Founder's Story - Dr. Chan Lai Kiu
I was asked by so many people why an architect like me who is not particularly good at the mahjong game, could have started a mahjong thematic brand. Maybe I take this chance to tell the story so that I do not need to explain it every time.
As someone who believes “Life is the sum of our choices”, I decided to quit my well-paid senior executive position in a listed company after I completed a landmark project in Hong Kong, Hysan Place and many other asset enhancement projects for the developer, which I am glad that their stock price has doubled from the time I joined to the time I left. Before that, I worked for a reputable architectural firm in Hong Kong as a design architect for 22 years. Despite I enjoyed my work very much and won a lot of local and international awards for every project I worked on, I know I will regret my life when I die if I have never tried to work on my own. Also, I always feel very uneasy whenever I know I am not learning and remain stagnant. That was also the reason for me to do a part-time PhD while I was working full-time as an architect after I passed my professional exam. It is also the reason for me to start this YouTube channel as it gives me a drive to research and to learn on different subjects.||
My entrepreneur journey started in 2014 when I was 52. To many people, it is a bit too old to start. I started an architectural firm arQstudio and later AMQ for which we built the Skybridge in Hong Kong airport. Apart from architecture, in 2014, I started a new shop, the HK room” in a newly opened creative hub, PMQ in Hong Kong with my good friend Eliz Lee, hoping to become a Hong Kong brand generator. The logo with an open bracket reflects our intention to remain open to new options and the room can be used for different uses such as a showroom, a meeting room or a chatroom. For this reason, our first design products were sets of modular furniture than enable such flexibilities. It proves that our ideas are very valid as the entrepreneurial journey is so unexpected and our modular furniture allowed us to change the theme and layout of the shop a few times. Nevertheless, the furniture has not succeeded as a product possibly not because of their designs, but we did not address the fact that the shop location is difficult to reach by car and the visitors are not coming for furniture. As an architect without business experience, we missed other important elements in the business formula such as sourcing and procurement, sales and marketing. After the furniture venture, we pivoted to do fashion accessories and managed to make some small profit. However, the social movement and the pandemic have turned the retail business environment so bad in Hong Kong and the departure of Eliz from the partnership for personal reasons has given me another kick to revisit the original intention of opening a shop to build indigenous Hong Kong brand. But why mahjong? ||
This was from another accident. At the early dates of my entrepreneurial journey, I have practically no jobs, but I have a lot of time. As someone who is very curious, I took a 14-lesson course by the Founders Institute, a tech seed incubator from Silicon Valley hoping to take the chance to polish my English and get some international exposure. To meet the requirements in completing the course, I ended up with a new company registration for my idea called aTTempspace from the words “Attempts at temporary space” or in Chinese 一鳴空間, which aims to make better use of vacant spaces in the city. As someone who does not quit easily, I did not stop there and joined a Poly U Techathon competition and ended up as a tech startup incubated by Science Park. To realize the aTTempspace idea, with the opportunity given by a great friend, Ball Wong, together with another friend, Mianco, we managed to run a 3-day pop-up event named “Old kisses New at Tai Kok Tsui” with maker and craft fairs, concert and shows at a to-be-demolished factory. This event has brought me another Social Innovation award.||
In running the event, we faced the challenge of having no furniture, we made a full set of giant mahjong which provided us with the seats for concerts and props for photos. When they were stacked, they became stands for products and exhibits, and a screen for projection. They have even been used to create obstacles for an indoor drone race in a pop-up event later.
After the event, I thought it would be fun to play with the set of giant mahjong. So, even with only three young team members, I asked them to play a game and shot a video. When we posted the video on Facebook, to our total surprise, the video went viral from which we gained over 2 million views in a few days and was shared by over 20 thousand people. Among these people, the audiences were surprisingly young and international. This tells me mahjong really has a great appeal to a wide range of people.
Apart from the views to the viral video, this event also brought over 4 thousand followers to the aTTempspace Facebook page. Then problems came, the mahjong game was a one-off event, how could I feed the audiences who have so much interest in mahjong. This led me to create mahjong-related content continuously. I have made mahjong idiom quiz, mahjong emojis, mahjong meme….. And later for an exhibition, I created the Hong Kong edition of mahjong. ||
But to open a thematic shop on this did not happen until the Hong Kong room shop in PMQ suffered from a major decline in business caused first by Hong Kong social movement and later the pandemic, and also the departure of my partner from Hong Kong. Facing such a bad business, as someone who sees every crisis as an opportunity, I decided to reposition the shop and turned it into a thematic mahjong shop. The name Glocal Mahjong reflects the worldwide and local natures of mahjong and the Chinese name 一筒, in Chinese, means the number one of the circle suit, which also sounds the same as “being together” 一同 in Chinese. Our tagline for it is “Mahjong Connects and Inspires” and in Chinese 文化的使者、創作的泉源 to stress its positioning as a creative cultural brand. We also see it as a platform for other mahjong-related brands to showcase and promote their brands if they share our mission to reposition mahjong as something healthy, social, cultural, creative and even professional.
I am so glad that my daughter Kay has become my co-founder of the brand. Supported by my other team members like Wendy and John, she helped me to turn many of my creations into real products by sorting out all the sourcing and procurement, and handles all the accounting and logistics and practically operates the brand.
This is the story behind the beginning of the brand. It starts in a very tough retail climate but we are glad that the brand starts to attract attention and recognition and we meet many people who share our visions and missions along the way. Hope the story continues, the brand blossoms and we have much more to share with you in future.
- Q (Dr. Chan Lai Kiu)