By Chris Kenji Beer
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Geeman Yip, founder and CEO of BitTitan, has been in the news quite a bit this past month. The company closed $15 million in venture capital funding from TVC Capital and Tao Capital Partners, and was recognized in Seattle Business Magazine as the best company in the region to work for.
The story of BitTitan is not about these accolades, or even the new funding. BitTitan was a success on its own. Reminiscent of the late Doug Walker co-founder of AttachmateWRQ, Yip founded BitTitan in his garage and bootstrapped the business with no initial outside capital.
The company has been profitable for the past five years, recording an impressive 50-100 percent growth rate year over year. Until June of this year, BitTitan grew to over 200 employees worldwide (soon to reach 300), based primarily on strategic hiring, said Yip. Only now is BitTitan accepting a series A (first round) of funding with a plan to expand sales for exponential growth.
As I listened to the story of Geeman Yip’s rise to success and his Cloud services company BitTitan, it was a sobering reminder of the cultural differences in doing business with the Chinese.
“Frugality is highly valued in Chinese culture,” according to Geeman Yip, and it runs deep in how the Chinese choose business relationships. For example, the Chinese Malaysian family of the Kuok Group, Kuok Koon Cheng who ran the South China Morning Post’s online division, SCMP.com (Hong Kong), and Chai Kuok who ran the Kuok Properties at the time, collectively invested $5 million in a Seattle area internet company, FreeInternet (Freei), in 2000.
A strategic partnership rather than a series C (third round) investment with the Kuok Group could have provided the value Yip described, a more effective ownership to the investing party, and giving these partners more leverage over strategic planning with their investment. In the end, the Kuok Group took a loss on their entire investment in Freei.
To understand how deep frugality, being debt free, and the importance of education runs in the Chinese psyche, Yip described his parents as first generation immigrants from China, who worked blue collar jobs where he grew up in Hawaii. Despite this challenge, his parents paid off their home loan in full, were debt free, and were able to save up and send Yip to a private all boys Catholic grade school and high school. This is an impressive feat for an auto body mechanic and seamstress.
Geeman’s parents immigrated to the United States seeking to reach the “Golden Mountains” of California, never quite making it to the mainland and settling in Hawaii.
In high school, Yip excelled in the classroom, but also by default volunteered as the school’s “IT department” (the school had no IT department at the time). He fixed computers for his teachers, the administration staff, the students, and even the principal. His principal remembered Yip for that and when he went off to college, the principal gave Yip what he estimates to have been a $4,000 laptop. For fun, Yip also built his own PCs.
He also taught himself how to program, the early iterations of C++, a standard language used today.
Before leaving for college, Yip received a local community service award, and a college scholarship from the local Lion’s Club, as well as his high school’s Marianist scholarship.
When it was time to head to college, Yip chose the University of California at Irvine, largely because he could make the finances work — half paid by scholarships and the rest paid by student loans.
In addition to achieving a 3.9 GPA, Yip went straight to work doing what he loved First, he automated UC Irvine‘s VPN (virtual private network) and posted the script onto the school’s bulletin board. From the board post, he was offered a job working for the school’s IT department, the first paying job of his career. This opened doors to better paying jobs in the private sector during his college years. Largely because he worked full-time holding various tech jobs while in college, Yip had an advantage over other students. No one else on campus had as extensive work experience as Yip. This led Microsoft Exchange to offer Yip a job in 1997, a year before he graduated. Yip spent nine years at Microsoft before starting BitTitan.
While working at Microsoft, Geeman recognized that most businesses didn’t have IT departments. He saw that the newly emerging Cloud could serve that niche of providing IT services to these businesses. It is cost effective and easy to use.
The Cloud has been around a long time, some claim since the 1960s when computer scientist John McArthur proposed that computing be delivered as a public utility. However, “the growth of cloud computing to the masses had been limited, even into the 1990s due to limited bandwidth,” said Yip. Fast forward to 1999 when Salesforce.com pioneered business applications on the web.
This was followed by Amazon web services in 2006, and the infamous and overly used term of the decade “Software as a Service” (SaaS). Here is where cloud computing really took off, as Amazon empowered developers to run their applications on Amazon servers. Google and Microsoft quickly followed suit.
A key bottleneck that Yip recognized early on was the need to migrate customer data to these applications on the Cloud. BitTitan was born out of this need, and became “the first purely Cloud-based data migration solution.”
BitTitan became a simple, one-click solution, managing the entire life cycle for application service providers, including what he calls the “onboarding phase” of getting these applications up and running.
Yip prides his team in their “continuous follow up monitoring and active engagement with the customers.” BitTitan provides this service with no need for software certifications, added Yip, a commonly known headache for IT departments.
Hawaiian natural confidence
I’ve known many Seattleites who grew up in Hawaii and I’ve noticed that they are not weighted down by years of minority status like their Asian peers on the mainland. Hawaiian Asians exude a natural confidence. However, among the younger generations here, more and more young mainland Asian Americans are cultivating this brave and assertive confidence held by Hawaiian Asians of Yip’s generation, thanks to more high profile success stories in their communities, and the support of local grass roots programs.
For example, Yip has been mentoring University of Washington students on an ad hoc basis since he arrived in the Seattle area. One can only imagine their potential as this generation comes of age. He is also a “Mentor-in-Residence” for a global business school named INSEAD of France, with Asian offices in Singapore. Yip was recruited to be an INSEAD mentor in Singapore, where BitTitan has its largest subsidiary outside of Kirkland.
This brazen confidence gave Yip the foundation to “expand to do something you have never done before,” a necessity for entrepreneurial success, asserts Yip.
“My parents think I made a big mistake leaving the (six-figure income) security of Microsoft.” Yip agrees that as an Asian, it is particularly ingrained in him to not let down his parents. Yip advises other aspiring entrepreneurs to “be prepared to do what it takes to succeed. That means, don’t go out and party [on the weekends], even give up your hobbies. If you have to stay up all night to get the job done, do it. You have to be all in.”
And Yip believes you can do all this and have fun doing it.
Geeman Yip will be an honoree at the Northwest Asian Weekly’s Technology and Innovation Awards. The event is Oct. 7 at China Harbor Restaurant from 6–9 p.m. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Online tickets at http://visionary.bpt.me.
Chris can be reached at email@example.com.