Category Archives: Philippines

Go-Jek buys fintech startup for $72M ahead of Philippines expansion | TechCrunch

Hard to not see this as a good sign for the exit market in SEA region – it’s a local buyer but still awesome.

Still wonder when America wakes up to see they missed the boat in SEA region.

Go-Jek buys fintech startup for $72M ahead of Philippines expansion | TechCrunch
— Read on

More struggle, less hustle

I have been on a digital detox and in a 5 day yoga program. Been killing me but I have slowly seen some progress over 5 days which is pretty amazing for me. I think it is the concentration of daily sessions plus workshops to dissect one pose and with a pro showing you how to fix it. Hopefully I can take some of this back with me and keep it going.

One thing thing dawned on me though, normally I will watch people in a class and marvel at their pose and feel a tad bit deflated over the looks of my poses. Reminding me I am new to this, 16 months in to my yoga, and that I have so far to go. However, once we had the workshops that focused on fixing people’s poses I was amazed that many of the people who look like they are doing the pose right are not actually struggling. For those not into yoga, the idea is that each pose should push your own body and should hurt just a little. Not in a painful I am breaking something kind of way but in a simple personal struggle sort of way.

If you are not feeling it just a little, you probably are not doing it right.

Once the master had fixed everyone’s poses you could see that many of the people looked much different and were groaning a lot more. He corrected the pose so that everyone was back to their own personal struggle. I actually realised that my poses look not so great but that I am feeling it and slowly I am getting the pose right. It’s all about being in the pose and struggling – something no one may see but you certainly will feel.

I like to think that the startup world needs to do this a little more. I see the hustle all the time, the press releases, the vanity metrics, the blog posts and the showing up to speak at every event. Not saying this is not useful stuff or part of the journey but at the same time the startup needs to correct their poses and focus inward a bit more. Most of the important stuff the folks around you can’t see. There is also no point in promoting it.

It’s the struggle to fix the funnel, find ways to increase productivity, figure out how to get your employees to communicate better, better the right metrics and fine tune product/market fit. These things are not easy but as you look back over the years you will feel the incremental improvements and realize these are the things that need the most attention.

One more session before heading home…

Finally met up with Josh

I didn’t get to attend the TIA conference but was able to catch up with lots of folks who were in town and went to a nice event by Sequoia.

Say what you will about our current times but Singapore is absolutely hopping right now and is the center of the startup universe for SEA region and India. Love it. So fortunate to be here at this time.

I have many Twitter friends that I sometimes get to meet and Josh would be one of those. We finally got to hang out and chat a bit.

As a writer, he of course decided to spring this on the Internet after we chatted.

Good stuff. As I always tell people – OTT in emerging markets is really just kicking off and has a long ways to go. I wouldn’t profess to know where it all might land, but it’s a crazy hot space regardless.

One comment – that last little quote by iFlix – we all know 1 million is just registered users. Paying subs will be some marginal single digit percentage point of that total number. As I always say – release real stats or none at all.

Good chatting with you Josh – I guess we will keep up the Twitter DM dialogue going till we meet again.

Thoughts on OTT

Update to the post::

I said as much in my list below – get ready for the VPN to stop working when it comes to gaming Netflix content libraries.

First, let me start off with a shameless plug for a podcast I was a guest of:

Now that we got that out of the way we can continue on. Also – my shameless plus is so we make this AA’s #1 podcast to ensure I get invited back. 😉

Let me disclose that I work at and used to work at . I do have some sense of this world I am talking about. I don’t have a crystal ball and I also think that in the emerging markets it will take years to declare a winner. Years I say!

That being said I think it is important to note some things for the pedestrians:

    – In many markets, say Taxis or car booking services, I can agree with the winner take all or winner take most, especially in the USA or China. FYI Om covered this topic well here :: However in large regional area or emerging markets I am not sure if it is true and it also has to be that pricing almost equalizes. In the case of this specific subject if we are talking about Netflix dominating in India I struggle to see how a company that charges 3x its emerging markets brethren can own the market. Maybe it will own the high end but how would it own the market that does not pay that much for entertainment?

    – Let no one kid you. None of these players are currently fighting over a paid customer base – we are all fighting to convert a pirate over to a paying subscriber. That will take years and there are plenty of pirates to share at this moment.

    – Local content is a big deal and no one player owns it all nor can sell it all to one OTT player. Also many of the local content players are building or have built their own OTT services.

    – There can never be just one service for all. Take me for example. I share my mom’s Netflix account but I buy my own HBO account. I value HBO way more than Netflix and nothing they did last week changed that equation for me.

