COMMENT: Why I became an Uber driver when I launched my Hong Kong startup
My Hong Kong-based fintech startup, Heycoins, is gaining traction in the market. We’re looking beyond our original product – a kiosk network that converts coins into digital currency – and planning other online services.
But it wasn’t always like this. In mid-2017, we couldn’t even afford to pay our partners (including myself) salaries. We were at a crucial stage in our development into what is now a viable business, and I had to work full-time on the project. But I couldn’t afford to live in a city as expensive as Hong Kong without any income.
What could I do to earn money for a few months but still devote myself to my company? Purely by chance, I found a practical solution to my short-term (but significant) problem. A friend of mine had a Tesla Model S, which he was trying to sell but couldn’t find a buyer for. As it was just sitting in his garage most of the time, I asked if I could rent it at nights…to drive it around Hong Kong as an Uber.
My plan worked out well financially. For about six months in 2017, I became an Uber driver for four evenings a week (Monday to Thursday). I earned about HK$2k (US$255) each six-hour shift – not big money by any means, but enough to keep me solvent while I pursued my fintech dreams. I would start at around 6:30 pm, after finishing at Heycoins and eating an early dinner. That’s still rush hour in Hong Kong, so it’s the best time to hit the road. I’d typically finish by about 12.30am or 1am.
But Uber driving didn’t just help me get through a rough patch financially, it also unexpectedly helped me with my business plans. Because I had a Tesla, I was typically taking UberBLACK customers (who pay a bit more to ride in an upmarket car). Many of them worked in finance and other professional sectors, while some even ran their own startups. They were generally very receptive to me telling them about my company and giving me feedback.
I was being paid for driving and getting free business advice at the same time. When I asked whether they would use my product themselves, I got quite extreme answers. Some were adamant that they would never go near it because they never carry any cash, while others said they would use it almost every day to digitalise their annoying coins.
One thing the Uber feedback really helped with was customer targeting and marketing. After picking up quite a few bankers around Central, for example, I soon got to know that they wouldn’t personally use the service (even though most of them approved of the business idea). After six months of driving and chatting I knew my market far better than I had previously done. No amount of focus groups would have given me these insights.
Did I have any bad experiences driving an Uber in Hong Kong? Actually, no. But that’s probably because I didn’t work Friday or Saturday nights, to avoid picking up really drunk people. The main downside, as you can imagine, is that by the end of the six months I was becoming very exhausted. Working all day and then driving an Uber wasn’t sustainable over the long term, but it helped get my company off the ground, so I don’t regret doing it.
Eddie Rong is the CEO of Heycoins.