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Heycoins’ coin-collecting machines tackle the huge piles of coins lying idle around the house. The hybrid company with Hong Kong and Chinese mainland DNA sets its sight on where demand rises, regardless of the geographical locations. Edmond Tang / China daily

Piles of unused coins left at home can now be handled by sorting machines

Talking to Hong Kong young entrepreneurs, there"s one topic hardly any of them can give it a miss — the prodigious Chinese mainland market.

For some, they had already used the mainland as their launch pad in business, while others are making the beeline to spread their tentacles across the country. There"re also those startups with mixed DNA — from both the mainland and Hong Kong — such as Heycoins.

Heycoins develops machines to help Hong Kong people sort out mountains of coins in their possession that are apparently lying idle, and see how they can be put to better use. The company was founded by young local entrepreneur Adam Lau and a friend Eddie Rong, who hails from Yunnan province.

"The coins we"re talking about are not bitcoins or blockchain, but the real ones — the piles or even buckets of coins in your home that you never use," explains Rong, co-founder and chief executive officer of Heycoins.

The company has developed a machine into which people can pour all their coins, and the machine will sort them out, have them counted and tell the user how much the coins are really worth. The user can then choose among a few options as to what to do with them — depositing the coins in their electric wallet, purchasing vouchers at various stores, or donating them to charitable organizations.

Heycoins will then send all the coins collected to stores and newspaper stands which desperately need coins as change for customers.

Rong came to Hong Kong in 2011 to study at Lingnan University, majoring in risk and insurance management, while Lau graduated from City University of Hong Kong, majoring in marketing.

Lau recalls meeting Rong for the first time while on summer vacation on the mainland in 2013, having secured an internship in Shanghai. Rong also happened to be in the metropolis at the time for an examination and they got to know each other through a common landlord. Their friendship flourished and they kept in touch in Hong Kong.

During his four years at college, Rong had accumulated a huge amount of coins that he found very difficult to spend — in denominations of 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, as well as HK$1 and HK$2 coins.

Lau had a similar problem. "My roommate was a foreign exchange student. When he returned to his home country, he gave me several buckets of coins, so both Rong and I had a huge amount of coins when we were still students. So, it got us to think whether there"s any way of dealing with these coins as they are money after all."

Many stores in Hong Kong refuse to accept cent coins, and even with those that accept them, a customer cannot spend more than two dollars at any one time.

Rong and Lau saw the opportunity and decided to do something to address the demand. In 2016, they received HK$100,000 from the Cyberport Creative Micro Fund and developed their first prototype machine for sorting coins.

The big breakthrough came when DBS Bank loaned them HK$450,000 to help them launch Heycoins, while Cyberport"s incubator provided the entrepreneurs with HK$330,000.

To date, the company has 16 of these coin-collecting machines placed in subway stations and large housing estates in Hong Kong, with eight full-time employees.

Rong says when he first mooted the idea of starting a company, he didn"t think too much about whether it would be for the Hong Kong or mainland market.

"I just saw the demand. I believe that wherever there"s strong demand, it"s the market that you should be working on. Although I came from the mainland, I never ruled out the possibility of starting a business somewhere else."

Lau feels Hong Kong is still lagging behind in technology development, particularly in e-payment, and he"s glad that his business partner Rong is from the mainland.

"Eddie follows all the tech-related information on the mainland. I believe that having him as a co-founder really helps us broaden our horizon, as in Hong Kong, I"ve to admit, we"re still focusing too much energy on real estate," he says.

Rong calls Lau a calm and rational person who can always put on a smile even in tough times.

"It"s not always as smooth as you"d like when meeting investors. But, Adam can always keep his smile and patiently communicate with any potential investor."

Not only is Lau capable of communicating with all investors, he"s a crucial component that holds the team together.

Heycoins is also cooperating with mainland internet giant Tencent"s e-payment group, targeting mainland travelers in Hong Kong and the overseas market.

Heycoins will install its coin machines at airports in various countries, so before mainland travelers return home, they can put all their foreign currencies, including coins, into those machines which will count them and convert them to renminbi automatically before depositing the money into the user"s WeChat Pay account.

By teaming up with Tencent, Heycoins is well on track to tap into the mainland market.

Norma Chu, founder of Hong Kong startup DayDayCook, said at the 10th Hong Kong Trade Development Council Entrepreneurs Day that the mainland market is so vast that it is beyond the imagination of any startup in Hong Kong.

DayDayCook — a platform founded in Hong Kong six years ago — has thousands of instruction videos to teach viewers how to cook each recipe. In 2015, Chu decided to launch the platform in the mainland market.

"In 2015, my investors were telling me to explore the US or European markets as our contents are bilingual. But, at that time, not many people on the mainland were focusing on developing products that only teach people how to cook and about lifestyle. I, therefore, decided to enter the mainland," said Chu.

She admitted that many people have warned her not to expand to the mainland as it will be very difficult. And, as she"s from Hong Kong, she may not understand the mainland market and demand that well.

Indeed, DayDayCook encountered many challenges as the company needed time to cultivate the market, test the market and educate consumers. The platform did not get any funding from mainland investors until they had been in the market for 10 to 14 months.

Chu said the mainland market is huge, adding that, as the founder of a Hong Kong startup, all the data she gets from the mainland has completely overturned her definition of "big".

She described the business atmosphere on the mainland as great and very exciting, with vast opportunities that have helped her company grow rapidly.

Currently, DayDayCook has 260 employees at its Shanghai office. Last year, its turnover soared 15 times from 2016, and Chu expects the company to record a further four- to six-fold rise in revenue this year.

She"s adamant that, despite all the challenges and difficulties, the mainland market is definitely worth a try for budding Hong Kong entrepreneurs.

Contact the writer at [email protected]