FlyingV Founder Light Lin
Building Dreams with Crowdfunding
Known for co-founding the popular social networking site Wretch.cc, Lin "Light" Hung-chuan now helps others realize ventures whose time has come. He may look like a rebel but is actually as accommodating as anybody.
Building Dreams with CrowdfundingBy Jimmy Hsiung
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 554 )
During Taiwan's Sunflower student movement in March and April this year, Lin "Light" Hung-chuan, the co-founder of crowdfunding site FlyingV, helped the protesting students raise NT$6.33 million in just three hours – enough money to post an advertisement in the New York Times. That feat turned Lin, who usually goes by his nickname "Light," into the talk of the town.
In May, the students launched another fundraising drive under the motto "appendectomy," which called for the recall of lawmakers of the ruling Kuomintang. Since the campaign was politically sensitive, the fundraising drive was carried out through the VDemocracy platform, a separate crowdfunding site launched by FlyingV for social movements. This time, more than 11,000 people responded, contributing almost NT$12 million in just three days.
Lin does not consider himself to be a social activist, and he had deliberately tried to keep FlyingV's role in the campaign under the radar. Due to his central role in Taiwan's fledgling crowdsourcing scene, however, the impression that FlyingV was involved could hardly be avoided.
That may have cost him government backing. After the "appendectomy" campaign created a major buzz for two weeks, the GreTai Securities Market (GTSM), the operator of Taiwan's emerging and over-the-counter stock markets, prematurely terminated a contract with Flying V on cooperation on the Gretai market's Gofunding Zone.
Gofunding Zone was originally conceived as a fundraising platform for new ventures. As the startups grew bigger, they could successively list in different equity markets, starting with the Go Incubation Board for Startup and Acceleration Firms (GISA) and then moving up to the emerging market, the OTC market and the Taiwan stock exchange. Gofunding Zone would have closed the initial gap in the funding chain for capital-hungry new companies.
At a specially called press conference, GTSM Chairman Wu Sou-shan asserted that the public had begun to confuse FlyingV's creative projects with social activist movements and said FlyingV had proposed to terminate the contract on its own initiative since "mutual cooperation had run counter to the initial purpose."
Judging from this incident alone, many would probably think that "Light" is fervent, passionate social activist who did not mind losing a good opportunity to work with the government because he wanted to uphold his ideals.
However, that's only half of the story.
Lin, who has sported a bald head since his junior high school days, looks like a rebellious tough guy and is nothing if not passionate.
Yet, his passion goes only as far as nurturing FlyingV into a top-notch crowdfunding platform so that more people can realize their dream ventures. He remarks that rocking the system is definitely not his style.
"To be honest, I think if you truly want to achieve something, you need to learn to compromise," notes Lin. Many years of experience founding and running companies have turned the 34-year-old into a very pragmatic person.
For that reason, Lin immediately registered when Premier Jiang Yi-huah announced plans to found a youth advisory group. Lin believes that seizing the opportunity for changing the system from within is better than not doing anything at all. Lin made his first big money when he sold social networking site Wretch, which he had founded together with National Chiao Tung University fellow student Chih-yu "Wretch" Chien, to Yahoo! in 2007. Well before his 30th birthday, the internet age had made him a hero.
Two years ago, he went on to found FlyingV. To date, the crowdfunding site has helped more than 220 projects meet their funding needs.
"Before I turned 30, I was telling my own story. Now, I am telling other peoples' stories and helping others take the first step toward realizing their dreams," Lin says.
Lin, who invariably speaks in a casual manner with a hint of swagger, is in fact a broad thinker who is good at looking at things from many different perspectives. Joking that he has had a knack with his elders, Lin has never lacked the help of influential people during his entrepreneurial career. Stock market star investor Chia Wen-chung provided startup capital for Wretch, and a number of illustrious NCTU alumni such as John Hsuan, honorary chairman of United Microelectronics Corp., and Richtek Technology Chairman Tai Chung-ho are now lending him their support.
When the deal with GTSM fell through, he did not force a confrontation but even said he could understand that GTSM was under pressure. Lin reveals that he even went to see Chairman Wu twice during that tumultuous period and had tea with him to cheer him up.
An Internet entrepreneur observes that GTSM originally worried that Lin would take advantage of the public sentiment created by the student movement to escalate the dispute. However, Lin decided to swallow the setback quietly. "He only looks tough, but you could say he is tactful and sophisticated; you could also say he acts with a lot of foresight."
Lin's friend Jamy Lin, general manager of Sunfun Info Co. Ltd., which operates dating website iPartment, notes that the crowdfunding business is exposed to financial laws and regulations. He thinks that Lin demonstrated a lot of courage by daring to enter such a challenging sector but now needs to handle his relationship with the government with caution.
Regardless of the challenges, at a time when Taiwan urgently needs young people with the courage to dream big, at least Lin is still guarding this hard-won dream-carrying platform.
Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz