Meet Hong Kong’s game-changing women in tech

Updated on October 25 2016

As the world becomes more and more tech-reliant, there’s no denying that mobile apps have transformed the way we live, from booking travel to paying for everyday items to making restaurant reservations. Much like the tech industry itself, the app business tends to be dominated by men, though we’re happy to say that’s not always the case. In fact, some of Hong Kong’s most innovative, game-changing apps have been brought into existence by female entrepreneurs. Given their fascinating roles and their insights into being outliers in a male-centric business, we spoke to four such women about their apps, how they’re changing the industry and how they want to empower others to join the movement of building a better tomorrow.

Catherine Tan, founder of Notey

Women in Tech
Catherine Tan, founder of Notey.

Where are you from and what were you doing before you pursued a career in technology?

I was born and raised in Hong Kong and studied in the UK. Like a lot of people, I didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduation. I knew I wanted financial independence and work with smart people from around the world, which is how I found myself working in investment banking.

I always knew I was an entrepreneur, so after 10 years, I thought it was time to build my own business. All I needed was a problem I was committed to solving.

What is Notey and why did you start it?

A few years ago I was looking for travel blogs and found the experience really, really frustrating. Why was there no portal that could curate and help you find the best stories? If there was YouTube for videos, Spotify for music, why wouldn’t you have a platform for blogs? That’s how the idea of Notey came about.

We launched the site last year and have been growing organically and through word of mouth. Now we have millions in our community that come to us every month to dive into their interests.

Do you feel the tech industry is dominated by one specific gender?

I think Hong Kong’s tech industry is rather diverse. There are strong female founders all around me, and we are building businesses that are scalable and global.

How do you think women are changing the industry?

The women in tech are building businesses that cater to a much broader and deeper set of online consumers. We know women are both more active on the Internet and spend five times more than men, and it’s the sheer economics of this that are (and will continue) to drive more females into digital entrepreneurship.

What’s next ?

Notey’s opportunities are very exciting, and the next venture is too far away to think about.

Joyce Kan, founder of Carshare

Joyce Kan Women in Tech
Joyce Kan, founder of Carshare.

Where are you from and what were you doing before you pursued a career in technology?

I started building Carshare.hk with the co-founder, Christopher, once I graduated from university. Born in Hong Kong, I studied economics in Royal Holloway at the University of London.

When I was in high school, online marketplaces had just become popular in Hong Kong. I started my first business as an online fashion boutique on Yahoo! Auctions, and I was able to earn pocket money throughout high school. I’ve been fascinated by online platforms ever since.

Could you tell us more about your business and why you started it?

Carshare.hk brings technology and cars together by allowing you to rent cars from your neighbours. Meeting my business partner has allowed me to fulfil my dream of creating a startup, but perhaps we’re doing more than that.

Since it’s a lot more men than women in both industries, having female leaders in tech companies and in my own is definitely important. I believe, as a company, it allows you to become stronger at building relationships and receiving valuable information that points you in the right direction.

Do you feel the tech industry is dominated by one specific gender?

There are lots of great female leaders internationally in both the tech and car industry such as Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook), Marissa Mayer (Yahoo!) and Mary Barra (CEO of General Motors) who also happens to be the first female CEO of a major global automaker in history. But I believe we need to build a stronger network for women in Hong Kong to help each other excel in the tech industry.

However, I also believe it’s important for men to play a role in raising women leadership. We all need to help each other to trust and acknowledge our identity and capabilities in the tech industry. I like to say that teamwork makes the dream work.

How do you think women are changing the industry?

I think this is where events promoting women entrepreneurship come into play. Events such as “ Women Who Code” are making a difference and I would like to see more of that happening. Recently I joined “Women Entrepreneur Pitch Night”, which is organised by Cocoon Hong Kong. It’s an event where female entrepreneurs get together to pitch to other female investors and business professionals. This way, women can help each other to grow a more diverse and successful industry.

What’s next for your company?

We’re working on expanding the business into used-car trading as well as sharing cars. Our ultimate goal is to build an online platform designed to make car ownership more diverse and simple, whether you want to own a car for one day, one week or a year. We want to make any kind of car accessible at any time, all by a few clicks.

Iella Peter, founder of BloomMe

Iella Peter Women in Tech
Iella Peter, founder of BloomMe.

Where are you from and what were you doing before you pursued a career in technology?

I’m originally from Germany and moved to Hong Kong a few years ago. Ever since I first came to Hong Kong, I felt a strong connection to this dynamic city and it allowed me to create a leading beauty app.

