Alex So: Your guardian ‘angel investor’
The founder of FastLane Group is part of our ‘Meet The Investors’ event that’s aimed at helping startups. He speaks to us about his experiences as both entrepreneur and ‘angel investor’
FastLane Group founder and angel investor Alex So
It’s a fact: millennials are driving the culture of startup entrepreneurship across the world – not least in Hong Kong. Startup companies are popping up all the time and they’re frequently the product of youth and ambition. However, the shoot-for-the-stars 20-somethings in Hong Kong wouldn’t be able to launch their grand ideas without the funding and advice of ‘angel investors’ like Alex So.
So is the founder and managing partner of FastLane Group, a multidisciplinary professional accounting and advisory firm in Hong Kong. He speaks to us ahead of our ‘Meet The Investors’ event at theDesk co-working and events space in Sai Wan on Thursday, June 1, which boasts a panel of investment experts who are speaking with startups businesses and founders from theDesk’s own community, as well as other businesses based in the Sai Wan, Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town neighborhoods, about how they can procure investments and what financial resources there are in the city to tap into. The speakers include So and private banker Adam Wong, as well as theDesk’s own co-founder and chief investment officer, Adrian Yap.
So is an angel investor of Luke Grana, CEO and founder of e-commerce clothing brand Grana
Prior to founding FastLane Group in 2013, So held senior positions at top international financial institutions like Bank of America and Deutsche Bank. But then he made the switch to starting his own business. He says: “After 20 years in banking and investment, I decided that I want to create something that I’m really good at. I’ve been a CFO and I’ve worked in private equity and the investment industry, so I know these areas pretty well. I focused on my strengths and I took it from there. That’s how I started FastLane Group and also became an ‘angel investor’ when I came across interesting opportunities.”
“I like business ideas that are enabled by technology such as e-commerce, ‘Internet of Things’ – or IoT – and Fintech. Technology enhances efficiency and user experiences and can add value to everyone’s life.”
An ‘angel investor’ is an individual who provides capital for a business startup in exchange of convertible debt or ownership equity. So has been investing in startups over the past three years and most have seen incredible growth in a remarkably short period of time. “I like business ideas that are enabled by technology such as e-commerce, ‘Internet of Things’ – or IoT – and Fintech,” says the 47-year-old. “Technology enhances efficiency and user experiences, making for a beautiful solution. This is how technology can add value to everyone’s life.”
Apart from financial support, So provides advice and guides startup companies through their business models and the fundraising process. And he’s a great source of advice as he’s been there himself, not just with FastLane. He was sitting on the other side of the table in 2001 when he tried to launch a dot-com business. “At that time,” he says, “my founders and I were building a corporate news dissemination service which was similar to what Bloomberg did about 15 years ago. We created a platform for listed companies to distribute their press releases, annual reports and corporate presentations at a fraction of the traditional costs. However, a lot of the companies wanted us to help them to write their press releases or arrange investor meetings but we weren’t journalists or analysts. When the competition heated up, monetising the contents and services became incredibly difficult. So we stopped there as the business model didn’t seem to be working – especially because a subscription-based model was not popular at that time.”
Being an entrepreneur is what So says he enjoys the most. He’s never lost his desire to build something from scratch. “I’m really pleased with how I’ve been supporting companies as an angel investor and through FastLane,” he says. “When you take things into your own hands and skip all the office politics, you can really make a lot of changes. Dealing with clients and companies and solving their real problems is a really valuable experience to me.”
To balance his busy work life, So is a keen participant of the Oxfam Trailwalker Hong Kong 100 km endurance and charity race. He’s completed the challenge seven times, in fact. “I do enjoy hiking a lot,” he says. “I go every Saturday morning with my buddies. Last year, I went to Mount Fuji. It was so beautiful.” So’s previous corporate life saw him travelling frequently but now he can set his own pace. It’s a pathway that young entrepreneurs may want to follow, he says. It’s lucky, then, that they’ve got a guardian ‘angel investor’ like Alex So to look up to. Come and meet him at ‘Meet The Investors’. Perhaps he’ll be your guardian ‘angel investor’ too.