When Maura Thompson moved to Hong Kong in 2008 with her family, she was eager to explore and experience her adopted city, but struggled to find information about things to do. She and a group of similarly frustrated friends soon began creating guides — and then realized they had discovered a business opportunity. In 2009, they launched Sassy Media Group, which helps women fall in love with Hong Kong by giving them suggestions of great places to visit and things to do.
We visited Thompson to learn more about what it’s like to start a company in a new city and how she expanded the business into Singapore and Dubai. Her path shows that successful entrepreneurship is often born in moments of inspiration.
This interview was originally published on Prabha Dublish’s blog featuring international women entrepreneurs. Edited excerpts of the interview follow
Can you tell us more about your background?
After college, I fell into working at a company that serviced pharmaceutical companies. I moved to New York and started moving up the ranks. My fiancé at the time, now husband, asked what I thought about moving to Hong Kong. I always thought living in New York was far Philadelphia, where I grew up, so I couldn’t even fathom how much farther away Hong Kong was. But when we visited, I fell in love with the city.
When we moved to Hong Kong, I quit my job and had some time to figure out what to do next. I volunteered, taught yoga. Eventually, I just wanted to find something to do and make myself busy. I was actually jealous of people who got to go to work on Mondays.
One time, a few girlfriends and I were brainstorming what we could do to fill our time. We really wished there was something for women in Hong Kong to better understand what to do and where to go, so we went ahead and started making our own guides on what to do around Hong Kong — that’s how Sassy Media started.
Did you ever envision starting a business?
Absolutely not. I never expected to be an entrepreneur. I feel like I had innate traits that are common in entrepreneurs, but these traits were surfaced and strengthened through working on Sassy. They weren’t dominant from the start like they are with many entrepreneurs.
I was always interested in magazine publishing and advertising from a young age, but that wasn’t a purposeful decision. I guess passion led me to where I am now.
As a woman in business, have you felt welcomed by the Hong Kong startup community?
Definitely. I feel it every day, working out of a co-working space. I’m also grateful to the businesses here that gave us a chance at the start. We partnered with bars initially to start building our brand and get our name out there. We weren’t that well-known, but people were very welcoming.
Have you felt any gender bias starting your business?
We had to fight initially to be taken seriously. We had to prove to others that Sassy was more than a hobby, that it was an actual business. But after people saw our conviction in Sassy and that we were serious about building the company, that discrimination quickly subsided.
How does having an all-female team change the dynamics of a business?
I think it is a more supportive environment. There’s more of people checking on each other and making sure people are happy. But the gender skew was not intentional. We were simply looking for people who we would mesh with personality-wise.
What made you decide to expand into Singapore and Dubai?
We started in Hong Kong, but two of our co-founders moved to Singapore very soon after our launch. So after we established our business model in Hong Kong, we decided to expand to Singapore. Hong Kong has Sassy, the general site, and then Sassy Mommy, for primarily moms. In Singapore, we only launched Sassy Mommy.
Dubai happened when our team member in Singapore, who helped grow our brand in Hong Kong, ended up moving to Dubai.
What are some of the challenges that Sassy is facing today?
We’ve been running the company for 6 years. Now it’s about continuing to grow the company and ensure the team is happy as well. The challenge is balancing the long-term plans we have and understanding that we have to sacrifice some time and money in the short term to reach those goals. But those smaller steps are just as important.
The next challenge is making sure that we are always ahead of the trend. That’s the only way to make sure our content is relevant in the markets that we are reaching.
What keeps you going when you’re having a tough day?
It’s great to have business partners. Business partners tend to balance out the highs and lows, so even if you don’t feel motivated for a period of time, someone else on your team will be.
It’s also important to understand that there are some things that you can’t control. Don’t get caught up in things that happened in the past that you can’t change. Every entrepreneur faces problems along the road, sometimes on a much bigger scale than you are. That helps put things in perspective.
Prabha Dublish is an undergraduate business student at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., and co-founder and president of Womentum, a nonprofit pay-it-forward crowdfunding platform that allows anyone in the world to donate to women entrepreneurs in developing countries.