When did you arrive in the United States, and why did you come?
As the chief executive of a company with over 50 percent of its customers in the United States, I moved to L.A. early last year with the hope of getting closer to the customers, along with access to the venture capital we need to take the company and product to the next level.
Title/Company: Co-founder, Tapatalk, a social media app developer in Santa Monica
From: Hong Kong
At the time, did you intend to eventually return to your home country?
I was born and grew up in Hong Kong but lived in a couple of countries and regions throughout the years, so the sense of a “home” country is vague. When I moved to a new place, I tried not to think about how long we would stay, but instead, what I can do in this country. I do miss home from time to time but there is no time line of when I need to return.
Why did you start your business in the United States instead of back home?
Although we have users from over 127 countries, almost half of them are from the United States, so it made sense for me to move to a country closer to our main audience. Also, Los Angeles is the main place where a lot of content is generated and it has a vibrant startup culture with a strong venture investment community.
What’s the worst thing about starting a business here?
I have lived in and visited developing countries, so from a higher level, there is really nothing to complain about.
And the best?
The best thing is always the great weather in Southern California that always motivates you to do more.
What have been the biggest surprises?
My perception of the United States was always big homes and big trucks, so it is very refreshing to be able to live in Santa Monica where most places can be reached by walking or biking. From a business stand point, it is fascinating to experience the California startup culture firsthand.
Would you tell someone from your home country to start a business here or there?
I always try to tell my friends to start something that works globally so you don’t limit yourself to a specific country or even city. Entrepreneurship in Hong Kong is very strong but also very locally focused. Hong Kong’s people are blessed with bilingual ability, so they can reach out either in China or the United States, the two biggest markets in the world.
What advice would you give someone from your home country about starting a business here?
There is a fundamental cultural difference between China and America and you have to understand that before making your decision. I recommend spending more time in the country through work holidays, studying or simply working for someone in the United States to get a sense of the business culture before starting a business here. I was a software engineer in an international company and I used to work with a lot of U.S. colleagues. Looking back, those experiences helped me.
Do you go back often?
We still have an engineering team in Asia, so I do visit once every two to three months.
What did you know about the United States before coming here?
Apple and Tesla? Seriously, I studied and graduated from college in Canada so I did experience a fair share of American culture. There weren’t too many unknown unknowns.
What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you as a foreign-born entrepreneur?
I found it is amusing that as the chief executive of a venture-backed company, I don’t have any credit score or credit history to even rent a modest apartment. No one wants to lease to a person with no proof of income. I ended up using Airbnb for many, many weeks before I managed to purchase a place on my own. Even today, I am not qualified for a credit card.
– Omar Shamout
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