    – Payment models in the emerging markets are hard. For Netflix it very well could be that the only customer they care about has a credit card. That still lives 100’s of millions of customers for companies like HOOQ who think there are others way to take money from users.

    – Not only are payment models hard but so are subscription types. Is a monthly recurring subscription going to work in the emerging markets? For some folks it might. For others maybe weekly subscriptions is better? Maybe a subscription tied to a data balance makes more sense. No one knows yet.

    – Content rights are super hard. I love seeing all the people baffled as to why they log into Netflix Singapore and it doesn’t look like the USA catalog. Netflix didn’t buy all the rights for Singapore because they know it is a small market. It may not be worth it and chances are some of it is not available. Also, Netflix being a capitalist, sold some of their shows to services in Singapore already so they can’t just take it back. Over time as they grow they will fix this but again Netflix could never own everything you want to see.

    – As OTT takes off some of the big players will try to work around Netflix and other services to go direct. One good read on this ::

    – The all powerful VPN. Currently lots of folks are signing up for Netflix Singapore and then using a VPN or anonymous IP to get the USA catalog. All good but keep in mind they way content rights work. They are bought and sold for a region – they are not tied to what credit card you use. Lots of folks talk about Apple TV or iTunes as the model where I can use my use a credit card to buy a show. And I can watch it in Singapore but note I am paying US prices so the content guys don’t care. Apple is not a subscription service and notice it they planned on doing this with TV and backed down. Netflix is getting away with murder right now. Pay Singapore prices but watch a USA catalog. At some point the content owners may ask Netflix to enforce geo specific rule or to simply not support VPN usage. Most content owners ask companies like HOOQ to try to block VPN’s or similar tools. As global content streaming takes off, I expect this to be an ongoing discussion.

    – To summarize I would like to say this is going to take time to all play out. As I like to remind my team regularly – it’s a marathon – not a sprint.

I’ll add to this is if I think I missed something.

VOD – here come Asia!

We all know VOD is big. Just check Netflix for reference. I pretty much never watch actual TV or cable – except for the news.

Normally I am watching HOOQ, HBO Now, or Netflix. Plus a lot of iTunes video.

Given all that it is no wonder that global VOD growth is gonna keep growing.

What is exciting is the Asia numbers:

The VOD market in Asia Pacific Excluding Japan (APEJ) is expanding at a robust pace and by 2020, the market is expected to reach $80.5 billion.

How do you like them apples?

Good times.

Apple to offer carrier billing?

So now I get it. Must say that the tech in Asia headline is quite misleading.

This article explains it better ::

Th carrier is creating a virtual credit card via the user’s phone account. So apple sees a credit card still but user doesn’t have one.

Brilliant idea. More carriers should do this.

That being said – apple needs to step up their game. Biggest win for android is being able to modify the payment model.

My old post ::

This is the biggest news in tech if so!

Lost the plot, off the rails – extraction needed!

From time to time I write about something other than tech because for a period in my life, possibly a very early mid life crisis, I decided to abandon tech to just exist. I had no real plan but to travel some, hang out and learn a language. I sold my house, moved from Hong Kong and ended up in the pub business in Bangkok. I have regrets and will always question my choices but I also have some solid real life experiences that I always call upon and a very healthy appreciation for the tech life, friends and of course family. I know I am spoiled.

That being said, standing on the other side of the bar in places like Bangkok would afford me a view of humanity that not a lot of people talk about openly. We would see it a mile away – some normal dude living the high life in Asia seemingly unaware that they were getting sucked in too deep. The alcohol, the drugs, the corruption, and yes the girls.

These people would miss work, miss meetings and some would even start a double life without their families knowing about it. I know of very successful people who have two families and have even imported their second family to their home country. Just nutty stuff. Situations that before my time in Asia I didn’t even know existed. I was too naive to be honest.

Sometimes the right people in that someone’s life, who had gone off the rails, would step in forcibly try to extract their friend or family from the lifestyle in hopes of getting them back home.

I would hear stories like this all over Asia – believe me it wasn’t just Bangkok. Many times it was in places where someone was making a lot of money and just didn’t realize what was happening to them. Funny enough I recall that more than a few of these folks were in finance and some were also in tech. Usually males of course.

Given the circumstances an extraction was needed and many times it worked but other times the lost soul didn’t want saving. They continued on with their new life.

Other times you would hear of a suicide or someone getting killed. Or even just dying from something strange.

I won’t wager an opinion on any of this except to say that this story coming out about Rurik Jutting sounds very believable. An extraction was needed – too bad there was no one around him to pull it off.

