From designer to creator of a crypto-currency: A story of Poly-preneur Heatherm Huang
Mr Heatherm Huang, Co-founder of Measurable AI and the Measurable Data Token (MDT), is a PolyU alumni. Having graduated from PolyU’s Master of Design – Interaction Design programme, he is currently pursuing a Doctor of FinTech degree in Financial Technology. The Poly-preneur, who has founded start-ups in both Asia and North America, made his name in Silicon Valley. While PolyU’s Master of Design programme helped him design products and services from the consumers’ perspective, the doctoral programme is now helping him bridge his knowledge gap regarding the financial industry and is thus pivotal as he expands his businesses as an entrepreneur.
During high school in the mid-2000s, Heatherm was a three-time national computer and innovation contests’ champion in Fujian province. As a student, he launched an online student forum which was a highly popular, first-generation social network at that time. Later in 2008, in Shanghai, he and his friends founded his first start-up Jiong Daily (一日一囧). The video platform, which incorporated the innovative idea of producing one fun video every day, had two million viewers daily and produced close to 1,000 videos within three years. During those years, they helped contribute to the popularity of the Chinese word Jiong, with its modern meaning of being goofy or fun.
Heatherm continued to progress towards becoming a successful entrepreneur and came to Hong Kong to pursue his master’s studies at PolyU in 2010. Through the entrepreneurial project, he got to know investors, venture capitalists and Hong Kong’s biggest app vendor Green Tomato, enabling him to join TalkBox in 2011. As smartphones and 3G emerged, TalkBox offered the first voice messenger with a “push” function on smartphones. It attracted one million users in the first two months of operation and 10 million users within a year. Because of the success of TalkBox, a character in the 2018 Mainland TV series Era of Entrepreneurship (創業時代) was based on Heatherm. He then leveraged the opportunity that this presented to launch his new app “Magic Crystal” (also known as MailTime 簡信).
It was with MailTime that Heatherm embarked on his journey to Silicon Valley. The adventure began when he won the Best Mobile App award at the 4th Start-up Weekend in Hong Kong in April 2013 with what would later become the MailTime app. In October, the STEFG-PolyU China Entrepreneurship Fund (CEF) Scheme granted him start-up funding of RMB200,000. Since instant messaging apps such as WhatsApp and WeChat were closed platforms without universality which made it impossible for their respective users to communicate freely without barriers, Heatherm invented MailTime to overcome their shortcomings. Leveraging the universality of email and reformatting email messages into messaging conversations, users of different apps were then able to enjoy real-time messaging conversations.
Tapping into the global arena from the US
Pitching his ideas in Silicon Valley while applying for a work permit, he raised USD400,000 during the angel round. Using this angel funding and the RMB200,000 CEF funding, he founded MailTime in San Francisco within months of arriving. In just a year, the company was among a handful of start-ups selected by TechCrunch Disrupt 2014 SF Startup Battlefield. With 200 million users in its first year, the start-up continued to attract investments and reap awards at Apple AppStore’s Best of 2015 and Y Combinator 2016 Winter Batch.
Every business experiences ups and downs and MailTime faced its biggest crisis in 2017. Although the company had attracted over 100 venture capitalists, none had put in further investment. Staff had to be laid off. To solve the financial problem, Heatherm attended numerous investment events and learnt about Initial Coin Offering and crypto-currency and their vast potential. Starting from scratch, he soon became an expert and instead of relying on financing from venture capitalists, he launched a crypto-currency to raise funds. Over-subscribed from the first day, they were able to raise the equivalent of USD10 million via Ethereum, thus developing a brand new business model.
Inspired by their mentor at Y Combinator, who was also the founder of Gmail, Heatherm came to the realisation that the most valuable aspect of their email app was having users contribute data. In 2017, he co-founded Measurable AI which, based on MailTime’s infrastructure, invited food delivery and online shopping platforms and other large corporations to share data. In addition to de-identification and exclusion of sensitive information, encryption and anonymity measures to protect consumer privacy are also included. Transactional e-receipt data from millions of online shoppers are then aggregated to generate actionable consumer insights. Real-time, automatic and accurate trends about consumer behaviour are provided for financial corporations and e-commerce platforms. Today, Measurable AI has become the biggest alternative data provider for emerging markets, with the company seeing 100% annual increase in turnover since the COVID pandemic.
Creating the crypto-currency MDT
An essential part of the decentralised data exchange economy is about connecting users, data providers and data buyers. By inviting consumers to opt in to data sharing and thus make money by getting MDT in return, Heatherm has helped build a new ecosystem in which buyers obtain genuine data from consumers while value is distributed to users.
With a design and technology background which helped him better meet consumer needs, Heatherm expanded his businesses to include big data and crypto-currency. As he began to work with financial clients, he found that he needed to bridge a knowledge gap. Whereas he knew that they needed data, he did not know how they used the data, how data was integrated into their workflow, and their specific needs. “Thanks to PolyU’s Doctor of FinTech programme, I meet classmates from the financial industry who want to acquire the knowledge about AI and big data that I have. We complement each other,” Heatherm stated. As a student from the first cohort, he believes the programme brings more benefits to him than other business and management programmes would.
Heatherm humbly said that he had been fortunate to be right on the trend and to be able to solve problems whenever they arose. The company has recently rented an entire block in the city centre of Hong Kong. Looking forward, he hopes to see bigger advancement in their side projects such as Measurable Finance (MeFi) which bridges capital markets and block chain, and RewardMe which encourages users to share data and which has achieved over one million downloads since its launch in May 2021.
Inspired by Y Combinator, his motto is to “Make Something People Want”. He elaborated, “It is easy to make something, but difficult to make something that people want. It is not about what you want. It requires hypothesis, experimenting and precise understanding of data to find out what people really long for.”
As for those who aspire to be entrepreneurs, Heatherm provides valuable advice when he suggests that it is always vital to evaluate their capability to combat risks and, to build solid foundations.
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