Hampoo founder & CEO on staying nimble and avoiding the success trap
Star Wang, Founder and CEO of Hampoo
In just over 13 years, founder and CEO Star Wang has navigated Hampoo from a local PCB design and electronic manufacturing services provider to a global player, with more than 3,000 customers worldwide across a range of industries. And now, with emerging connected devices providing the next opportunity for global technology growth, he has set his sights on expanding his growing business for Internet of Things technologies and smart devices.
For our latest edition of Founder Q&A, we caught up with Star to hear firsthand about his experience in learning how to evolve from being a “technology guy” into a business and people manager; how to form in-house startup teams and eliminate rules to kickstart new ventures from within an already successful company; and how to create the link between business success and having a strong corporate vision.
Q: You started Hampoo more than a decade ago, and your business continues to deliver impressive growth. What has been the key to Hampoo’s success, and what growth opportunities are you seeing?
Our success comes from our learning culture, our great team, and our technology and product quality. Our core competency and well-developed processes in hardware design and manufacturing, and our focused and agile team, allow us to act more quickly and get products out to market with fewer mistakes. Importantly, we also have not been afraid to steer our business into new technology growth areas.
I started Hampoo back in 2003 providing printed circuit board (PCB) design and electronic manufacturing services for electronics manufacturers. Our strength in PCB layout, engineering and sourcing provided a foundation that allowed us to explore and invest in new growth opportunities. For example, in 2013 we formed a specialized team focused on providing printed circuit board assembly for Intel Atom?-based tablets. And today, even though our tablet business is growing nicely and we have global sales across Europe, North America and Asia, we recognize the opportunities and promise of the Internet of Things (IoT) and smart devices.
We see smart devices as being key to our future growth, and we are shifting resources and developing products in exciting areas such as automotive electronics (like smart car DVR and telematics), smart home gateway controllers, and drone controllers.
Q: It can be challenging for companies with successful legacy businesses to overcome the “success trap” and shift their business focus to new areas that will take them to the next stage of growth. You’ve managed to do this more than once. What is the secret for staying ahead of the curve?
Avoiding the “success trap” demands a full organizational commitment. The leadership team needs to keep an eye on emerging technologies and trends; business heads and employees need to be open to change; and the organization must have the structure and support mechanisms to actually be able to effect change. For Hampoo, we’re always on the lookout for new business opportunities that build on our successful core business and open up new products and channels.
Q: Practically speaking, how do you stay nimble and implement change when you see an opportunity?
We’ve found the lean startup methodology to be extremely useful. You need to act like a small startup company, even if you’ve grown into a larger organization.
If we want to start a new business, we begin by assembling a small team of people with open minds and positive attitudes for change. The team may include current employees who are looking to grow and be more successful in their careers, but in many cases we may bring in new people that haven’t been swept up in the existing business.
We let this team run as though they are a standalone startup company, and most importantly, we eliminate many of the rules that apply to the existing business. With no fixed rules, they can stay flexible, continue learning, innovate and iterate, and be very, very fast. Only after the business becomes more mature do we layer in additional organizational structure and processes.
Q: Does the competitive environment in China lend itself naturally to the lean startup model?
While the market moves quickly in China, it’s not just about competition; it’s about having the right methodology to ensure you’ve made fewer mistakes, reduced your costs to get your product to market, and decreased the chance your company will fail. This applies not only in China, but globally.
The challenge for most engineers, like myself, is that we think about the product from the inside out. But our ideas for creating the best product might not be what customers want. So realizing that it’s not just about the technology but about understanding your customer, and defining the core value you bring to the customer, is critically important. Always find and understand the customer first, get their feedback and make sure you’re on the right track. It’s not about you thinking you have the right product, it’s about satisfying your customers’ needs.
Q: As founder and CEO, did that approach come naturally to you? How did you learn to grow the company and develop your management style?
I was a technology guy before starting Hampoo, and I made a lot of mistakes in growing the company. I was great with the product technology, but similar to many others, I had never run a business, never interacted with customers, never run a P&L. Most successful companies have a very good management framework. For some people, like me, we cannot create that framework by ourselves, so it’s better to learn from the companies and people who have done it successfully and apply those lessons to improve the business.
I learned from advisers at Intel who were able to share their insights on how to structure and grow a business, build processes, develop a product, follow a schedule and lead a team. Even implementing a simple process like using Outlook’s calendar system to book meetings, which isn’t a heavily followed practice in China, was a learning experience that helped improve efficiency.
I learned from people with deep experience in the tech industry, and I worked closely with ex-Cisco China President Thomas Lam, who continues to serve as my executive coach and mentor. He helped me understand how to run a company and apply modern and western management and business best practices, how to maintain self-discipline, how to develop a financial budget and do business forecasting, how to speak the language of technology and business, and how to improve communications efficiency.
I absorbed everything I could from our customers about what really mattered.
I learned from reading books on management and relationships, with two of my favorites being Peter Drucker’s The Practice of Management and Dale Carnegie’s Lifetime Plan for Success.
Lastly, I learned by doing. You can’t simulate or beat the lessons you take away from hands-on experience.
Q: How have the resources of Intel Capital impacted your business?
The support we’ve had from Intel Capital has been phenomenal and extends well beyond financial. Intel’s technology expertise, broad view of the tech industry, and global network are truly game changers.
Because Intel Capital is investing in new technologies, we’re able to see new technology trends as they develop and explore strategic approaches to tap into those trends. They’re able to advise on everything from developing product roadmaps that help ensure product-market fit, to providing technical support to solve issues, to advising on supply chain bottlenecks. In addition, they provide unrivaled global business and customer networking support, with business development programs like Intel Capital Technology Days (ITDs) and Intel Solutions Summits, as well as the Intel Capital Global Summit. We’ve also had access to very senior people who have provided training and talked to us about our strategy, our business model, human resources and how to find good people.
Q: What is the best advice you ever received?
First, keep learning, because the world is always changing. Learn from your work, learn from your partners, learn from the people who have demonstrated success in their businesses and careers.
Second, lay out a vision that people can rally behind.
Lastly, be a management practitioner. “Practitioner” is the key word. Don’t just learn from books and conversations, but actually do!
Q: How important is setting a strong vision in helping to ensure the overall success of the business?
The vision acts as the company’s north star. It removes confusion and makes it clear what people can or cannot do. It becomes more and more important as the company grows. When you’re small, everyone knows the target and what you are trying to accomplish. But as the company grows, you can’t influence everyone directly. If there is no strong vision, people don’t know the destination, they don’t know the rules to follow in decision making, and they get lost.
Q: What is the most important leadership lesson you have learned in business?
Be the example that you want to see. Exhibit the behaviors you want others to follow and emulate. Focus on influence. If you can influence and motivate people, you can accomplish anything.
Star Wang has more than 14 years of management experience in high tech enterprises covering the design and manufacturing of consumer electronics, telecommunications and smart devices. He founded Hampoo in 2003, expanding the business to more than 400 people and multiple branches across China and providing PCB design, high-mixed, low-volume electronic manufacturing services, and smart devices based on the Intel IoT platform for more than 3,000 customers around the world. Prior to Hampoo, Star served as technical manager of the CAD department at Huawei where he helped develop the constraint-based high-speed PCB design methodology. Star has a Bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering from Northern Jiaotong University in Beijing.