While serving as Chief Executive Officer at MTR Corporation, Hong Kong SAR, Mr. Lincoln Leong was dealing with the movement of a few million passengers within and outside of Hong Kong. Accompanied by a responsibility to oversee the operation and maintenance of the rail networks and its facilities, one might think that it leaves the company little room for innovation.
Yet this was not the case.
"MTR historically has always prided itself in terms of innovation particularly in operational areas - from day one, it comes from looking at how to improve its systems and its operations to be more effective as an operator," he said.
Mr. Leong was speaking at the Nanyang Technopreneurship Centre's Guest Lecture Series on October 4, sharing his experiences within MTR and start-ups to discuss entrepreneurship and innovation in both established and early-stage companies.
He cited the Octopus card as a success story in MTR's innovation of operations. Prior to the smartcard ticketing system, customers relied on magnetic strip cards, its low longevity causing frustration whenever their data ended up lost. The introduction of the Octopus card addressed their problems, improving the business's operational efficiency.
"The importance of the focus on the customer is critical," he said.
"Start at looking at the customer and how to factor in his or her needs".
Mr. Leong defined the process as understanding and resolving 'pain points'. He stressed that doing so is key for both mature and early-stage companies as it provides opportunities to "enhance customer experience and revenue profile".
However, he acknowledges that therein lies a challenge for mature companies as pain points often exist outside of their own businesses. Much of their time and effort has already been invested into "enhancing their existing business", making the move into a completely different space much more difficult.
He added that making the decision ultimately boils down to the company's culture and shifting it into one that embraces change can determine "the success or failure of innovation" for mature companies.
Start-ups, on the other hand, see greater flexibility.
"Don’t get enamoured or fall in love with one particular product or one particular service,' Mr. Leong cautioned. "What you should really be doing is following that customer, understanding what the pain points are, and your original product may migrate two or three different times to completely different business models."
He advised entrepreneurs to avoid going up against dominant players in existing markets, instead seeking out gaps and niches to develop entirely new markets.
Wrapping up his session, Mr. Leong said that while early stage and mature companies differ in terms of resources, the ingredients for success in the innovation space largely remain the same.
"It comes in the form of people, a culture of continuous improvement and curiousity, and following the customer's pain points and finding the solutions".
The Guest Lecture series is a new initiative by Nanyang Technopreneurship Centre tapping on connections within the industry and ecosystem. Leaders in various fields are invited to share their knowledge and experiences.
Stay tuned as we release more details on upcoming sessions.