3 Focal Points when Fund Raising


Points to note when you are fund raising:

1. Do your homework - Your job is to get your fund raising materials (deck, financials) to a level that is ready to be communicated and consumed. It will constantly be updated as you move along in your business as well as while you are pitching. Research your target investors really well to better optimise conversion rates (which stage and average check size, geography (your beach head market vs your eventual markets), sectors, do they lead or follow, post investment engagement with the company etc.).

2. Have a different mindset from selling - Your job is to get your "nos" as quickly as you can as you go down the list of investors to reach out to as opposed to trying to convince an investor and wrestle them down to a "yes". Investors know what they like to invest in, that is their day job. From your own research and interviews with founders who received investments from investors, you are only maybe 70% of the way there as far as you how much you know an investor and what do they like to invest in "at this time", it will never be apparent. 

3. Start with 3 warm up pitches followed by 7 ones - Use the first 3 pitches to hone your real-time pitch down, have a cofounder be in the room as well to jot down frequently asked questions and watch for any visual cues that signals that your pitch is weak or strong. If you get 10 straight rejections, stop fund raising and regroup with your team, advisers/investors and find out what is wrong. Sometimes its you, the targeted investors, or its because the investment environment has changed. Find out the cause and tweak (A/B test it) your approach again. Sometimes you need to hit a different set of investors to talk to, and most times it is not your pitch style or flow. And of course, there are times when the reason is you. But trust me, there are enough investors out there now to invest in all types of founders, so just keep going.


Reflecting on Singapore Startup Ecosystem in 2014 - Happy National Day!

After digesting (partly) the ICM Masterplan  and various ideas suggested for the Startup Ecosystem, these are my thoughts below. I will try to keep this brief. If you have questions about any of it, please email me (it's been a long week). This post will be updated along the way (beta).

As of August 9, 2014, this is my assessment of the Singapore Startup Ecosystem (as per Founder Institute (1 to 5), there is no "3" rating) ;).

Founder Training - 2 
Founder Culture - 2 
Labour Training - 2
Labour Culture - 2
Mentor Quality (SEA) - 4
Mentor Quality (US) - 2
Infrastructure - 4
Regulation/Policies - 4
Market Size (Platform/Distribution) - 2
Monetization (Payments) - 4
Capital - 2
Exit (IPO) - 1
Exit (M&A) - 2
Media - 2

What are the 3 major issues/discussion points facing startups in the Singapore Startup Ecosystem?

1. Culture
Culture takes time to change. Make tech sexy again for students through education and media outreach. Need a coherent long term effort by all stakeholders in the ecosystem. 

2. Market Expansion
Choosing the right markets to expand to with expertise to navigate Southeast Asia and the USA like we do Orchard Road.

3. Government's continuing role
Government efforts need to stay its course (it is a marathon not a sprint) - be humble/flexible and listen, move out of the way if need be. 

What do I propose?

The establishment of one unified entity (with full autonomy - private sector led, public sector supported) to direct all innovation driven enterprise (IDE) efforts, funding and activities.
  • With the one unified entity (privately led with government support), government resources will be allocated as quickly and efficiently as possible. 
  • Collapse all IDE grants, initiatives, funding, subsidies under one roof. Rewire all government grants and funding systems.
  • A central resource for programs, education, travel subsidies for founders and mentors to and from target markets.

Why?

Great intention and a large budget. Too many cooks (spread too thin).

It is not working as best as we want it too. It can be improved. We can achieve (sorry if it is a bit cheesy).

Happy National Day!


- The End -

p.s. love to hear your thoughts, there are ways to fix the 1 & 2 ratings, if you want to know more or how email me.

Kickstarting Emerging Markets Startup Ecosystem Part 1 - Bandung/Jogja

It was my first time in Bandung and Yogyakarta (Jogja) Indonesia recently speaking and visiting startups, incubators and co-working spaces. I caught up with several Founder Institute Singapore graduates in Jogja (above) and dived deeper into the startup community and where their state of affairs are. Here are some findings and feedback on what I discovered.

Ecosystem report card (1-5, no 3): Jogja/Bandung

Founder Pool - 2 (getting better)
Labour Pool - 4 (strong in tech)
Training - 4 (strong technical training)
Culture - 2 (risk adverse, little coopetition)
Infrastructure - 2 (slow broadband speed infrastructure, low operational cost)
Regulation/Policies - 2 (some friction incorporating new companies)
Market Size - 4 (large domestic market)
Capital - 1 (early stages of risk capital coming on board)
Media - 1 (little to no media coverage celebrating startup heroes)  

Positives:
- 1 mobile operator backed accelerator program (Telcom). They run it both in Bandung and Jogja. Definitely a great initiative but not enough from what I hear, as they have certain criteria (telco related) before accepting applicants.
- A large density of Universities and Sekolah Teknik graduates who are technically trained. Strong technical talent pool which is well known for the last few decades.
- Low cost of living compared to other larger cities in Indonesia with much better traffic. Quality of life is better according to many.
- The community is hungry for knowledge, expertise and are gradually looking to be in business for themselves. Looking at product not services companies.

