Attended the Asia Leaders Summit over the recent weekend.
Fantastic job by Honma-san (General Partner, Incubate Fund), Jeffrey Paine and Vinnie Lauria (Founding Partners, Golden Gate Ventures) in organising the conference! A shout out to you guys, thank you for all the hard work! I really learnt a lot and it was excellent networking with fellow experienced entrepreneurs there – everyone had so much to share and I could really feel the spirit of collaboration strongly
The report on the summit has been well documented on e27, so I need not add anymore to the overview
However, I do have one key point to make based on what I saw transpired at the conference
Compared to many of the participants at the summit, I am a lot more bullish on Southeast Asia both as a base and as a market. Could be because I am born and bred in SEA, and I see the dramatic leaps we have made in the region over the last 5 years where digital is concerned. Some key reasons why:
1. Singapore is truly an excellent base for digital start-ups who are focused on Asia, and even the world – mainly due to the low corporate tax rates, zero capital gains tax regime, solid IP protection and rapidly growing digital ecosystem (founder mentors, Founder Institute, e27, TechInAsia and TechVenture networking conferences, and other technology media sites such as DigitalNewsAsia). I have documented clearly in my earlier post on how the digital ecosystem has changed so much since I started HungryGoWhere in 2006/2007
2. The numerous seed funding grants in Singapore also help to provide start-ups with a healthy starting base. Darius is right on the lack of Series A funding (“valley of death”), but I believe that will rectify soon as more and more start-ups scale up aggressively in the coming months/years. We have the VCs here, global investors are monitoring Singapore closely – the Series A/B/C/D deals will surely come as the numbers roll in.
3. I am actually not so worried about the so-called lack of entrepreneurial talent and experience in SEA. There are tons of them I see around me. All they lack is an experienced mentor and/or experienced team mates. In short, a world-class team. In this regard, it is all about bringing teams together (from within Singapore, SEA or from around the world) and nurturing them. And do not forget – these days, distributed teams have shown that they can work very effectively together. So we are not constrained by physical boundaries – I already see several start-ups in the making with global potential that are distributed, and coming up with solid products, ready to go to market
4. Finally I would not underestimate the size/potential of the SEA market. I completely understand the arguments on how heterogeneous SEA is, the lack of infrastructure (both physical and payments) etc – I have heard this again and again many times. However, one thing I have always learnt from history on innovation/new markets is that when it moves, it really moves! In the twinkling of an eye. And my bet is that we are at a tipping point anytime over the next 5 years where digital is concerned. In fact, the lack of a common market or infrastructure is precisely what will spur even more digital solutions such as coda payments. Where there is great difficulty, there will be great innovations…..and they are already coming 🙂 As more and more digital start-ups enter the field, you can bet that the traditional arguments against SEA as a market are going to start fading away. The question is: Who will position early in this market, take a bit more risk and start building a (potentially) dominant position for the future?