Clement Cheung: Ultimate challenge of juggling three companies

Clement Cheung co-founded travel agency Matata Limited, luggage brand Ventris and, most recently, Absolute Fitness gym in Central.

When did you move to Toronto?

I moved to Canada when I was nine years old. At that age, we didn’t really think about what to expect, so everything was new and fresh. I studied in Toronto, from primary school through university, and then I moved back to Hong Kong.

Why did you return to Hong Kong?

I had just graduated from university, so I was 22 years old. The main drive was my parents’ business. Back then it was more of a curiosity. I wanted to know what they were doing and understand what they did to raise me up, so that’s why I came back.

What was it like growing up in such a business- oriented family?
My first taste of business was when I was about seven years old. My sister and I made some fake money to buy each others’ toys and stationery. Later, we used our actual pocket money. My first real business, though, was when I opened a bubble tea house while studying at university.

Growing up in a business family can be difficult. There were times when business would come up at the dinner table, or we would bring up a family issue at the office. It can be quite confusing, and sometimes it all mixes together. I got used to that, though.

Why did you study architectural design, and do you still incorporate what you’ve learnt into your businesses?
I’ve always enjoyed arts as well as design. Design, to me,is creating things and going from nothing to something. Even though my companies are not related to the design or architecture industries, design has trained my creative mind, and I apply that to my different businesses.

My first real venture, Chillichilly, was a homeware brand. I designed household items that you use every day, but the difference was that they told a story. Aside from the aesthetic appearance of the product, most of the products created a conversation.

You also co-founded Matata Limited, a travel consultancy. What inspired you to enter the travel sector?
My friends and I love travelling, and every time we took a racing trip or ice drifting trip, or went to the Maldives, people would comment on our pictures on social media and say, ‘Your trip looks so fun. Can we join?’ That’s what inspired us to create our own tour company and arrange our own trips. Our idea was to make travelling more fun and cater it to groups of close friends.

Later, we changed course and started offering educational tours. I’m very fortunate because I was born in Hong Kong, I studied in North America and now I’m working in China. I think you have a more well-rounded view if you can see the best of different worlds.

I have two children, and I would love to give them the opportunity to go abroad. That’s why we designed a tour that gives children the opportunity to have fun while also learning lessons that they can take home from their trip.

Design, to me, is creating things and going from nothing to something”

You went on to head up Ventris Limited, a luggage brand. Why suitcases?
This is a little more in line with my design background. We offer high-end, full carbon luggage. I’m a co-founder, and my business partners do a lot of carbon work in factories. We love travelling and we love to have high- quality luggage to bring with us.

What role does travel play in your life?
I’m adventurous so I like to explore different places and different cultures. Africa, for instance, was quite different for me. We went to a game reserve that’s essentially a 35km by 45km piece of desert where thousands of wild animals live. We drove around searching for different animals, and that was very special because it’s not a zoo – we were visiting their home.

What are your hobbies?
I like racing. I used to race often with my friends, and we would go to Mongolia for snow drifting with a team. I used to draw for leisure. Singing is also a hobby, and I enjoy all kinds of sports.

What sets your gym, Absolute Fitness, apart from others in Hong Kong?
The fitness industry is well-established nowadays. A lot of people, including myself, are quite health- conscious. There are people who like yoga, people who like spinning classes and people who like HIIT or weightlifting. We don’t want to design a gym that accommodates everyone, though, because it would lose its focus.

Absolute Fitness is designed for people who enjoy circuit training and more functional training – not necessarily for those who want muscles like Superman or Captain America. It’s focused on getting your heart rate up, so we have a lot of cardio training, but we also have the traditional equipment you’d need to build up muscle mass.

It’s different from other gyms because we don’t encourage membership. We do mainly one-on-one training with a coach or training in small groups of two or three people. It’s quite a private gym. Some people like to go to a big gym to mingle and chat, but Absolute Fitness is more about improving yourself from the inside to the outside.

“I want to do something that creates wealth for society. That’s my real paycheck”

You’ve founded a lot of companies. How do you balance your time?
It’s always difficult in the beginning to set up a business, but luckily I have a good team and good partners who support me with their resources and time. For me, it’s a matter of balance and time management, which is something I’m still working to improve. It’s difficult, but so far it’s working out fine.

Do you plan to start another business any time soon?
I think I have enough on my plate. I’m not a greedy person, but I don’t see Absolute Fitness being my last business, either. Maybe it’s my habit of liking to create things. My entrepreneurial mind is always nagging me and saying, ‘What’s next?’ I just started Absolute Fitness, though, and I want to get it up and running before I do something else.

I would be regretful if I started a business and it failed because I didn’t spend enough time looking after it. A lot of businesspeople are big investors, but for me, aside from investing capital in a company, I also participate in them. People say to me, ‘That’s very tiring. Can’t you just put money into it and let it grow?’ But I enjoy every part and every moment of building a business. If it ends up being successful, it will be much more satisfying.

Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
There’s a saying that it’s more difficult to sustain a business than it is to start one, and I believe that’s true. First I would ask why they want to start a business. There can be plenty of reasons. Of course, we have to make a profit – that’s the number one rule of business – but when I start a company, that’s not my first and only question.

After Chillichilly was put on hold, I waited five years before I started another venture. I don’t want to start a business just for the sake of starting it. I want to do something that I have a passion for, that I enjoy doing and, most of all, that creates more than just money. I want to do something that creates wealth for society, whether it’s educating the next generation or giving people a place where they can enjoy working out. That’s my real paycheck.

Text: Emily Petsko