Instead, he worked in a legal and compliance department after graduation. But he was soon bored by his job and realised that law was not a lifelong career for him. He quit just four months later.
Chan’s next job was as a financial news anchor for Now TV News. After less than a year in the job, he decided his career should not be confined to being a talking head on the TV. He quit again and found himself working for aNobii, a social networking startup for readers to share book reviews, ratings and recommendations.
This was a turning point of sorts. Chan realized his boss was around the same age as he was but already owned a successful company. This made him understand that it was better to seize the opportunity to try more things while he was still young. “Youth is the biggest asset of young people. If the cost [of trying out new things] is not too high, why don’t you go for it?”
So in 2007, Chan and his brother Chris began experimenting. They tried out 10 different projects, including online platforms for selling furniture and cosmetics. None of these took off due to technical problems. So they decided to narrow their focus and concentrated on developing a meme-sharing website. In July 2008, Ray and Chris Chan started the 9GAG project, pulling in three other partners, Derek Chan, Marco Fung and Brian Yu.
“Life was too boring, we wanted to do something really big,” Chan says.
Chan values the team dynamics at 9GAG and thinks having a strong team is vital to run a successful company. 9GAG now has a team of nine, seven in Hong Kong and two in the United States.
Chan is especially grateful to have his brother Chris working alongside him. For his part, Chris has no reservations about talking about Ray even though he is sitting right next to him.“Ray is someone who stands out from the crowd easily. He is a bright star and always thinks out of the box,” says Chris. “But he lacks the fundamental element of success, perseverance.”
Chan agrees the brothers complement each other, which facilitates the operation of 9GAG. “I am the type of person who can easily come up with many new ideas and think they can be turned into something big. But Chris is more sceptical in a way that helps me filter many impractical ideas.”
9GAG may be a huge success now, but it may never have existed if any of the Chan brothers’ other projects had panned out. Looking back, a combination of circumstances may have created the perfect storm for the invention of 9GAG.
What strikes Ray Chan about his journey to entrepreneurial success is how demanding it was to start up a webpage without possessing the necessary technical skills.
“It is actually not that difficult to think of a good idea for a webpage, but there is a long way to go from a good idea to the successful execution of it,” he says.
Fortunately, they stuck with it and the project took off. This summer 9GAG scored US$ 2.8 million in seed money from Y Combinator, a prestigious Silicon Valley-based programme that provides seed money, advice, and connections to innovative startups. It made 9GAG the first Hong Kong-based company to ever achieve this.
Ironically, it was not until 9GAG gained international success that Hong Kongers finally realised it was a local operation. This inevitably led people to question the effectiveness of the years of effort made by the Hong Kong government to develop the high-tech industry.