Prenetics Is Set To Become Hong Kong’s First Listed Unicorn. This Is Founder Danny Yeung’s Secret To Success

By Marc Lourdes

Building a unicorn in Hong Kong isn’t easy. Growing it in the midst of a global pandemic must be nigh on impossible. But that’s exactly what Danny Yeung has done with Prenetics, the Hong Kong healthtech company that’s become a global powerhouse in genomic and diagnostic testing

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Healthtech company Prenetics has entered into a merger agreement with Adrian Cheng’s Artisan Acquisition Corp, and will become the first Hong Kong unicorn to be publicly traded.

The merger transaction is expected to close as early as the fourth quarter, and the combined entity will be traded on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol PRE. The deal marks a stunning rise for the seven-year-old firm, which just last year was valued at ‘only’ US$300 million, but which now has an enterprise value of US$1.25 billion and an equity value of US$1.7 billion.

But, how did founder and Gen.T honouree Danny Yeung reach such dizzying heights? Well, if you ask him, he would tell you it isn’t exactly rocket science. And the secret sauce to his success boils down to three ingredients: passion, creativity and humility.

“You have to be passionate about what you do. You can't hide passion. And then it becomes infectious to other people. People want to follow passion and be around people that are passionate,” says Yeung, speaking to Tatler in an exclusive interview.

Yeung, who started working at the age of 12, says he’s always “loved coming to work”. But passion alone isn’t enough. The former Groupon CEO says an entrepreneur has to be creative and resourceful, especially when a company is still small.

“Nobody gives you a playbook for what to do in every scenario. So you have to be creative about things.”

So far, so good. But why humility, then? Isn’t a certain moxie, a swagger, or perhaps even a sense of braggadocio, important in the cut and thrust world of big business?

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Well, in Yeung’s case, humility is in his DNA. The son of an immigrant family that moved from Guangdong, China to the US when he was five, Yeung didn’t grow up wealthy. Even when he started his first business, a San Francisco franchise of Hong Kong’s famous Hui Lau Shan dessert shops, the then-25-year-old Yeung could be found in the kitchen, making desserts.

“I had to make sure I knew the business and needed to learn to make everything in case my chef quit,” he explains, adding he still remains a very “operational CEO”.

This “very average” background, he says, is the reason why he values being humble.

"I appreciate everything I have today; I certainly appreciate everybody’s time. And certainly, I’m always hungry to continue to create milestones for the company."

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Tatler Asia
Above  The Prenetics office

Hunger For Success

While Yeung and Prenetics have certainly hit a significant milestone this week, it seems like more are beckoning in the not-too-distant future, which is also one of the main reasons why Prenetics’ is valued at over a billion dollars.

The testing firm initially shot to prominence on the back of its swift pivot to providing affordable and reliable Covid-19 testing kits. Prenetics successfully conducted over 3 million tests in Hong Kong and more than 2 million in the UK, including for London’s Heathrow and the Hong Kong International airports and, perhaps most impressively, for over 3,000 players and staff involved in the English Premier League.

Yeung is already reimagining testing for a variety of ailments and diseases. Prenetics, which started out with the CircleDNA health test prior to its Covid kits, recently launched the Circle HealthPod in Hong Kong, which by next year will be able to detect influenza and sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV. Also in the pipeline are products which will allow for non-invasive colon cancer tests as well as at-home blood testing.

This steady pipeline of hotly anticipated products is expected to be a gamechanger for Prenetics. Already the number-one genomics and diagnostics testing company in Hong Kong and the United Kingdom, with revenues growing 215 percent year-on-year, from US$65 million in 2020 to US$205 million in 2021, the company is expected to hit revenues of more than US$600 million by 2025.

What makes all this remarkable though, is that Yeung doesn’t have a science or medical background at all. The inspiration to move into the healthtech sector came to Yeung in 2014, shortly after his daughter was born.

