Spinning off a startup (1): LKK Health Products Group

(First of three installments)

Several new products have come out from HeHa's internal competitionIn the age that has seen the rise of Uber, AirBnB, Facebook and countless other technology-based startups, established companies are facing the constant threat of disruption that would upend the status quo.

At no time has the pressure to innovate been so intense as now as the new breed of internet entrepreneurs start carving out their own niche in virtually every industry. However, traditional companies are setting up their own startup businesses aimed to be a lightning rod of change within their organization.

Computerworld Hong Kong spoke to three companies in Hong Kong – LKK Health Products Group, Hung Hing Printing Group and naked Group, which have chosen such a path, to explore how having their own startup business helps them stay relevant in the digital economy.

This is the first of a three-part series.

HeHa brings the startup mentality into Lee Kum Kee

Lee Kum Kee is a name synonymous with a premium brand of oyster sauce and other condiments with roots in Guangdong, China going back to 1888. More than 20 years ago, the Hong Kong-based enterprise formed the LKK Health Products Group (LKKHPG) as it diversified to Traditional Chinese medicine health supplements, which are based on natural herbs.

“Our LKKHPG chairman Sammy Lee, a member of the fourth generation of the Lee Kum Kee family, is always thinking of the next unmet need. And then he hit on the idea of happiness, something that everyone goes after,” recalled Eric Ng, LKKHPG senior vice president.

This was the impetus that created the startup HeHa in 2014. HeHa is a self-described “tech company whose mission is to help others live happily”. Its core philosophy is to bring HeHa to people’s lives through mobile internet products and services.

According to Ng, who also heads this startup business, the "HeHa" brand name refers to true happiness that comes from within. “We have simple principles of what makes a person happy – health, family, work, friends and leisure. And then we added mindset into the mix. And then we realized there is likely another thing that is personal that will make you happy, which we call the ‘other’. We call this the ‘5+1+other’ framework.”

With its corporate mission to promote a happy and healthy lifestyle, one of HeHa’s core products is a walking app that helps build a community of people who help and encourage each other to rack up 10,000 steps a day. There is also the HeHa Dao app that monitors a person’s activity and sleep pattern. And there is the HeHa Qi Health Manager that collects electrocardiogram data. All these products are supported by wearable technology.

A sandbox for innovation

Besides its primary goal of coming out with products and services that help build a happy and healthy lifestyle, HeHa also serves as a sandbox where different innovation models are developed, tried and tested before they are taken for adoption by the whole LKKHPG.

“When I first joined the company, my responsibility was to do innovation – how to actually inject innovation into the group. One of our responsibilities was to test new models and new processes. And once it is proven, they can actually be referenced by the rest of the LKKHPG business units to do something similar,” Ng said.

But like many startups, HeHa is not the same company it was at its inception. It had to make major adjustments very early on in its journey.