Hong Kong’s first unicorn Tink Labs set to shut down this week: Report

Terence Kwok. Photographer: Mark Tsang/Bloomberg

Tink Labs, Hong Kong’s first billion-dollar startup founded by a 25-year-old entrepreneur, is set to shut down after quietly laying off nearly all its employees, according to a Financial Times report.

Founded in 2012 and led by Chief Executive Officer Terence Kwok, Tink Labs attracted investors, including SoftBank Corp and Foxconn, to become the city’s first unicorns because of its business model – provide free-to-use smartphones in hotel rooms around the world.

The company’s phones can be used by hotel operators to promote their services, either in the room or when taken out by lodgers as a free-to-use city guide and mobile device.

On its launch, the company aimed to be available in 1 million rooms by 2018. That target, however, seemed too hard to achieve based on the latest developments at Tink Labs.

According to several current and former employees interviewed by the Financial Times, Tink Labs announced internally that it will close on Thursday after a massive retrenchment in recent weeks.

DealStreetAsia checked on the startup’s website but is forwarded to another company, Hi Inc, which operates the brands Hi Hotels and Hi Destinations. On its LinkedIn page, Hi Inc said it is a rebrand of Tink Labs.

Tink Labs was valued at as much as $1.5 billion to become one of Hong Kong’s best-funded startups.

Its investors include Foxconn subsidiary FIH Mobile; Cai Wensheng, chairman of popular Chinese selfie app Meitu; and Sinovation Ventures, an investment fund headed by former Google China chief Kaifu Lee. SoftBank’s mobile unit invested via a joint venture with Tink in Japan.

Tink Labs has not issued a statement about its impending closure.

Recently, Singapore-based grocery and food delivery startup Honest Bee was reported to have laid off about 10 per cent of its global workforce after suspending operations in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, and the Philippines.

Honestbee, however, rejected reports of payroll delays, adding that it is committed to fulfilling its financial obligations to its employees, partners, and vendors in a timely manner.