Negatives:
- Little to no risk capital.
- Little to no mentors. Jakarta mentors do come through, but not often enough.
- Crowd are shy and not open to critiques and discussion. Rarely share what they do or what they are thinking.
- Not bold enough to think they can do well outside Indonesia. Even in Indonesia, they don’t think of using Jakarta as a launching pad.
- Ideas are not refined, too insular, but I found a few great teams with great ambitions who hold back because of the realities of life and the ecosystem. No funding, hence need to go slow or bootstrap by doing client work.

Actionable Plan:
- Organize meet ups to discuss ideas (e.g. read Techcrunch, Hackernews, AngelList, producthunt.co) to exercise their thought process on how company/product visions are set.
- Bring more mentors to energize thinking/ideation process. In person or via online. e.g. an Ideation Weekend. Put the community online or on Qiscus/Slack for discussion and feedback.
- Startup a Jogja tech blog to keep track of activities. E.g. Jogjastartup.com
- Set up a Founders Guild to meet, discuss, and keep track of everyone’s progress. Include mentors and investors via an online platform (e.g. Qiscus/Slack). Founders sharing with founders.
- Setup a co-working spaces similar to Hubba in Thailand or Hideout in KL, only for technology startups and developers/designers work/contract for product startups.

I love emerging startup ecosystems, lots of potential especially Jogja and Bandung. Will be visiting more often and striking matches to ignite some crazy teams.

How do someone get into the venture capital industry in Singapore?

I get this question quite a lot in the last 3-6 months from students and professionals from the industry. To not repeat myself over and over, I thought I will just blog about it.

Venture capital is broadly categorized under Private Equity as a financial asset class. "Venture capital" here will be referred to early stage - seed, and Series A investments. Growth and late stage venture capital is quite different in many sense (which I will not go into in this post).

If you like to work for a venture capital firm that invests in early stage technology startup companies in Singapore as an analyst, associate, principal or junior/venture partner level. The points below will give you an edge above everyone else who are smart, hungry and full of initiative, willing to be coached etc. After all, it is an apprenticeship business. Everyone starts somewhere.

First, you have to love the world of start ups. It has to ooze out of conversations with you, your resume and the way you talk (live and breathe it). What are some of the tell tale signs that you are crazy about entrepreneurship and starting up?

  1. You have participated in business plan competitions or entrepreneurial clubs and associations.
  2. You have started a company or worked in a startup (family businesses do not count).
  3. You have dabbled with a side project or two while you are holding down a day job.
  4. You have taken a class to teach yourself a functional skill in technology - coding, design, UX, online marketing etc.
  5. You have invested in a startup and are able to articulate why you have invested.
  6. You have helped, advised founders of a startup.
  7. You have organized or ran community events and activities for startups.

Second, you have to have founders' empathy. How do you acquire this particular empathy?

  1. You have started a company or worked in a startup and worked under the founding team.
  2. You have invested in at least a startup and are active either on the board of directors or speak to the founders 1-2 times a month. And have done this more than 5 years.

Third, you have a skill that is relatable to founders of startups.

  1. You can code, design, growth hack, online/mobile market.
  2. You are helpful with smart introductions. With potential hires, partners and customers.
  3. You have a specific engineering background. e.g. machine learning, artificial intelligence.
  4. You have a specific industry background. e.g. advertising networks, gaming studio.

At the end of the day, irregardless of what your position is in the venture firm. You need to command respect from the best founders out there. This is more important than just money. As you grow with experience, it will help propel you to the next level.

Lastly, be yourself, hustle your way there and know deep down what is your motivation to join our profession.

Good luck.



Humbled by Honest and Courageous Founders

Last week, we had our first event of the year for Founder Institute Singapore 2014, entitled "Making the Leap from Employee to Entrepreneur". It was the first time for the past 4 years with this particular event content. I invited 3 of my recent FI graduates to talk about their founding journey.

What transpired during the 2 hour session totally overwhelmed me and brought me  to tears more than once (especially Rishi's talk). 

I hereby salute all founders who have made the decision to make the leap. You will always have my respect.

Our next 2 events before starting the semester can be found at www.fi.co/join

Founder Institute Singapore - Rewired Summer 2014 (Launched!)

Founder Institute Singapore Summer 2014 is Launched and Taking Applications! Go to www.fi.co/join (select Singapore)

The next Founder Institute Singapore semester - will be tentatively called "Founder Institute Singapore Rewired 2014". I have been directing Founder Institute Semesters in Singapore for the past 4 years and mentored and helped start several chapters in Southeast Asia. Our cohort of alumni is the best group of people I have gotten to know ever. No assholes so far (which is what I am proud of), all real mofos who would not take no for an answer as they navigate the startup maze. I hereby salute you all.

I have invested in quite a few of you, exited one, mentored and advised a bunch. The feedback from the market on Founder Institute graduates are impeccable but we are not going to get big headed. Founder Institute founders possesses the founder DNA when you first enter the program, the rest is the idea, the tools, the push and the tenacity to get things done. I know roughly what will succeed now after all these years. So lets get down and do this shit.

