The Single Founder Dilemma

iStock_000018238421SmallHere’s the question which I am being asked by many people who want to apply to accelerators or planning to start up new businesses. “Should I be the sole founder or find a co-founder?” The answer is not so straightforward. Most accelerators often preached the need to have co-founders and tend to drop applications by single founders. There is justification in why they chose to do so. After all, 9 in 10 startups fail, and, following on with you get 84% with multiple founders vs 16% with single founders in the successful startups. Does that mean that you should not attempt to be a single founder? In this essay, I take a contrarian view that you can be the single founder if and only if you satisfy a set of conditions. [Read more...]

On Hiring & My Moneyball method for Startups & Corporates Part 1

mentorThe biggest problem for any startups and corporations hiring in Southeast Asia is hiring. One major issue which every founder or industry leader faced is the lack of information on candidates. One can blame it on culture that Asians are not vocal in calling out incompetent people. The only people who I have seen vocal about calling out this lack of information are not from Asia: Steven Goh (CEO, mig33) and Thomas Clayton (CEO, Bubble Motion). So, what I want do in the few posts on this topic is to encourage local entrepreneurs to share information about hires and be much more vocal about incompetent hires, particularly, those with pretty CVs crossing several household names but are truly useless in my view. As I am currently looking on the remaining 19 items on my list of 20 things I want to contribute to the startup ecosystem after striking one off the list, I decide to take a bold step to share something probably in a few parts that I have worked on about hiring. I will share my methods and look forward to trustworthy people who I can share this with. It is something that I have thought about after the demise of Chalkboard, and have spent my time in the last two years refining the idea about hiring. It relates to the Moneyball approach espoused by Michael Lewis in his book.
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Advice to Startups Targeting Small & Medium Enterprises in Southeast Asia

map_southeast_asiaThere is a danger for any startup to find product and market fit at the early stages of inception. Most startup founders often reached for the market that is easily accessible to them given the lack of networks and industry experience. One segment which I often see startups stumble is in what we call and small and medium enterprises, which represents almost 95-99% of the economy which they are operating in. For Southeast Asia, it is not simple to touch this segment because the market means different things to different countries. I have worked on this segment for a few years and deliberated on the best approach to build reach and distribution whether I am in a startup or corporate setting. The problems are similar as much as the misconceptions. In this essay, I address how one should approach these issues, and hopefully guide entrepreneurs through my own learnings as well as failings. My key advice to everyone targeting this segment particularly in Southeast Asia: A lot of startups claim to focus on small & medium enterprises in their respective markets. My advice is to focus on “M” & not “S” In that market segment. [Read more...]

On Mentoring in Startups & Corporates

mentorOver the course of the past few years, I have been mentoring within the ecosystem, focus my efforts mainly through INSEAD Business School and JFDI.Asia. Sometimes, I might end up giving some advice to entrepreneurs who I might be interested to invest in their companies. For a while, I want to convey my thoughts on mentoring and how that has evolved over the years. A recent feedback session I have with JFDI.Asia prompted me to pen my thoughts on mentoring. [Read more...]

Are Southeast Asia technology companies under-valued?

map_southeast_asia Let’s start with the question, “Are Southeast Asia technology companies under-valued? Different people will have different perspectives depending whether you sit in Singapore or in Jakarta or Bangkok. Recently, Terence from Tech In Asia published an interesting post on the investment activity around Southeast Asia. Two important observations came out from the article: (a) the investment in e-commerce, fashion and online retail constituted where most of the money were channeled to and (b) the amount of investment that Rocket Internet amassed against local investors is 5 to 1. Taking this further with the data from Techlist Asia, we can draw some interesting insights about the value of Southeast Asia technology companies. One interesting insight is that the asymmetry of information about the Southeast Asia leads to different perceived values of startup companies in the market.
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Why I chose a corporate career after a failed startup

success-failureRecently some entrepreneurs came to me with the following dilemma: their startups are not going anywhere and they are considering shutdown. Some of them started as entrepreneurs for all their lives, have families in the process and have never considered the possibility of going corporate. Hence they thought about making a career switch. The follow up question from them was, “Why did you choose a corporate career and was it tough for you to manage the transition?” After explaining my rationale to them on various occasions, I thought that it might be good to share my perspectives on why I have decided to do that before starting up another company within the next 5-10 years unless something cropped up.
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My Advice for Finding Technology Co-Founders

iStock_000007206299XSmallIt’s a common phenomenon in startups that the hustler or what I called the business guy, typically goes out to search for the technology co-founder. In meeting entrepreneurs via my network fund, they often asked me one common question after the initial pitching of the idea, “I am looking for a technology co-founder who can get this done. Can you help me with this?” Of course, 99% of these startup co-founders whether they are rookies or MBA students have no clue to who they really want to hire. Hence, this article is addressed to people who might want my advice on seeking out technology co-founders.
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The Signal & the Noise

Signal & NoiseIn the customer discovery phase of a startup, the startup team typically encounter a phenomenon called the signal and the noise. The signal answers the question whether your startup is genuinely gaining traction and generating viral user growth. The noise shrouds your vision with all the drums banging about the promise of your startup. Both signal and noise constituted both marketing and public relations (PR) portion of a startup. How do you build a proper marketing and PR plan while relentlessly focused on delivering the minimum viable product? I shared some insights on working with users, media engagement and crisis management with the JFDI 2013b class. [Read more...]

Debunking the myth about “Singapore is a small market” & What Works here

Marina_Bay_Financial_Centre_at_Customs_House,_Fullerton_Bay_Hotel_SingaporrThe theme of this article is to debunk the myth that “Singapore is a small market”. This article originated from the many discussions I have with fellow Singaporeans both here and overseas. Some are entrepreneurs who are currently working and building their companies locally while others are now pursuing their dreams in the US or China. In most of our discussions, one insight that seemed to pop out often is that Singapore is not really a “small market” and you can scale the company up to a certain point where it becomes attractive to go regional and then global. The key message is that if you want to succeed in Singapore, you have to re-imagine and enable a traditional industry with new technology which makes it more efficient, productive & drives revenue. [Read more...]

Decisions: Fast and Slow

Cylindrical_aquarium_housing_schools_of_fishes._at_S.E.A._AquariumMaking decisions on issues are parts and parcels of an entrepreneur’s life. Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow” describe the two systems where there is a part where we make quick and slow decisions based on the complexity of the issues at hand. It’s not difficult to decide simple issues, for example, buying of equipment and software for the team, but not easy when you are faced with making strategic decisions. No one is perfect and even I have made mistakes in making decisions. In the past year, I have been reading and thinking deeper about decision making process for strategic issues. The issue is that when we reflect the mistakes we made in our decision making, hindsight is 20-20.
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A different perspective to Southeast Asia’s startup ecosystem

In this article, I provide a different perspective to an article from Jon Russell (The Next Web) about the four major issues that deals with the strengths and weaknesses challenging the Southeast Asia’s technology startup ecosystem. The article is originally published in SGEio.
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