I Am Generation T: Tom Grundy
Tom Grundy moved to Hong Kong for the idyllic beaches and mountains trails; he stayed for the pressure-cooker politics and the chance to make a real difference.
Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP)—which he launched in 2014—is non-profit, run by journalists and backed by readers. Today, HKFP covers the slew of stories associated with Hong Kong’s integration into China and the political events that relate to that. And while the news cycle is relentless, Grundy found the time to sit down with us and explain how to survive bear-attack situations, and why having a bad memory sometimes serves him well.
Why do you do what you do?
Running a blog for some years, I’d check in on the Chinese press and saw there was a lot which never made it into English. It seemed even more defined during the Umbrella Movement, with English-speakers resorting to social media to understand what was truly going on day-to-day.
What’s a non-negotiable for you?
Weekends. And I try to ensure that for staff too. I'll work whatever hours necessary Monday to Friday to keep them sacred. It doesn't always work, but I think—for your sanity—it's good to compartmentalise, get out and go hiking once a week.
What’s the next disruptor in your industry going to be?
Big trouble is coming in the form of video fakery. It will become near-impossible to verify and differentiate CGI from reality and leaders will have plausible deniability for almost anything they've been filmed saying or doing. We've all seen the "deepfake" video of Obama speaking. It's going to be a huge headache, and we'll need new tools for verification.
Where do you want to be in 10 years?
I want HKFP to exist in 10 years. That must sound very unambitious and unsexy, but to be able to survive as a media outlet— with these political and commercial pressures—is a miracle in itself. There are no awards for making it to 10 or 20 years, but the aim is simply weather any storm.
The secret to success is…
Stay on the bus, as the Helsinki Bus Station Theory goes, and you'll find your originality. I was told we'd only last six months, and I thought of quitting dozens of times. We were often weeks away from disaster in the early days, but now we’ve built a year of runway, doubled our income, spending and salaries. I'm glad we persevered—mostly out of dogged stubbornness, to be honest.
What’s your ultimate professional ambition?
To have HKFP lead the news agenda more often. We focussed on original reporting in our second year, and—last year—invested more in scoops and exclusives. It worked: we broke the story of Hong Kong ousting a Financial Times journalist over a controversial press club event, it was world news and rocked the Carrie Lam administration. We’d like to do that more.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Stay humble: I know I’m a small cog in the machine at HKFP. I cannot speak Chinese, and barely have time to focus on journalism or absorb what’s happening politically. But we have a brilliant team who fill each other’s skill gaps and take initiative to help each other out.
And the worst..?
I was warned after our second crowdfunding round that we "can't keep going back to the well." Half a dozen trips later, it seems the well is doing just fine. Hongkongers will support us, when we ask, if we continue to do a good job.
Any productivity hacks you swear by?
Automation everywhere—it saves me hours. We use IFTTT and Zapier to automate tasks at work, and I use Google Assistant and Tasker on Android to automate tasks at home.
How do you deal with failure?
Something good, or some lesson, will come of every failure, so just reframe it in your head as a positive learning experience and try not to repeat it. I don’t know if keeping it “good vibes only” 24/7 is especially healthy in the long-term, but luckily I’ve got a terrible memory too.
Big trouble is coming in the form of video fakery. It will become near-impossible to verify and differentiate CGI from reality and leaders will have plausible deniability for almost anything they've been filmed saying or doing.
— Tom Grundy
What’s something interesting that most people don’t know about you?
I appeared on a bunch of TV quiz shows when I was younger, including The Weakest Link.
If I had an extra hour in my day I would…
Commit to yoga! Unfortunately, it’s too tough to know when my day will end in the week.
What’s the most counter-intuitive advice you’d give to young entrepreneurs or you have received yourself?
Make yourself appear bigger than you are—from day one. Many believe we're an office of a dozen people, when we're actually four people in the corner of a co-working space. Coincidentally, this is the same drill in bear attack situations.