There will be 2 main changes coming up (which are in the works but will be implemented in a form that I see fit once the semester starts, this is my FTM - fuck this moment):

1. We will focus a lot more on the first 5 weeks of ideation than ever before. In addition to the mentors' rating and special assignment grading of the founders at the 2 mentor review sessions. I will also give my input from the start and actively kick people out no matter what the mentor rating is. 

The criteria is simple: focus on the mission and ideology of your company and clearly articulate the problem statement against your own personal founding story.

If the general direction is game changing, and may move me to think of quitting my job (hypothetically) to join you. You will be safe and will remain in the program.

This semester will be epic! Hang on, embrace yourself.


Close Encounter of the Hard Science Startup Kind

For the past 2 months, I mentored a group of over 40 scientists and entrepreneurs in the water technology industry (wth? you may ask) and put them through an entrepreneurial fast track program (condensed version of the Founder Institute program) with the purpose of potentially spinning out high growth water startup companies. The results were rather amazing. Not in terms of which teams were selected to pitch at Hydro Pitch Day on June 2nd, 2014 as part of the Singapore International Water Week, but in terms of how they have grown and how they have bonded and helped each other out in a short but definitely interesting 8 weeks.

I took up the challenge because it is precisely what I am uncomfortable with; dealing with PhDs and patents. Only in uncomfortable situations where you learn the most and ask the most interesting hard questions. Hard science and entrepreneurship, marrying them together is a pretty challenging task no matter who you are. Research institutes around the world are battling the "Return of Investment" question surrounding R&D budgets allocated over and over again, universities tries very hard to emulate MIT and Stanford and work on spinning out companies as part of their technology transfer KPIs. Singapore is no stranger to this.

Here are my summary of findings and take aways after working with the teams for 2 months. I hope my "outsider" perspective can shed some light.

Finding 1 - Technology chasing a market. Academic researchers tend to surround themselves with seemingly "great" intellectual property looking for a market to sell to or apply. A primary reason is because they do not have a well rounded complementary team who are able to hustle and research their way through the maze of customer development and very few are from industry. Most technology transfer offices are also weak at that because of the wide range of technologies they have to deal with, it is hard to be strong in a vertical when you are spread too thin.

Finding 2 - Seemingly "great" technology in the eyes of the inventor are technologies that are not validated yet by anyone that matter. Very few have begun trials with a prospective customer. They seldom have the time or know how to step back and reconsider whether what they have invented is indeed revolutionary or simply just incremental. The technology's strength and differentiation compared with other university technologies, startups who have been funded or in stealth mode or large company research labs has never been truly tested or benchmarked against. 

Finding 3 - Most teams are weak in understanding who their actual customer and the form of their product. Without this clear understanding, it is difficult for many of them to clearly articulate the true market size and opportunity. However, it is due to the early stages of commercialization that they are in this predicament, this is also the precise stage to have people from various disciplines to be involved and infiltrate new ideas and ideas combinations to spark innovative "What if" questions.

Finding 4. Without special interventions from mentors, investors and "an ecosystem", hard science spin outs will take time and will continue to face challenges.

So what can we do to change this situation in addition to running entrepreneurial programs like the Lean Launch Pad, here are my preliminary thoughts (perpetually in beta) ;)

1. Research institutes and universities should carefully curate a panel of advisors that consists of;

a. World class (no geographical restrictions) hard science venture investors who invests in seed stage (writes the first check) who has seen, invested and worked with various technologies and scientists/entrepreneurs at a global level over a few cycles and/or decades;

b. Operational executives from potential customer segments who has experience procuring technologies and finally; 

c. Founders operating in the same vertical who are not jaded (and hence become naturally pessimistic) by the industry, or the entrepreneurial process. Find recent entrepreneurs who are excited and upbeat about what they are doing to change the world.

Have them meet twice a year to look through potential research and patents. Each technology vertical should form one panel.

2. Research institutes and universities need to foster a culture of clashes of students, faculty from different disciplines, and the entrepreneurial community. 

a. Run meet ups (in the central part of town please) where entrepreneurs and scientists gather, but not pitching the final business case rather to explain what the core technology does. Seasoned entrepreneurs who dare to ask the right "What if" questions will challenge all forms of thinking and seed new ideas. Let the question-storming start and foster among the community and do not constrain the process. Have someone facilitate the process who really knows how to foster creative questioning.

Finally, it has been a pleasure working with all of you at the Hydropreneur Program. I gained many new friends but importantly a new found respect for all of you. Your work, passion, expertise and sheer genius sometimes blows my mind. I enjoyed our crazy discussions and banter over the weeks. There are a bunch of you I would love to work with in the future and perhaps fund your new ventures if the investment criteria fits my fund. Till then, stay crazy, optimistic and keep asking crazy "Why & What if" questions.

Catch you all soon and keep in touch.

p.s. Good luck to the 6 finalists at Hydro Pitch Day! I will be cheering for you, and this time with no expletives. I hope.