In a series of blogs we’re speaking to Singapore’s leading VC funds to find out about their thoughts on the current state of the Southeast Asian startup and venture ecosystem and what they currently are looking for in companies.
Next in the blog series is Juliet Zhu from Jubilee Capital. Welcome to Juliet!
how is the Southeast Asian tech startup and VC ecosystem looking in 2017?
Southeast Asian tech startups have become more visible in the global arena following a few high profile investments last year and early this year. The presence of Grab, Lazada, Garena (now called SEA), sheds a positive light on the entire ecosystem and in attracting global investors. This increased attention internationally is good for both VCs and startups. I think it’s a period of rationalisation, and that has a lot to do with the ecosystem maturing. Whilst founders are getting smarter and the quality of startups is rising, the investment community is also learning collectively what works and what doesn’t. Fundamentally venture is about creating long term value, and we tend to look beyond cycles and try to understand the long-term business fundamentals of a company.
the funding boom appears to have slowed. What’s your view?
The global funding boom might have started slowing down from 2016 but if you look closer, the average ticket size is increasing. What this means is that investors are becoming more sophisticated and placing larger and fewer bets.
are you looking for global tech disruptors, or rather potential winners in Southeast Asia?
If it’s technology innovation, given the limited size of tech talent pool in the region, coupled by competition from tech giants like Google and Facebook on the recruitment front, it’s less likely that we can have a global tech disruptor born and raised here. However, for business model innovators, Southeast Asia has one of the largest population and GDP as a region and capturing that market is extremely valuable.
what are the strengths / weakness of the startups in the region?
We get deal flow from all over the world, including China, US, Israel, and of course Southeast Asia. It would be a generalisation but I would say startups in Southeast Asia appear to be relatively prudent and sensitive to the costs of business. On the other hand, maybe because the pressure to accelerate growth is subdued by the relatively cheaper cost, the hunger for growth is not always as visible.
have we moved on to new technology – A.I., machine learning, IoT, AR/VR and automation now? What kind of companies are catching your eye?
Anything that creates real value and impacts on existing business models will catch our eye. One note of caution to startups, and indeed VCs, is that we all need to be wary of fabricated needs. We see too many startups who hold a cutting-edge solution to a non-existent problem. That said, we are optimistic about the potential of A.I., IOT and automation in general when applied to an industry which needs further disruption. We are constantly on the lookout for these.
how does the VC industry in Singapore differ from other significant startup ecosystems? Is there competition amongst funds?
VCs here are from very diverse backgrounds. We have a balanced mix of professional, corporate and government funded VCs together with regional family wealth etc. The spirit in the ecosystem is more co-operative than competitive. Competition is inevitably slowly increasing but still not that visible.
what’s missing (or weak) in terms of infrastructure in the tech startup ecosystem?
In the case of Singapore, I would say not that much except for the ability to attract global tech talent.
top tip for founders pitching to you?
We rather see it as an ongoing conversation. We don’t write cheques after the first meeting and we carefully check out most claims made. So be as honest and direct as possible from the very first meeting. Be prepared to answer questions about the economics of your business, instead of deferring the question to your CFO. We also like to see founders prepared to answer questions about their competitors. Ultimately, can you demonstrate that you can stay focused and committed to your strategy despite all the distractions.
prediction for the Southeast Asia ecosystem for the next 5 years. Singapore to become a leading global tech hub?
Singapore will still be a major hub for capital in the region. However, the ability for Singapore to becoming a true global tech hub may be dependent on attracting talent which itself may need government intervention on immigration policy.
by sarah yen, 24 August 2017