Rise Conf 2019 — My Experience with Aisa’s Largest Tech Conference as a Developer
It is an eye-opening event for me. I am a front-end web developer in Toronto. Even though this conference focuses on startups, I think it is super interesting to listen to pitches and talk to entrepreneurs at booths. The startup scene in Asia is more vibrant and energetic than the one in Toronto.
What is Rise Conf?
https://riseconf.com/. In my definition, it is a “tech” conference in Hong Kong that has C-suite from big companies to promote themselves, and startups to pitch and meet investors. This conference also has some celebrities and influencers to promote their tech-related projects.
I called it a “tech” conference because I do not find it too technical. It is more like promoting, scamming, and talking about the future.
So it is generally a fun experience regardless you are in the tech industry or not.
Why did I choose to go to this conference across the world?
Because of its location: Hong Kong. I was born in China and it was convenient for me to visit my hometown after the conference.
However, the direct flight from Toronto to Hong Kong was about 15 hours. It was a tiring trip. I could not fall asleep on the plane, so after 3 movies, 2 meals, 1 cup of instant noodles, I finally arrived in Hong Kong with pretty bad jet lag.
When I went to the conference in July, there was a protest going on, and I was pretty worried since the conference is held in Hong Kong’s landmark: Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre beside Golden Bauhinia Square. However, it was pretty quiet during the weekdays. We did not run into any protests.
I only stayed in Hong Kong for less than 1 week. I got mixed reviews for this city. However, I do think this city is worth visiting.
AI (Artificial Intelligence) / Blockchain
I heard so many pitches that try to use AI or Blockchain to solve problems. For example, use AI to determine what marathon Athletes wear at the finish line; use AI to predict energy usage; use AI to optimize living space for architects…
I also talked to the entrepreneurs at the booth. Almost every entrepreneur was saying that his or her company was using AI or blockchain in some ways. However, sometimes, I got a sense that some of the entrepreneurs might not understand what AI or blockchain truly does, or they just could not understand my English.
Southeast Aisa / Emerging Markets
I also heard so many pitches from startup from Southeast Asia or focus on those emerging markets, also include India and Africa as well.
I think it is called the “Time Machine” business model that brings already successful ideas like e-commerce, ride-sharing, food delivery, mobile banking to those emerging markets. This market is untapped and has a big population and rising middle class.
Of course, the product has to be tailored to local markets. I got a sense that a lot of entrepreneurs presented at this conference went to school in North America and they ware trying to bring ideas back to their hometowns.
Local startups try to rise while international corporations try to enter. This term was mentioned in the presentations from the C-Suite of big corporations like Uber, Tinder, and Spotify.
I learned this word “unicorn” at the conference, it means “privately held startup company valued at over $1 billion” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unicorn_(finance)).
I think it is every startup’s dream to be the next unicorn. These days, for a startup to become a unicorn is getting harder and harder. The venture capitalists were also talking they were slowing down their investments.
There were a lot of companies try to enter the payment world. This time when I went back to China, I have experienced the convenience and adaptability of the mobile payment. No one carries cash anymore. Even the street food vendors accept mobile payment.
I heard the presentation from the messaging app company Line which tries to launch the mobile payment in Japan. I think this idea was borrowed from WeChat Pay.
Of course, cryptocurrency was still a popular topic. There were many startups try to use the blockchain to provide various services. Facebook’s Libra just launched at the time of the Conference. However, for me, I am still a bit puzzled about the real value of the cryptocurrency.
Stripe was at this conference asl well. They were pretty successful in North America and they were trying to enter the Asian market.
SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises)
Before this conference, I did not know what SME stood for. At this conference, there were also many companies which try to solve some pain points of SMEs.
China is still a hot topic. I think that the Chinese tech market is a bit saturated, and also due to protectionism, it is hard to enter. Even though it still has potential, but the room to grow is less than markets like Southeast Asia.
Chinese companies also present for the stage as well. I got a sense that most Chinese companies are still focused on their local market and do not have the plan to expand outside. I also got a sense that there are a lot of scam companies in China.
Meanwhile, North American companies like Spotify or Tinder have no plan to enter this market.
My Favourite Talks
China Internet Report from South China Morning Post
China Internet Report
Although China’s internet penetration rate is only 60%, its sheer scale means almost three times the number of internet…
I found this talk interesting and informative. The ecosystem of China's internet is so different from one in North American that I am familiar with. Needless to say, development is not slowing down and in some way, it is more advanced than North America. It is interesting to read what is happening inside the Great Fire Wall.
Bring on the Next Billion by Hans Tung
Unlike some venture capitalists just talking about their “vision”, this talk by venture capitalist Hans Tung has some solid materials. It shows where he would invest next and why.
After talked to the entrepreneurs at the booths, I kinda understood why over 90% of startups failed. I think a lot of startups I talked to were trying to be too ambitious. They were trying to showcase their technology rather than solving a real problem or add some real values.
Nevertheless, some of these startups got investment already and passed the seed funding or even Series A stage. Before I came to this conference, I did not even understand the standup finance lifecycle. Now I know so much. However, sometimes I still confused that why someone would pour money into some ideas. I guess I am just jealous.
Tips for future go-ers
- Pack lunch. The food was super expensive near the Hong Kong Convention Centre.
- Bring your water bottle. There were many drinking fountains at the conference, but there were only plastic cups.
- Bring an extra jacket. Too much AC inside the venue.
- Talking to the people at the booths and come early for the pitches. It was the highlight of my experience.
- I found the Night Summit venture expensive.