Out in Front

Industry watch: Success comes slower than expected, growth faster

Colley Hwang, DIGITIMES, Taipei 0


DIGITIMES started under the critical moment of the Asian financial crisis in 1998, during which Taiwan survived with its abundant foreign exchange reserves and relatively conservative financial management mechanism.

The PC industry which was undergoing its growth stage at that time also played a pivotal role. During the inception, DIGITIMES focused on the industrial information related to the PC supply chain, and our entrepreneurial team believed that it might take as fast as two or three years for DIGITIMES to be ranked among the successful enterprises.

If entrepreneurial business is predictable and goes according to plans, the chance of success will not be as low as 10-20%, says Acer founder Stan Shih. We had more than 100 employees with monthly expenses no less than NT$15 million (US$0.52 million) during our inception. Without a solid customer base, it was usual for DIGITIMES to report a monthly loss of NT$10-12 million. We ushered in our first break-even month in the 20th month after inception with cumulative losses of nearly NT$200 million.

In the aftermath of break-even, our dreams of living a happy life were unraveled by the "dotcom bubble" a few months later. In 2000, Taiwan's last notebook production line was moved to China. Despite continuous losses, we decided to establish an online English edition of our publications for long-term development by leveraging our first-hand access to information of the Asian supply chain.

There was nothing wrong with the strategy, but every new investment starts from scratch. Initial losses from our investment in China and the English website were inevitable, coupled with the SARS pandemic in 2003 wreaking havoc on already depressed business. We had no choice but to cut expenses and stay low to struggle through the adverse external impacts.

DIGITIMES is a comprehensive professional information services company that integrates news, market research and consulting services. Owing to our simultaneous multiple initiatives, we were bearing huge operating pressure. But we did a few right things that laid our solid business foundation today. We value the digital footprint of our readers and our seminar audience, plus we have a solid loyal customer base and are willing to make long-term investments in the professional field. We firmly believe that the media business model in the Internet era is bound to change dramatically. The only way to achieve success is to satisfy demand of our target customers with profound service in a timely manner.

Since the inception, we have built a database with numeric data and nearly 100,000 words of news per day, accumulating more than five billion words of IT-related news. Over 300 research reports (in Chinese) per year in recent years have elevated the value of the database into an insightful source of information. Thanks to modern digital technology, we can provide information catering to the needs of the market according to the readership behaviors.

We have been fumbling for the right business model for 25 years. Not until the last two years had we eventually hit revenues and profits in line with our initial anticipations. I liken the tough process to airplanes that slide along the runway with static friction before taking off and flying high. I fully agree with Shih's statement that "success is slower than expected, growth is faster." But behind this lies the resilience and mental quality of adjusting business strategy in pace with the times.

Colley Hwang, president of DIGITIMES Asia, is a tech industry analyst with more than three decades of experience under his belt. He has written several books about the trends and developments of the tech industry, including Asian Edge: On the Frontline of the ICT World published in 2019, and Disconnected ICT Supply Chain: New Power Plays Unfolding published in 2020.