Feature Stories


Journey of Futurepreneur: Spread-it further with our Forbes 30 under 30 Alumni

HKUST has always supported innovation in technology, social enterprises, and many more business markets, nurturing students who aspire to be entrepreneurs. Making the Forbes 30 under 30 list in 2020, our alumni Timothy NG (GBUS & ECON, Class of 2016) shared his experience co-founding the start-up - Spread-it.

From Many Ideas to Realization 

Spread-it is a micro-influencer marketing platform that promotes corporate marketing campaigns by matching brands to micro-influencers with a substantial social media following. Founded in 2016, the start-up has collaborated with more than 1200 brands, reaching as high as 55 million engagements. In 2018, it was acquired by a payment company called QFPay, which merged marketing and payment together to find cohesive solutions for clients.”

Back in his university days, the Forbes 30 under 30 Lister had always known he wanted to start his own business. He laughed as he recalled the inspiration for his first venture with his business partner, Winnie Lee. “We wanted to send postcards for free and receive more postcards from friends in return, with free sponsoring from brands. As we tried to get brands’ sponsors, we found that they’re not willing to use this relatively expensive way of promotion due to its limited reach.” Yet, they discovered an untapped market. 

Locking on at the gap in the market, Timothy and Winnie brainstormed and tested many solutions to engage university students effectively until they succeeded with Spread-It. “We realized that there was a market demand for brands who wanted to reach university students, but they didn’t have a way to do so. At that time, Facebook and Instagram were widely used by students, with the latter growing in popularity in 2016. We decided to utilize and package this trend into a solution. We said to companies “We can find hundreds of students to promote for you,” and that was the first iteration of Spread-It.” 

From there, the co-founders built their client base and expanded the team. “We basically saw growth every week, to the point that Winnie and I couldn’t finish all the work by ourselves. That’s when we started hiring people and Spread-It formalized like a ‘real’ business.” With the help of the Global Business Program Office, the start-up was also able to hire HKUST students as interns.

Timothy and his business partner Winnie have started their entrepreneurship journey together in Spread-it.

From a Learner to an Initiator 

Now at the 10-year mark of Spread-It and seven years since his graduation, Timothy has found that the generalist approach he gained at HKUST Business School was helpful to running a business. “In general, what we studied in school includes a lot of theories, which aren’t really applicable until you start your own business. The School’s broad and flexible curriculum gave me a holistic picture of different business disciplines, which in turn helped a lot when dealing with various issues in my start-up. For example, I know how to do financial analysis from accounting courses, human resources management from management courses, and sales from marketing courses. I know enough to decide what to do next, point my staff in the right direction and hire the right people.

Another aspect Timothy found helpful was the supportive culture and business network at both School and University-level. “In general, my classmates and professors were great, and some even helped me build my company for free. I have also met other interesting and nice entrepreneurs in the Entrepreneurship Center throughout the journey. They gave me real advice on how to solve some of the business problems, where to find the funding, how to hire the right people, and how to navigate and resolve office politics in the company.”

Timothy successfully applies what he has learned from the university to run his own business.

Turning Challenges into Opportunities

Like many businesses in 2020, Spread-It had to navigate the challenges of tightening budgets to continue surviving through the pandemic. “When Hong Kong shut down, all our marketing budgets had gone as well. Our employees had nothing to do and they were afraid of being laid off. What Winnie and I did was follow our company’s value of putting clients and employees first. Together with our lean operations and conservative cash reserve, we were able to keep our employees and our performance was better than expected that year.”

With the high staff morale, Timothy and his team worked hard to bridge another gap they identified in the market. “Compared to China’s live broadcasting model where buyers directly interact with influencers to buy products (帶貨), we noticed that the interaction of platform users in Hong Kong is very fragmented. With this in mind, we decided to try a more streamlined approach in Hong Kong and built our e-commerce site, Teateamama. We broke the barriers between product catalog and purchasing, and we hit around a million sales after sourcing some of the suppliers.”

With the emphasis to put employees and clients first, Timothy was able to build up the team spirit and establish their own e-commerce platform Teateamama.

Spread-It Further 

As global travel and operations resume, the company plans to expand further into more populous overseas markets. “We have set up our company in Dubai, Thailand and Singapore, and hope to expand into more Southeast Asian countries. We hope to export our model into other countries to generate sustainable business in these markets.”

Looking back, the glamour of being an entrepreneur lies in the control over his time and destiny, and that hard work does pay off. “I’ve worked in multiple companies before and after I graduated, including a management consultancy. Even though I got valuable experience from working there, I felt that the reward I got didn’t directly link with my effort. And that’s the great thing about being an entrepreneur – you directly know whether your effort is doing something great for society and produces something people want, while getting both financial and personal fulfillment.

Advice for those who want to become entrepreneurs?  

“Always be innovative. Don't be complacent. Think from the client’s perspective and delight them.” He also recommends seeking advice from your mentors and networks, gaining some experience at other companies, finding people you love working with, and having a growth mindset to adapt to the circumstances and contexts in which one wants to start a business

Timothy's advice to all Futurepreneurs - "Always be innovative. Don't be complacent."