When Long Zheng moved from Tianjin, China to Australia at age 7, he came here not knowing how to speak English. In the years since moving, he has not only learned the language but has become an international success story in his own right.
Zheng began his career in technology as a blogger, writing about Microsoft products and tech gadgets in his blog, istartedsomething.com. The blog was a hit; at its peak it reached more than 500,000 hits a month. He started his blog in 2006.
In 2008, Zheng and a team of fellow students won first prize in the Microsoft Imagine Cup, an international competition aimed at bringing out the best technological innovations from young minds around the world. Zheng was studying at Monash University at the time.
From there, he began to branch out into other entrepreneurial ventures which eventually earned him a Victorian Young Achiever Award in 2015.
Now at age 27, Zheng is the co-founder and Head of Product at Omny Studio, an on-demand audio management solution for radio broadcasters and podcasters whose clients consist of leading content producers such as Triple M, ESPN, Mamamia and Hamish & Andy.
We caught up with the young businessman to talk about life in Australia, his love of tech and how students and young entrepreneurs can get into the start-up game.
When you came to Australia at age 7, you didn’t know how to speak English. How did you go through it?
Fortunately, the local primary school I attended in Springvale had a special language school program for new immigrant kids where the focus was English reading, speaking and writing. Many of my friends there were also inexperienced with English so it felt very comfortable.
After a year at the language school I was placed in a normal school and classes. Since I needed to use English everyday, it was a good [environment] for me to vastly improve my English skills.
What motivated you to start your own business rather than work for a company like Microsoft?
I’ve always liked the idea of being self-employed and owning and running my own business.
I enjoy the flexibility to focus and do the things I am passionate about. It allows me to be a bit flexible with my work schedules — I prefer to wake up later and stay up later. I can either work alone or work in a small team and I am not encumbered by office politics or corporate rules. It is also a difficult challenge that I can conquer and is a very rewarding experience when I achieve any success.
My parents ran many small businesses during our life in Australia as well so I understand it is not impossible.
One day I also wish to experience working at a large company like Microsoft because it provides a lot of different experiences and opportunities not possible in my own business.
Which skills and abilities did you feel help lead to large companies wanting to hire you? And what are the most important skills you feel young people should be equipped with?
I think one of the main reasons I am successful at the different projects I do is because I am passionate about what I do.
My passions are technology and design, so many of the projects I work on are a mix of technology and design.
Because I am passionate, I am able to work harder, be more focused, continuously refine and improve my skills and gain a lot of experience in the field to become an expert. As a result, the things I make are the state of the art, more refined and high quality.
Besides being passionate about your work, I think other important abilities for young people include the ability to continuously self-learn and self-improve since there’s always room for improvement and communicating effectively with people since you need to interact with all sorts of people to help you succeed.
Your current business is a cross between media and IT. What were the difficulties you faced when beginning this business venture?
Media and IT is an exciting combination. Over the past few years, the consumption of media content has increased exponentially due to a wide range of devices such as the smartphone, tablets and smart TVs.
I listen to a lot of podcasts and music in my own life so I had an idea to develop a mobile app that could deliver me a personalised radio station that combined all the different audio content I listened to in a simple and seamless stream. The business has since switched focus on a different product.
The difficulties I faced when starting the business is that to build the perfect solution, we needed to work with a lot of radio stations and podcasters to build a library of audio content that could integrate with our system. This meant we had to build business relationships with lots of larger companies who has never heard of us or have much incentive to work with us and put in effort for little or no short term reward.
You have already been here for many years, do you feel a sense of belonging to this country?
I love living and working in Australia, especially Melbourne.
I’ve travelled to many countries over the past few years due to my work, most often in the U.S. Whilst I can see a lot of work opportunities and benefits of living in the U.S, I think Australia has the best work and life that I enjoy and it is still possible to compete on an international scale from Australia.
I’m also grateful for the education and opportunities Australia has provided me so I can follow my passion.
What advice would you give to encourage international students in this competitive world?
I think it’s important for international students to take advantage of the opportunities of living and studying in Australia such as learning English and skills, living in a multicultural society, working at leading companies and organisations, and enjoying the nature and serenity.
It is easy for international students to stay in a bubble with other international students and pretend as they [are] living in their home country, which a waste of time and money for themselves.
This story was produced by Media and Communication students at Trinity College Foundation Studies as part of Meld’s community newsroom collaboration. Education institutions, student clubs/societies and community groups interested in being involved can get in touch with us via firstname.lastname@example.org.