Hong Kong discoveries

Without turning this into a travel blog, I can’t resist sharing some of my discoveries in Hong Kong this past weekend.

I’m not a big shopping fan, and on top of that I’m not a big brands type of shopper: finding those big brands is very easy Hong Kong. It still surprises me that a city can sustain this scale of luxury retail.

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But of course, there are other places as well. One shopping mall that I really enjoyed is K11, a smaller mall that combines art with shopping: there are several art installations set up inside which makes it a fun place to walk around. The shops inside are a combination of well-known brands (lots of sports gear, but also shoes and bags of course). But part of the first floor is devoted to designers with some smaller shops selling really creative and funky clothing, accessories etc. And, don’t miss the amazing book shop on the top floor which has great stationery, office material and – of course – books on design, fashion, photography and an extensive kids section.

Qips is a stationery shop in the Miramar Shopping Centre on Nathan Road (and also on Hoi Ting Road, according to the website): a place to browse all their really smart things to use for paper and more. Of course, they sell many things you never thought you could need at all as great stationery seems to be very hard to find in the Netherlands. Much of the stuff sold here was Japanese, which isn’t surprising. So, if you are looking for quirky post-its, markers or clips, this is a great place to go (also makes for some unusual small give-aways).

Eating and drinking
Apart from shopping, eating & drinking are very easily done in Hong Kong: there’s an abundance of restaurants, cafés, etc. Which also makes it difficult to choose and find some nice places in the midst of all those on offer. My Saturday night was spent at the following places which I all really enjoyed – though be warned that none of these get you into any local Hong Kongese places: the clientele is mostly expat.

Start off your evening with a few glasses of wine, and some people watching, at Staunton’s Wine Bar, nice place just off the escalators on Staunton Street. They serve a pretty wide range of wines.

For dinner, and especially if you are looking for some meat-less options (which I always find difficult in Asia), Life just below Staunton’s Wine Bar is great: an organic and vegetarian café and restaurant, which also does take-out. The restaurant has a roof terrace upstairs, and unusual food options on the menu. I loved the spicy tempeh burger.

And to close off an evening in Hong Kong in style, head to the other side of the river for a cocktail at Ozone, the top floor bar at the Ritz Carlton in the ICC. The view from the 118th floor is simply stunning, from where you look across all of Hong Kong Island.

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Hong Kong is a very easy city to get around, which makes a stay here very comfortable. Some quick tips:
> use the airport express to get in to the city: you can buy a ticket (for around $100) at the counter as soon as you get out of the luggage claim area to avoid the queue at the counter in the main arrivals hall. Trains run every 10 minutes, and reach Kowloon and Hong Kong in about 25 minutes.
> get an octopus card: a travel pass that is charged with money so you swipe your way on to the metro, tram, ferry, bus etc. Supereasy.
> use the tram to travel up and down HK Island and to see a bit of the city at the same time (most trams only travel from East to West so you can’t really go wrong with any of them) and take the Star ferry to cross between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon which is a really nice 15 minute way of travelling (except when you’re in a rush: then the metro beats both of these modes of transportation).

How to let SMEs grow in Japan

Tokyo / Marunouchi & Tokyo station

Towards Tokyo Station in Marunouchi

Last week in my post on flexible workspaces, I hesitated about putting in this (part of a) sentence:

[…] the government has more than once announced that small business entrepreneurship will be an important driver for innovation in Japan. If Japan has the right sort of regulatory environment to make that happen is another issue […]
I wasn’t sure if I should use this because it also leads to a lot more questions. Such as, what is the state of small business entrepreneurship in Japan now? What changes are needed in the regulatory environment to make this happen? Etc.So, imagine my luck spotting two articles tonight that talk about these exact issues. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policies (in popular terms: Abenomics) consists of several pillars – or ‘arrows’ – of which the third is Abe’s strategy for growth. Policies include  liberalising the domestic labour market, expanding the opportunities of women in the workforce, promoting green energy use and deregulation.And these are exactly the things that are needed to create a business environment in which young entrepreneurs and new start-ups can succeed, as the Japan Times today discusses. In this article several companies are highlighted, mostly in the IT-industry, which are great examples of how a single entrepreneur can build a successful company such as Gree, Inc. and DeNA. Yet, the article also mentions that the success of Abe’s policies is essential in order to grow a more entrepreneurial business environment.

A second article, found on East Asia Forum discusses a related topic: the lack of internationalisation amongst Japanese small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). These companies mostly work as suppliers to the large multinationals, many of which we all know like Mitsubishi, Toyota etc. The article gives some reasons for this limited international reach, amongst which several external factors (eg, underdeveloped infrastructure or inadequate legal systems in neighbouring countries). It also mentions several domestic factors such as the lack of English-speakers in the Japanese work force: how can you do business abroad when you cannot communicate with potential partners or customers? (in the case of Japan, I would argue it can also be very beneficial to have Chinese- and Korean-speakers amongst your employees).

