Q&A with an Entrepreneur: Kenny Leung of Premium Technology
A regular series at The Wang Post, where we sit down and talk to notable Asian entrepreneurs. This week, we speak with Kenny Leung, the CEO and co-founder of Premium Technology, which is based in New York City.
Let’s start from the beginning: where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in Shenzhen, when the city didn’t have all the development you see today. My parents were in Hong Kong working in the business field, so I resided with my grandmother. My family and I moved to the United States later due to the better education system here. They sold their business interests in Hong Kong and worked in garment factories in New York.
What was your first impression of the U.S.?
While still residing in China, we had the impression that America was the perfect place to live. We had a different opinion after arriving in the United States; there were challenges awaiting us.
The Chinatown of New York City 30 years ago was very different from the Chinatown today, now known as a tourist attraction. New York was not safe at the time, and living in New York required a lot of survival skills. It was a difficult challenge, but a good life experience; while attending school, I had to survive the streets with another set of knowledge.
What were some experiences that set you apart?
The first couple of years after arriving in the U.S., I learned to be determined and to never give up. I believe execution is always the key: don’t just say something for its sake only, but do it.
Where did you attend college, and what was your first job?
I studied Electrical Engineering (EE) with a minor in Computer Science at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University; I graduated in 1992, which was during the recession. There were no jobs for Electrical Engineers at the time. A few of my college friends accepted jobs in other fields, but I was determined to not give up.
I took a chance on a part-time position located on 125th Street. I believed that if I could handle this job in Harlem well, I’d be able to get through any other situations in the future. I was always a risk-taker, and I considered that opportunity as a stepping stone for my future.
From Harlem, I transferred to a big advertising agency on Park Avenue; from there, I continued to Wall Street, where I was a System Analyst at an investment bank. Due to all these opportunities, I started my first company, ACS, which was a computer training school.
How did you get from ACS to your company now, Premium Technology?
From Harlem, Midtown, Wall Street, and ACS, I felt primed to start Premium Technology. It began as a traditional financial consulting company, but due to the uncertainty of consultancy, we decided to build our own financial software product and to heavily invest in intellectual property (IP) to gain a competitive advantage. We’re productizing financial services and profit sharing with bank partners.
I’ve managed to recruit key members with strong management skills; the company is about teamwork and appreciation for each other. Our business model is truly believing we are heading in the right direction and staying one step ahead of the game.
Was this venture in productization personally financed?
Yes, with some calculated risks, it was personally financed.
How did you grow the company over time?
During the crisis in 2008, there were tremendous issues in supply chain financing. Banks needed a solution fast so they came to us with technical specification and a blank check. They asked if we could create and provide a new product for supply chain financing in less than two months; out of the companies they approached, we were the only one who agreed to provide the solution.
We built a solution to optimize efficient account payables and receivables. Due to the recession, this solution was desperately needed by car distributors to secure capital for operation. Subsequently, our suite of products became internationally known in markets in Europe, China, and the Middle East. Now, we are also working with local partners to sell our solution to institutional clients and banks worldwide.
Speaking of selling globally, you’ve entered the Chinese market. What are some of the challenges in the Chinese market?
I believe the localization strategy in each market is very different due to cultural factors. In China, instead of selling software to the customers, we created a platform due to concerns for IP rights. We use a subscription model in mainland China, as well, we’ve helped to finance buyers and sellers.
What are your goals in the near future?
My personal goal is to spend more time with family.
As for my business goal, it’s to find out how to expand the business. Selling in different markets require different strategies, partners, and sale channels. We’re also looking to create new products.
What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
My number one advice is very simple: don’t be afraid of challenges.
The second one is to take risks – calculated risks. It’s best to not only consider the result, but to plan each step. I took calculated risks and had many stepping stones, each one guiding me closer to my goal.
Last but not least, you have to learn to sell.
For my children, I encourage certain types of activities such as public speaking and debate. I think having good communication skills is important. Aside from that, I also encourage them to join sports team such as soccer and volleyball, because when you want to build something, it must be bigger than yourself. As an entrepreneur, you’ll need to build a team and cooperate well with others.