I think people imagine those in the tech industry to have studied something related to the business, but for me, this couldn’t be further from the truth. I graduated with a degree in biology and religious studies and after moving to Hong Kong, founded BloomMe, a beauty-services booking app.

Could you tell us more about your business and why you started it?

The idea behind BloomMe came from my own frustration at not being able to find good quality spas and salons whilst traveling to Hong Kong. Being new to the city, it’s always difficult to know where to go besides the often expensive hotel spas. So I wanted to create a platform where I could gather all the high-quality spas and salons in one app to make the booking process easy and convenient.

The app also offers access to user reviews as well as available time slots for treatments, the prices and discounts up to 30%, which change every day.

Do you feel the tech industry is dominated by one specific gender?

Yes, the industry is mainly run by men and unfortunately, that’s the reality we live in. Nevertheless, I’ve never found it difficult to fit in as a woman, though I have experienced self-doubt when it came to listening to myself and believing that I could bring success to my own company. I personally believe that everyone, regardless of their gender, has to prove to themselves that they are able to succeed and grow their business as long as they put their minds to it.

How do you think women are changing the industry?

I think bright minds, both women and men, can and will disrupt our industry. One woman in particular is Michelle Sun, the founder of First Code Academy. She actively contributes to educate women to find their way into the tech industry.

The number of women in the Hong Kong tech scene is still not as high as it should be and there’s a lot of room for improvement in terms of women being more involved. I like to see myself as part of the movement, showing the world that it is possible to succeed as a woman, in an industry which has been said to be ‘unfitting’ to women’s ‘nature’ just a few decades ago. We should continue to let people know that now more than ever, through politics and changing the mindset of society, we need to empower women to join the tech industry.

What’s next for your company?

We haven’t reached our full potential yet. We’re expanding and launching new products to continue to conquer the beauty industry.

Cassie Mak, founder of Happy Owl

Cassie Mak Women in Tech
Cassie Mak, founder of Happy Owl.

Where are you from and what were you doing before you pursued a career in technology?

I grew up in Hong Kong but spent most of my teenage years in America. Before working in technology, I worked at several investment banks, focusing on equity sales and trading. Taking my first leap in owning my own business, I launched Mamahen in 2014, an online gift-registry platform for mothers and mothers to be in Hong Kong. I realised that to become a leader in the tech industry, I needed more than just a good idea so I enrolled in a website-development bootcamp at General Assembly.

After finishing the course I went on to co-found Genie (temporary staffing platform) and joined Jaarvis Labs (a venture builder in Hong Kong), where I met the co-founders of my app, Happy Owl.

Could you tell us more about your business and why you started it?

It all started through our mutual passion for technology and our love of eating and drinking. Many of our friends are restaurateurs and they’re always looking for new and creative ways to promote their businesses. That’s why we created Happy Owl: we wanted to find a way to bring technology and marketing together, by giving them a solution to drive more traffic to their restaurants at a low marketing cost to a specific audience.

Essentially it’s a membership mobile app where members redeem one drink every day at any of the venues that partner with us.

Do you feel the tech industry is dominated by one specific gender?

Hong Kong’s startup industry actually has a better gender balance in terms of co-founders compared to other markets. But when it comes to technical co-founders or technical roles in general, women still trail behind. Like many other countries, science and engineering are traditionally and unjustly perceived as a subject for men.

It’s time both our education system and the job market embrace diversity, especially now that the world has already come to realise that women’s brains bring another side of creativity and innovation to the table. I think it’s not about how women fit in, but rather how the tech industry can make sure we fit in.

How do you think women are changing the industry?

The most inspiring way women are changing the industry, whether as a founder or employee, is by demonstrating the changes they can make with their perseverance and ability to overcome challenges.

When the gender that isn’t commonly associated with entrepreneurship, innovation or leadership, continues to make great achievements, it will encourage and inspire others (not just girls) to join the industry too.

What’s next?

Right now we are focusing on expanding Happy Owl with new and exciting features. We just launched the Happy Owl magazine, which allows us to highlight our partners to Hong Kong’s foodie community.

Besides Happy Owl, I’m launching a beauty-tech concept store in Landmark called The Artistry. We’ll be featuring a curation of beauty gadgets, bridging the gap between technology and beauty and allowing women to experience technology in an intimate setting.

Taïs Elize is a half-Dutch half-Surinamese fashion model who has been travelling the world for more than a decade. As a stylist, Taïs believes fashion isn’t about the overall collections; rather, it's about admiring the individuality of each piece and appreciating the beauty that lies in the details. Follow @taiselize on Instagram.