With success in a string of industries, Danny Yeung has now set his sights on just one. We talk to the CEO and co-founder of Prenetics about his entrepreneurial journey and how he plans to disrupt the healthcare industry.
Firstly, I would like to congratulate you on Prenetics’ recent listing on NASDAQ – what an amazing achievement! Many now know you as the CEO and co-founder of Prenetics, but your entrepreneurship started at an early age. Did you always know you would become an entrepreneur?
I have wanted to be an entrepreneur since a very young age. I grew up in the US in an average family, without any notable background or network, yet I always knew that if I was to be a business owner, I would be able to create my own identity. That was when I was around 11 or 12 years old. I started working at the age of 12 at a baseball card shop, every day after school behind the counter, talking to customers. I got paid in baseball cards. That’s why I believe that to do something well, you must love what you do. Even if I didn’t get paid, I was doing something I loved.
I was a bad kid then; I was kicked out of school three times due to fighting! I got myself into lots of trouble hanging out with the wrong people. One thing that kept me in line was work. I was always very good at work. I was able to pick things up very fast. My first part-time paid job was as a telemarketer at 15. I would call people at night and within 6 months, I was promoted to manager. I was making very good money. By then I’d already dropped out of school. I was probably not made for school, so I focused on work.
You have been credited for leading large businesses, such as dessert chain Hui Lau Shan and Groupon, to great successes internationally. Can you tell us about that and what then drove you to venture into healthcare?
By the age of 25, I’d saved up enough money and I wanted to run my own business. My first venture was franchising Hui Lau Shan in the US. I basically cold-called the owner in Hong Kong, and he asked me for a business plan. I didn’t know how to do a business plan, I had to Google it! To my surprise I got the approval and got the franchise. Therefore, if you don’t ask, you will never get an answer. If you ask and can justify what you want, it becomes easier for the partner to say yes or no. I learnt a lot through this first business despite it being very difficult work. You have to sacrifice a lot: personal time, family and friends. I did that for about four years, before having the opportunity to move into a hotel furniture business, again with no background or experience. I used Alibaba to source furniture from China into the US. I’m very proud to have been able to make each business better than it was.
In 2010, I saw an opportunity in the US with Groupon. I love their business model but couldn’t compete with them in the US. So, I decided to move to Hong Kong and launched [deal platform] uBuyiBuy.com. I’d never lived in Hong Kong. I was just very curious and naïve and believed that if I put a lot of heart into it, I could learn anything and do well. We set up the business within three months – Google was my best friend. I put my whole life savings into it and in six months Groupon went international, acquired 51 percent of the business, and I became the Groupon CEO for the Asia region. We were able to grow Groupon into the largest e-commerce business in East Asia.
I fully exited it in 2014 and that’s when I started Prenetics. Given my entrepreneurial experience, I realised I wanted to do something impactful. It was also around the time of the birth of my daughter; with that, health was becoming more of a priority for me. Healthcare is very broad, but DNA testing is something very new. Many in Asia had not yet heard about it. I then read a lot of research papers and talked to a lot of scientists, doctors and so on. This was how Prenetics was born – the name is a portmanteau of the words ‘prevention’ and ‘genetic’.
Who and what motivated you to build your own business? Can you name three entrepreneurs who have inspired you the most on your journey and why?
There are a lot of great entrepreneurs who are more successful than me. Number one is Jack Ma. He doesn’t come from privilege, had very little opportunity to succeed, but his story is fascinating. A Chinese-English teacher who couldn’t get a job anywhere, even at fast-food restaurants, created Alibaba! That’s very inspirational. Elon Musk is another one. He built PayPal and other companies at his early age and continued beyond. Jack Dorsey has also started multiple successful companies. For myself, without my previous businesses, there was no way I’d be able to start Prenetics. While each of the industries had been very different, there are similarities on starting a business. You have to build a great team, you have to fundraise, you need supply and demand. Those things become easier and Prenetics is all about learning the industry. In 2014, at the back of my mind, I knew I could do an IPO. I even told some of my early employees that one day we would list on the NASDAQ. It is a dream come true, but my dream is always evolving.
You mentioned previously that having the right team that shares the same mission is essential. What kind of leader would you describe yourself to be?
I lead by example. That’s very important and I’m willing to get my hands dirty. For example, during the first wave of Covid in July 2020, Prenetics was the first private laboratory to be appointed by the Hong Kong government for mass community testing for restaurants. We had to test 16,000 restaurants with 300,000 people. We had to go door to door to restaurants to pass out testing kits. On the first weekend, I went to Wong Tai Sin with my team. At the time, that posed a very high risk, there was no vaccination, and we still didn’t know what Covid was. But I had to do it myself otherwise I couldn’t tell my team to do it. I also believe I’m very fair and transparent. If I see something that’s not good, I tell my team and at the same time I’ll complement them when they are doing well.