Koprol – The Inside Story. Part 3

Part 2 ::

Open Hack Day is probably the event that lead me to looking more seriously around the region for interesting companies – having never really spent time looking for companies to acquire I can’t say there is some rulebook or process to follow. I am sure others have some but in this case I was simply looking at the list from the IGTF team and thinking about areas of growth for Yahoo. With that in mind it was just a matter of getting out there and looking. People might laugh when they read this since they might be expecting some great process or process driven method but I was just planning on keeping my eyes and ears open since I was not expecting to ever do an acquisition in SEA. I won’t get into the specifics but Yahoo had tried to acquire in the region before but it didn’t work out for various reasons. So the expectation was that finding the right company and the right deal was probably never going to happen anyway. I was just excited to even be thinking about trying to do it.

On a side note – lots of companies in some parts of the region tend to have funky company setups or have not always been a legit company which can make an acquisition by a public American company almost impossible.

Yahoo Open Hack Day,, is a long standing tradition in the company but something I never followed until joining Yahoo. I was sent to Open Hack Day New York within my first few weeks of starting work with Yahoo. It was awesome to be on the road again, in New York and seeing lots of old friends. The idea was to study the event some to see how we could pull one off in SEA since I think at that time only India and Taiwan had hosted one. So at some point during 2009 it was decided that Indonesia would be the place for Open Hack Day Southeast Asia and that we would need to host it in Jakarta.

Wheels were now in motion.

One of my ideas for Open Hack Day was to showcase a few local products/companies who would have integrated with some of Yahoo’s Open APIs but the problem was most of these API’s were not that useful in markets like Indonesia. I won’t waste your time by digging into the Yahoo APIs or the pitch we had for developers since it wasn’t that great but we did have a lot users and most of our users would sign into Yahoo to use Yahoo services. So offering developers a chance to use Yahoo’s login credentials and get some press from Yahoo was not a bad thing for a startup.

So in prep for Open Hack Day I ran (mostly by plane) around the region trying to drum up interest in the event, helped to run a contest (managed by e27) to bring a developer from each country in the region to the event and evangelized startups to try and build something cool on Yahoo that I would highlight at the event. The idea was to find a cool startup (or 2 if possible), most likely in Indonesia so they didn’t have to travel, and use that company to show off the Yahoo APIs. I just felt like using a local to talk to locals made more sense than having someone from Yahoo do it. Of course lots of Yahoo folks fly in for the event to offer ground support but I was hoping to show off a local company more than show off Yahoo.

Given that in Indonesia and the Philippines we had a country manager and local teams, it made it easy to talk to the local Yahoo people to get some intros into small companies that they found interesting for whatever reason or another. Once I had that short list I went to those companies to intro myself, pitch them on Yahoo and lay out my OHD offer. Build something on Yahoo, get up to show others how and get some free press for your startup. That’s all I had to offer folks and for a lot of startups I knew it wasn’t enough to entice them or that they were too busy to bother with it but I wanted to try anyway.

As luck would have it not too many cycles into visiting places I was introduced to the Koprol guys. What can I say other than we just clicked – it was fun to meet them, learn about their product, their staff, their office and their way of looking at the local market. They also loved Yahoo and were just great people to hang out with. We left the meeting with Koprol promising to get back to me soon to see what they could do with the APIs and confirm whats possible to demo. In the back of my mind I was already assuming I had found my local celebs for OHD. I felt an immediate connection to the team, the product and the fanatical user base.

Sure enough the team got back to me to confirm what they could build or fake what I needed and I met with the founders to work out the plan. It is easy enough for anyone to Yahoo, or google, to find out what happened with OHD but looking back I am pretty sure everyone saw the event as a success. I also think Koprol got a nice uplift from it and was being seen as a cool company to talk to in Indonesia. It is important to highlight that OHD did not make Koprol but I think it was good for them and good for Yahoo. Enuff said.

Here is the slide deck from the event:

With the event in the can, it was time for me to move on to other things but for some reason I always found myself visiting the Koprol office and staying in touch with the gang. It is through these meetings and hanging out that I started to feel like we should do something more with them but of course it was tough to figure out exactly what. I started asking the local corp development team what they thought, this is a rockstar team based in Singapore managing a lot of the International acquisitions for Yahoo, and was educated on the process for working with companies. Yes – I needed the education because I had no idea what the process would be. I talked to the Bizdev team in Asia and the other product managers to get some sense of what we might be able to do with Koprol. Keep in mind I did not immediately think acquisition but was more open to any working relationship that could benefit both parties.