The post on East Asia Forum also looks expectantly towards Abe’s third arrow – and notes the opportunity for Japan’s SMEs of increasing regionalism in Asia with several regional trade deals being negotiated (the RCEP, TPP and a China-Korea-Japan FTA).

Change in Japan is often slow, but for a healthy economy it will be important for Japan to make progress on these topics. Let’s see how fast Abe can go…

Business in Tokyo: where to find a short-term work space

in between meetings in Tokyo

Imagine a situation in which you will be in Tokyo for some time on business. You are there to set up the Japanese side of your business and work on the positioning of your product on the Japanese market. This is not a hit-and-run visit of only a few days filled from dawn to dusk with meetings. It is meant as a longer stay with time for more local research, building up a network and being able to take advantage of unexpected contacts and meetings. Something that by the time that happened on shorter trips, you usually would be leaving the country again.

But: where can you do your work? At home, you would have an office available to you with all the facilities you might need. Where do you go to work in Tokyo?

For anyone in this situation, there’s some good news. Flexible offices and co-working spaces are increasingly common in a business environment that is moving away from big corporations. It has taken a while but also in Japan (creative) entrepreneurs have been working independently for a while, and the government has more than once announced that small business entrepreneurship will be an important driver for innovation in Japan. If Japan has the right sort of regulatory environment to make that happen is another issue, but at least it is becoming more diversified in terms of office space.

There are different options for short-term office use. You can rent a small space in a big building, but other possibilities are increasing quickly.

I’ll list a few options, which I visited back in May. Each of these have their own style, pricing models et cetera. When you are looking for a regular space, I’d suggest to try out several locations before putting your money down for a month-long (or more) subscription which some places use as a model.

League Ginza is a fairly new location (open since February), is based in the Ginza neighbourhood, and it offers different types of working space in one location. It’s aimed at bringing different types of entrepreneurs together in this location. You can rent a space of your own: a service office or a personal booth. But you can also become a member and use the more open business lounge. League also has a Dutch connection: it has partnered with the Dutch company Seats2Meet which has set up work spaces across the Netherlands for independent professional, where the exchange of ‘social capital’ is the main way of connecting people and ideas – and which is, in locations in the Netherlands, the way of ‘paying’ for your work space. For League this is a new and innovative way of getting the ‘inhabitants’ of their building together and sharing expertise. When I spent a few hours here in between appointments in May I was immediately approached by the location manager Eriko and met a Japanese graphic designer who could be an interesting contact for future projects.

Agora Tokyo has been around a lot longer, since 2008, and was set up by Dutch architect Maarten Molenaar. It’s an open space where entrepreneurs – currently a mix of foreign and Japanese – can rent desk space to work from. Agora is located in Shibuya, which makes it very convenient to work from (I found in May that I passed through Shibuya and surroundings quite a bit going to and from meetings elsewhere…). The pricing plan works with a monthly membership, and depends on how much space you need. I liked the openness and informality of the space, and I imagine that because it’s a bit smaller it’s easy to get to know the other people working here which will help to build up your local network.

Shibuya MOV is the last place I visited, which I’d heard about a few times when I was researching co-working spaces. A big, brightly decorated space with lots of different areas: lounge areas to chat and talk to people, silent booths, regular desks to work at and a range of meeting rooms around it. I personally liked the interior, though it is least ‘office-like’. Again, here you pay through membership with the amount varying by type of use. You will also formally register as a member when you only need to spend a few hours here, though there is an hourly rate which then applies. What I probably liked most here is the availability of the meeting spaces which – again in Shibuya, right next to the train station – seems to be very convenient when needing to set up a business meeting.

There are many more like these, with different variations – some even with a playroom for your kids – and not only in Tokyo. All over the country co-working spaces are popping up, and this map provides a good overview and makes it easy to find a space wherever you are.

Of course, there are also the hundreds, or probably thousands, of coffeeshops around the city where you can join students and others working away on their laptop. However, don’t be fooled: the availability of WiFi is not nearly as widespread in Tokyo – let alone the rest of Japan – as it has become in the Netherlands (and probably most of Europe). I found that only Starbucks has a reliable presence of WiFi in pretty much all their locations. However, to be able to access this you need to register online at home, your hotelroom or anywhere else where you can access this Starbucks site. After registration, the internet connection works very well in any Starbucks I tried. This also meant that I spent A LOT of time in various Starbucks across the city – a place I avoid anywhere else…

Have a favourite place to work from when in Tokyo? Would love to hear about it in the comments!