Alumni Linkage — OU People

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Alfred Ng was still a wage earner in 2007. He once forgot to bring his mobile phone charger on a business trip to Japan. He was very frustrated because at the time different brands paired their phones with chargers that could not be used interchangeably. ‘Wouldn’t it be great if there were a one-for-all universal charger?’ Alfred thought. He collected information about this idea and realized that the major phone brands would soon be standardizing their charging connections to USB. He shooted for the business opportunity and worked very hard to invent the world’s first USB wall outlet. The novel idea turned his life around.

A layman secures his place in the market

To put a completely new idea into action is no easy task, and it is even more difficult for a layman. An accountant with zero knowledge of electronic engineering, Alfred could only enlist the help of his good friends and burn the midnight oil to conduct ‘guerrilla-style’ research and development after work. ‘I was doing the test at the company’s dormitory and suddenly, it triggered a power outage in the building,’ Alfred recalled with a grin.

After overcoming many hurdles, Alfred succeeded in developing the product. He soon launched his own company and applied for patents in various parts of the world, which was indeed a hard journey. After that he did a lot of sales work on his own but no one seemed to be interested. Things turned around when he began a partnership with an American distributor as an original design manufacturer (ODM). The collaboration not only created a market presence for his product, but also earned him recognition in the form of a prestigious industry accolade, the Stevie Award, and helped him make his fortune.

Carving out a niche with alternative approaches

Alfred’s business dropped when other competitors began to enter the market. He realized that the ODM model was not at all sustainable. He had once only thought about climbing up the career ladder as a salaryman. Yet, envisioning the market potential of the product, he resolutely resigned from his job in 2014 to establish his own brand and pursue his dream. ‘Back then my boss asked me to stay quite a few times, but I had already made up my mind. The USB wall outlet is like a key, allowing me to open the door first among other competitors.’

Many of Alfred’s competitors were century-old brands. He remembered that when he was studying BBA in Accounting at the OUHK, he had learned about the successful case of Japanese brand Honda defeating the well-established American brand Harley-Davidson with lightweight motorcycles. Alfred was much inspired by the story. He decided to formulate his own sales and marketing strategies and run his business with an alternative approach. He chose not to compete head-to-head but instead to look for other opportunities to tap into the market. His hard work paid off – by focusing on potential users like airport and hotels, he successfully generated new business and carved out a niche.

Following this path, his company now produces electric sockets and light switches, and is expanding further into the realm of innovative, eco-friendly and smart products. His offerings have been adopted by new residential developments and integrated into the living space. ‘The installation of high-tech smart devices is complicated and expensive. We changed that mind-set and built smart homes with “low-tech” smart devices that support users in experiencing modernized living with ease.’ Last year, his newly-developed solar charging coffee table and solar charging station (in the form of a smart lamp post) were jointly named a Stevie Gold Winner in the Innovation in Construction, Manufacturing or Materials category.

A devoted mentor who came out from the darkness

Along Alfred’s enterprising journey, his family was a key driver. ‘I used to be a frequent business traveller and could hardly spend time with my family. My daughter was still a little girl at that time and running my own business meant I could stay in Hong Kong and be closer to my beloved.’ He was also a fresh OUHK graduate at the time when he first founded his company. While Alfred was about to flex his muscles, however, his eyes were suddenly afflicted with multiple problems. After a surgery, he had to rest in a dark room for half a year. ‘I was like a blind man during that time. My new business was also going nowhere. I suffered from manic depression and began to shut myself off. Yet, when I thought of my baby girl, I knew I had to get myself together!’ With the support of his parents and family, Alfred eventually overcame that difficult time. His business also reached new milestones. And most importantly, he is grateful to be able to spend more time with his family.

Alfred currently holds a number of public offices and is committed to helping youngsters learn more about the business sector. He is more than happy to share with the young people who want to start a business as he had been down that road before. ‘Be motivated and don’t give up pursuing your dreams. Overnight success takes years. I suggest starting from a junior position which may help you accumulate knowledge, experience and connections. Set clear objectives, equip yourselves and always stay prepared for an opportunity to emerge. All these will be helpful for keeping your future business going.’