“I saw that there weren’t many companies in this space. If I wanted the easy path, I could have easily done e-commerce and made a lot more money at the time,” says Yeung, adding that he had to read a lot of scientific papers and journals after starting Prenetics.

“People ask me today, are you a doctor or a scientist? But not having a healthcare background has allowed me to think outside the box in terms of how to translate very scientific or medical products to everyday people, which is the biggest challenge in science,” he says.

But it’s not just about reading scientific journals. Yeung has clearly not forgotten the lessons learned in the kitchen of his dessert shop, and even now doesn’t shy away from diving headfirst into the grittier aspects of Prenetics’ work. When Prenetics was doing Covid tests in Hong Kong, Yeung personally went to some of the worst-hit parts of Hong Kong to help conduct tests. Why? Because, he says, he wasn’t going to ask anybody in his team to do something he wouldn’t do himself.

“You have to be willing to sacrifice yourself. My philosophy in business is give first and take later. If you do well, there’s certainly a significant upside opportunity.”

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Above  Danny Yeung and Adrian Cheng

Selling The Idea

But, it’s all well and good to talk about studying and sacrifice. One of the key things that often make or break an aspiring entrepreneur is the ability to sell the idea to potential backers. In Yeung’s case, he managed to not just sell the idea, but sell it to heavy hitters such as Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Hong Kong multi-billionaire Adrian Cheng. So, how did Yeung do it?

“These guys have very limited time. So, every time you meet with them, you have to make it powerful and impactful. Make sure you're prepared. Do your homework and understand what they’re looking for.

“And, what is your USP? You ultimately have to have a good product, right? And going back to the first point – they want to see your passion, your creativity and to see you being humble. That's key,” he says.

Humility though, shouldn’t be mistaken for a lack of self-belief. Even as far back as Prenetics’ founding in 2014, Yeung was telling his team the company would become Hong Kong’s first unicorn. They laughed.

Those who remained with Prenetics will be laughing even louder now that their company is valued in the nine figures. But what does Prenetics’ success mean for the rest of Hong Kong, and what does it say about the people and talent in the city?

“It's a big milestone for Hong Kong entrepreneurs. And certainly, I would imagine that this should inspire other entrepreneurs to set up shop in Hong Kong, and to inspire existing Hong Kong entrepreneurs to think beyond just Hong Kong,” says Yeung, whose company now employs over 700 people in Hong Kong and the UK.

“It's our mission and goal to be a US$10 billion company. And that has nothing to do with financial returns. It’s just to do something, continually set the bar higher, and create impact. The merger [with Artisan] is actually a great milestone for everyone. And our growing business will allow us to give back to the community and make a big impact,” Yeung adds.

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That’s great for the long term, but in the here and now, does Yeung have any plans to celebrate what’s probably the most momentous week of his career?

“I’m going to continue working! There's so, so much to do still!” he laughs.

While that may sound like a sacrifice to some, it’s pretty much par for the course for Yeung, for whom work means happiness.

“I don't believe in work-life balance. I've not seen an entrepreneur that has built a successful large business without dedicating his whole life to it and making sacrifices. I've never seen it. It's probably a myth," says Yeung, who insists he's a believer in work-life integration.

“I work incredibly hard and I don't take holidays. Everyone's different and this works for me because I love what I do. I love creating stuff. I love building teams, I love creating value for my employees. I love seeing them grow. And I love partnering with amazing people like [Artisan’s] Adrian [Cheng].”

So, what comes after this for the workaholic serial entrepreneur? Well, with the tremendous potential and many opportunities of the healthcare sector, Yeung certainly sees Prenetics as the last company he will ever build.

“When I no longer can make a big impact, when I'm no longer passionate about what I do, then of course, I’ll step down. I would never not do anything, but I won’t be in the operational world. I might take on a different type of role… advising, investing, incubating. Certainly I can then not think about this 24/7.”

In other words, don’t expect to see him sitting on the beach and drinking a pina colada – even when he’s done.

See more honourees on the Gen.T List.

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