world and had no partners or capital support. Fiona used the most primitive way to publicise her platform: contacting potential clients through direct messaging.

She was doing it so often that Instagram once flagged her as a spammer and locked her account. Yet this “rough-hewn” approach worked, and SHOPLINE earned its first clients.

“To start up is to solve problems. Hold fast to your convictions and keep trying, because success will come one day.”

Fiona LAU

Thinking back to 2013, when she had only a business idea and no capital, Fiona remembers taking a simple proposal to Cyberport to apply for the Cyberport Creative Micro Fund (CCMF). She received the recognition and support that she was looking for, and it enabled SHOPLINE to hire, publicise, and connect with investors. In five years’ time, the company has grown from having only two to three part-timers to becoming 150 strong. SHOPLINE’s business even reached other Asian regions and countries, including Taiwan and Japan, and attracted more than 150,000 brands to open an online store on its platform. To Fiona, all this was attributable to having Cyberport as the company’s first supporter.

Every entrepreneurial journey is peppered with unknown challenges. What set Fiona and SHOPLINE on the path to success were her tenacity and resolve to do anything necessary to prevail over the obstacles she met along the way, and to realise her start-up dream.

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