Thoughts on SEA ecosystem and location

Lots of twitter activity over the this post :: http://www.nokpis.com/2014/08/28/hong-kong-versus-singapore/

As mentioned I wanted to follow it up with some thoughts on this post :: http://thenextweb.com/asia/2014/08/23/time-founders-southeast-asia-accepted-location-used-advantage/

Let me preface I did not attend GOAB nd I don’t know Mona. I used to follow her on twitter but she broke my follow rule of never replying to my replies. One of my twitter rules is if I reply a few times to folks – famous or not and they don’t ever reply back then I figure there is no point in following. The point of twitter is reasonable discourse – at least for me anyway.

Mona nails well the recent rise of the SEA ecosystem and how one can most likely build a startup anywhere. Totally agree! However I think there are still some issues.

I will add that this is a tough soapbox to get on for me these days cause I will admit I am NOT in the scene as much as I used to be but this is also one of my weird opinions on the local scene. People talking about the scene and eventing tend to get more attention than those just heads down actually building a startup. Maybe that is just my personal feeling but the local media tends to focus on funding, rumors and covering events talking about the scene more than going deep on what is getting built, by who and the obvious failures that can happen. If I had more time I would do a few things – start a podcast talking to folks building things about how they got here and why they are building what they are building. I would start a review service going deep on all the consumer facing products that are coming at us everyday – some good and of course some bad. An investigative service trying to uncover why local startups fail so we can all learn from it. Alas – I don’t have the time. I am too busy with Spuul and my family to take on any more tasks. I will keep up my mentoring and writing as I see fit. The podcast idea is still brewing cause I miss TWIA and figure there is still some local demand for a good audio feed.

That being said, unlike my time at Yahoo, I am not running around at events or attending many startup focused conferences. Which leads me to another need in the local ecosystem, there are not many events or communities to lean on for those in the local startup land that are a few years in and maturing. This will hopefully improve over time.

Back to some of my thoughts on the article…

– I think seed funding is getting pretty easy to get. However it might all depends on your definition of it. Let’s say less than 150k USD for starters as a rough estimate. I think anyone with some connections, a good idea and some perseverance can land some money in this range. But anything past this I think is hard – there are some trends that buck this. Do something in ecommerce or transportation and for some reason the money is just flowing. Try to do anything with a large risk portfolio, hardware or enterprise and I think the money is much harder to find. Jump in the 150k to 1 million range and unless you have rockstar metrics, a super connected angel or crazy PR – it gets quite hard to find. This is from my personal experience and what I hear from companies I either mentor or talk to a fair amount.

– Location is still tricky. We at Spuul experience this some. The local press tends to pass us up cause they don’t see us in Singapore much. The Indian press always wonders why we are not in India and the USA press tends to overlook global plays from Singapore in general. I think the funding conversations take a similar tact at times. I think for location to work well for you it might make sense to be sure that you can dominate in the market where you have your HQ. Then figure out your regional play and maybe the globe later. Saying you are here and working on the globe might not work for those that like a tangible way to grok things. Of course you may have built something killer or viral that just works for everyone. I am speaking in terms of products as well – not the notion of outsourcing or being a vendor.

– The silicon valley stigma. I look at this one from a different angle than others. I base this on doing some focus groups with yahoo and talking with anthropologists who also study tech. If you get in a room in let’s say in Indonesia. You have a set of normal people who use tech and the internet. You present them with a novel product idea, some screens and user stories. You ask some of these people would they use this if it it came from Indonesia. Or Singapore. Then ask some of them would they use it if it came from Silicon Valley. What happens is they almost always get more excited about the product from the valley. Always. I don’t think this will change anytime soon. It is no different than people loving a Hollywood movie. It is not about what is better but just the cultural aspects that appeal to folks. I think startups in the region have to contend with people on a very local level to win or doing something very unique. If you build something similar to something else that comes from the the valley I think it won’t be successful. Granted this does not pertain to closed or unfair markets like China or say Vietnam who don’t allow truly level playing fields.

The local scene is exploding – just figure out where to make your mark.

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