Founded in Jan 2009, Hong Kong based online marketing firm iClick Interactive has grown into a company of over 170 people and US$60 million sales in just less than three years. Recently, it has raised a second round of funding, US$25 million, from Bertlesmann, Sunitomo, SSG Capital and OTTO.

“Our focus is on performance marketing, e.g., how to buy keywords from search engines to generate more sales leads, visitors, revenue, and so on. Once our clients find out they can achieve a high ROI (return on investment) from using our solution, their marketing budget is virtually unlimited. It essentially is factored into their cost of sales,” said Sammy Hsieh, CEO of iClick.

Many of the financial institutions in Hong Kong, such as Citibank, iShare, etc., are i-Click’s clients. In China, e-commerce players, such as Joyo, M18, Dangdang, Travelzen, etc., also use its solution. In the past two years, its revenue grew over 300% a year. This year, i-Click sales revenue will reach US$60 million and Sammy expected its revenue to double next year.

Interestingly, when Sammy left Yahoo in 2008, he did not start his own company immediately. Instead, he joined another U.S. company, Efficient Frontier, to head its Asia division. But financial crisis hit the global economy and the e-marketing firm closed its Asia operation 6 months later. Afterwards, he started his own company, iClick.

When he was at Yahoo, he headed its advertising division, Overture, in Asia. “The eight years in Yahoo helped me a lot. Many of the executives in online marketing industry came from Overture,” said Sammy. By reaching out to his old friends and former colleagues, Sammy quickly built up iClick to be one of the leading online marketing firms in Asia.

Apart from its Hong Kong headquarters, iClick has offices in Being, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Taiwan, Korea and Singapore. About half of its 170 staff is based in Hong Kong and half in China. Sammy hoped his team would grow to 300 by the end of next year.

In comparing startup environment in Hong Kong and China, Sammy clearly favours China. “People and funding are two of the most important factors for building a successful startup. Both are more abundance in China,” said Sammy.

Also, because of the success of early internet startups, such as Baidu and Tencent, other companies in China are more willing to do business with a startup. “In contrast, many companies in Hong Kong and Singapore only trust major brands.”

Moreover, employees in China are more willing to accept stock option as part of their remuneration. “Many IT professionals in China believe their companies will one day go public. They value the stock option concept, and work with passion towards one common goal that aligns with the company’s direction. This is not the case in Hong Kong,” said Sammy.

However, once a startup becomes more established, Hong Kong can provide more funding raising opportunities, said Sammy. Hong Kong, after all, is a financial center and has lots of financial services professionals.