Ideas could be:

– promoting the product
– integrating the product into some other yahoo product – things like messenger came to mind
– seeing if we could evolve advertising around the product – think deals or location based stuff
– license the product as a yahoo product or whitelabel it

In general the thought was just see if there were any worthwhile possibilities to explore.

So of course I started talking to folks from IGTF and the product team in Sunnyvale. At this time the product team for things like messenger and mail was being run by the same guy who created or at least managed IGTF. The core group around this time was also very connected to one of the top technologist at Yahoo, a VC now, and it wasn’t long before they suggested trying to acquire. The idea was messaging (conversations) was interesting, location is interesting (maps, user generated POIs, location based news) and that Indonesia was interesting. As a side note there was also the theory that Yahoo explore having more engineering outside of the normal India/China offices. At the time, now also gone, was an engineering site in Brazil.

So pretty much in a short period of time the basic idea was to see if we could acquire Koprol since it checked a few boxes for a few teams. I will add though that foursquare envy had nothing to do with this exercise. I, for one, never used foursquare and never really even compared the two products. I saw Koprol as location based conversations and more focused on non smart phones and emerging markets than trying to be like foursquare. I think the Koprol team will tell you they built it before foursquare and were fans of dodgeball. Point being is that the whole idea that Koprol was a backup for a failed foursquare acquisition is comical. I was never privy to the foursquare discussions or can even confirm they happened but I doubt Dennis would work for Yahoo – whatever the price.

Part 4 ::

Koprol – The Inside Story. Part 2

Part 1 ::

The path a company takes with the products and services they offer to customers is highly dependent on who is running the organization coupled with how the organization is constructed. At Yahoo this is no different but in my experience it might actually suffer a bit by how the company is organized at its core. This is an important topic to cover since this ultimately influenced how Koprol was managed – it also points to some of the core issues with Yahoo in general.

I must confess that I am 2 years plus out of Yahoo now with many of my good Yahoo friends already working at other companies. So my inside knowledge is obviously much reduced. This means I am going on what I personally experienced but from all outside appearances the overall structure of Yahoo has not changed much in the last few years apart from better food and phones.

Yahoo primarily is broken down into 3 distinct regions – America, Europe and Asia but there used to be an Emerging Markets group that covered Southeast Asia, Middle East and India separately. The HQ for that group was in Singapore which at the time made Yahoo one of the biggest players in the region and with a big head count in Singapore. What this meant was their was bizdev, legal, sales and even some product folks were aligned especially with the needs of that region. This can be seen as both a good thing and as a bad thing depending on the angle since this group would focus entirely on growth but at the same time the Sunnyvale HQ was not always supportive of the separate region. I think it was for the most part a good thing since it meant the team would move fast and try to evolve quickly enough to keep the region growing but Sunnyvale wanted to start reeling things in to make the company function better as a global unit. This was a tough time for the region cause it meant that SEA and India would now fall under APAC and the ME went to EMEA. Tumultuous times all around.

Once this decision was put in place the Singapore HQ started to let folks go and move people around to fit the new world order. This actually was a good start to get the region receiving more attention from HQ but it also meant a lot of changes. Looking back I don’t think this transition went all that well and might even be a good marker for the overall downward trend for Yahoo in some of these markets. However in a lot of places the downward trend was already happening anyway but I think what made the old organization unique was the ability to act quickly and make a lot of independent decisions. That autonomy was now gone.

For Yahoo Southeast Asia it makes sense to give you some overview of this org and the countries it operated in since this lead a lot to my decisions for where to focus my efforts on looking for small acquisitions.

Yahoo HQ for SEA was Singapore but also home to Yahoo Singapore. This group was a pretty good size since the revenue from Singapore was the largest when I was there even though the audience size was the smallest. This is important to note since it always made for an awkward situation of having to decide where to focus resources – on an area where the users are but not the dollars or where the money is.

Yahoo Malaysia was another proper office that had a small editorial team and sales. Yahoo Malaysia had lots of room for growth but there was always the issue of how much to localize and how to find the right mix to attract the local users. I didn’t spend much time there at all so I can’t really speculate as to how well it was or is doing but it was never really booming for Yahoo.

Yahoo Thailand was never really an office. Used to be some Thai folks would help to manage it from Singapore with some Thai content but it never really grew. When I was there I helped a few times, I didn’t lead the effort but was supportive of it, to try and push harder in Thailand. Anyone could look at the stats for growth of the internet and mobile internet and make a case for trying to take some market share. Problem was MSFT practically owned some of the market and Google was quickly taking over the rest of it. At some point in time Thailand was very Yahoo friendly with people advertising with their Yahoo email addresses or their Yahoo messenger ID’s but those days were long gone. Yahoo couldn’t make a valid case for trying to go back in and win. Yahoo Thailand looks like now it just points to – so essentially they have given up on the place.