Is nurturing the next generation of entrepreneurs something that’s important to you?
I’ve invested in other start-ups both in Hong Kong and other parts of the world. A lot of times, investors invest in projects, but they will not get involved in operation. For me, I will give strategic advice and I also share a lot of operational experience beyond the capital. A lot of entrepreneurs in Hong Kong might think that Prenetics’ IPO is very inspirational. It gives them something they want to achieve. A lot of times we just need hope. The IPO is important not just for Prenetics but for the whole start-up ecosystem of entrepreneurship. You want to be inspired.
Can you tell us about your partnership with Adrian Cheng’s The Artisan Acquisition Corp? How did the conversation start and what drew you to it?
Adrian is definitely a very important part of the journey to the IPO stage. I first met Adrian through a mutual friend; we connected casually. He wanted to learn more about what we do and through that relationship, when he did his specs of my company, it was just a great fit. Adrian is also very passionate about health and entrepreneurship and providing value to the community. He was quite instrumental throughout the process, and supported us to the IPO.
As the saying goes, “Opportunities are for those who are prepared.” Was the pandemic one such opportunity for you? How prepared were you and your team?
No one was prepared for the pandemic, but we had the strong fundamentals in terms of already having a strong team on laboratory testing, and we had a shared vision and mission. Even when that opportunity came, if I were the only one who wanted to do it, it wouldn’t work. We needed everyone on board. We were very ready to act very fast and to scale it very fast. There were a lot of sacrifices; it was 24/7 work for a few years. Now we do all the testing at Hong Kong International Airport, the quarantine hotels and some of the most high-profile projects that involve Covid.
How do you envision Prenetics in five years’ time? Will you be taking the company to newer heights, or do you see yourself expanding your entrepreneurial adventure into a new industry?
I think Prenetics is going to be an incredibly different company than it is today. The key is that we have to be willing to transform and disrupt ourselves, to be able to stay relevant and competitive in today’s market environment. Our mission and vision are “to build the world’s first end-to-end health ecosystem.” We want to have lots of testing and services, from tele-medicine, DNA testing, at-home blood testing, cancer screening, clinic and e-pharmacy and so on. You can see a doctor online, get tested at home, send them back to our lab, and get results, or if you need to see a physical doctor, we will have the clinics work for you and medicine delivered. No one has been able to do that because it’s all very fragmented and incredibly difficult to do. So ultimately we want to have health services and testing revolve around the individual.
Prenetics will be my last company. I’ve told Adrian the same thing. [laughs] I think I’ve worked hard enough and smart enough, where I don’t think I need to start from scratch again.
Do you see yourself as an inspiration to others? What would be your number one piece of advice for people who want to follow in your footsteps?
I hope I can be an inspiration to others. It’s about having someone to look up to and push you to do more. In terms of advice, I think it’s very important to always stay focused. If you choose to go into entrepreneurship, you have to do that full time. You have to make sure there is no option B, no backup. Entrepreneurship is going to be your life, and everything else is going to be integrated. It’s work-life integration, rather than work-life balance. Entrepreneurship is a 24/7 world, that’s the key. You must also have passion for what you do, humility, and make sure you remain very grounded no matter where you are at in terms of the company’s stage. That keeps you hungry.
What is your life goal?
My life goal is to create impact and value in a positive way.
In our previous cover story with singer Kay Tse, I asked what she would change about her past if given the superpower. She said she wouldn’t change anything and would like to reserve that superpower for someone else. Now I’m passing this superpower to you: What would you change about your past if you could, and why?
I wouldn’t change anything. There are many mistakes I’ve made in the past, whether work-wise or personal. At the end of the day, they’re what make us who we are. Even when I was a teenager, I was getting into fights every day, like a gangster. I always needed to find ways to survive, otherwise I’d get beat up. That paved the way for my entrepreneurial career. As an entrepreneur there is no playbook, a lot of times you just have to figure things out. I’ve always been able to think very fast on my feet because I have been chased by 20 big guys at one time [laughs]. A lot of times your youth does shape who you are in life.
PHOTOGRAPHY: RICKY LO
VIDEOGRAPHY: JARVIS WAN & JASON TO @BLACK CAT IMAGE
ART DIRECTION & STYLING: VIVIEN WONG
HAIR: SINCERE FUNG
MAKE-UP: WILL WONG
Originally published in ECHELON Issue 8