When Steven Lam encountered the difficulty of finding delivery vans for his first venture in 2010, he stumbled upon a new business opportunity that would eventually become Hong Kong’s first “unicorn” startup.
Lam came up with the idea for his on-demand van hire service GoGoVan, after he and his business partners found that it was almost impossible to immediately find a delivery van that could transport items for their business whenever they needed to.
They were then selling advertisements on food takeout boxes and would often require vans that could transport the items to the restaurants.
After contacting multiple centers that supposedly offered such service, they soon discovered that each delivery firm actually had a limited number of drivers registered with them, although there were many available vans that remained idly parked on the streets.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post, the 31-year-old entrepreneur shared how their dilemma gave birth to the idea of an on-demand van service which focuses on the transportation of freight and goods.
“Most successful businesses start off with a problem to solve. If the problem is big enough, it helps them become a much bigger company,” Lam said. “To us, [GoGoVan] is something we love, that’s why we continued doing it.”
Lam, who dropped out of high school in Hong Kong in 2005, moved to the United States and studied at a community college in California. Following an exemplary performance at the college, he was accepted into the prestigious University of California, Berkeley, where he majored in business. He supported himself by earning money through various means, including selling electronics online and selling hot dogs.
He shared that he got his original idea of selling adverts on takeaway boxes while working part-time as a food delivery man at a Chinese restaurant.
After finishing his studies in the U.S., he traveled back to Hong Kong and established a company along with co-founders Nick Tang Kuen-wai and Reeve Kwan Chun-man.
Lam explained that instead of spending money on expensive flats like most Hong Kongers his age, he and his partners instead poured all their savings into starting their business ventures.
“If your dream is to buy a house, then at the end of the day all you have is a house,” said Lam. “At the end of the day, the story that I want to tell my grandchildren is not that I could buy a house, but that I did something great, something game-changing.”
With a starting capital of about $2,500, the group established GoGoVan in 2013. According to Lam, they rented a small room in an old industrial building that “could barely sit three to four people, and the elevator broke down every other day.”
“We ran out of cash in two months,” he added.
Despite early hurdles, GoGoVan eventually found its luck after investments from companies started pouring in. In 2014, the firm received funding for $6.5 million with Centurion Private Equity as the main investor, China Money Network reported.
The following year, GoGoVan got an additional $10 million from existing investor Renren and new investor Zemin Hu.
According to TechCrunch, GoGoVan’s most notable investment came in 2016 with New Horizon Capital, Singapore Press Holdings and the Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund among its new investors.
Following a recent merger with Chinese freight business 58 Suyun, GoGoVan reached a valuation of over $1 billion, turning their venture into Hong Kong’s first “unicorn” startup. The merger will be pivotal in their bid to expand in mainland China, targeting 200 more Chinese cities, and eventually in Southeast Asia in the next two to three years.
Lam will be filling in the chief executive position of that merged billion dollar company.