Yahoo Vietnam was one of the early success stories of going in with a local office and hitting it hard. The numbers looked good and the growth was good for a while but this came with it’s own complexities due to the rules in Vietnam. I won’t get into it much cause I am not a legal person but essentially once you setup shop in Vietnam with feet on the ground you are subjected to some level of government scrutiny and intervention. This makes is hard to really try and go big in the region. Yahoo’s work in news/entertainment is labor intensive and requires localization so it means that to build a great business around that you have to be as local as possible but that also means you are competing with truly local companies who might be willing to do what a multinational cannot. I will leave it at that. So Yahoo did quite well there but suffered some black eyes with the closing of some very local products and just dealing with trying to be a big local presence. At some point one could argue Yahoo owned Vietnam with products like Yahoo 360, messenger and email but I am sure those days are gone.

Yahoo Indonesia was another place the local org chose to focus on due to the size of the market, the relative openness around news and the fact that Yahoo seemed to get a warm reception from the population around Yahoo products. So Yahoo Indonesia became another decent size local office and there was even a lot of attention from Sunnyvale. Revenue wise though Indonesia was a tough nut to crack at the time. High user growth but low revenue makes for interesting times. At the present time I think Yahoo is fairing well in Indonesia but has lost a lot of employees and I think the competitors are beginning to cement a solid lead over Yahoo in many areas.

Yahoo Philippines also was a large local market with a decent size local office. This country was largely getting the same treatment as Indonesia since the brand was doing well there and the country was big. It had some of the same issues of needing to grow revenue but also to try and just grow the user base. The news/entertainment market was vibrant and fit well with the Yahoo suite of products. From what I remember, like Indonesia, the growth was good but Yahoo was beginning to lose share in some core products cause there was now competition in the marketplace where there was not before.

So with that background in mind I figured I would focus my efforts for scouring the region in Indonesia and the Philippines. Vietnam was out because it was too sketchy to put an engineering org there due to lots of legal issues. Personally I had a hard time connecting with Malaysia and just didn’t feel equipped to make a difference there. Singapore felt like it was going to be an expensive place to acquire and didn’t check the boxes for a place to expand engineering long term. Thailand was out cause we just didn’t have a big enough presence and with all my personal experience there – I just don’t trust Bangkok as a place to invest in. Look at current events to get a sense of that. I love the country but would I convince a large multinational to go all in – not with a straight face.

I even considered ways to look into Cambodia and Laos but the general consensus was Yahoo wasn’t going to try and expand the region. Keep in mind Yahoo was known for doing joint ventures to expand in some regions – this is how Yahoo Australia and Yahoo Japan were created. There was some people at the time who felt Yahoo should have done more of this. I tend to agree even though it is hard to create the joint ventures. Yahoo can offer brand, technology, and consulting – the other side of the venture brings local expertise, money and government connections. Many of us felt Yahoo could have pushed into a lot more countries with this model but it is probably too late now.

Small side journey – Yahoo was very early in all these regions and probably could have been a lot bigger if it tried to buy or build more things locally. I think this is the crux of the issue with the emergent markets versus the stable or developed markets. Yahoo’s core product suite wasn’t really appealing to the emerging markets young generation and if the region was left alone quite possibly the strategy would have been to build products, acquire, partner or white label whatever was needed to try and win the region over for the long haul. Instead what become the strategy was to take whatever Sunnyvale made and try to shoehorn it into the region. Not sure anyone can answer what would have been the best thing to do but if it were up to me – I would have probably tried to tweak for the local market as much as possible. This is what Yahoo did in Taiwan and for the most part it worked however the strategy stopped at some point and it looks like the market share in Taiwan is falling. I don’t think it will be like Korea where Yahoo made a full retreat but I doubt it will return to its former dominant position.

Deciding whether the global command and control technique of building products for the globe is better than localizing for the region is an age old question. If one looks at facebook or google you see very little localization apart from language and for those companies it has worked. Yahoo for a long time was straddling both fences of localization and global products but not doing either well. It seems under the new regime it is going to be back to global products with language and content localization. It remains to be seen what will turn Yahoo around at this point. My opinion is the the current management is mostly focused on the USA and to some extent Europe while waiting to capitalize on the Alibaba IPO. Apart from the core aspects of Asia it seems me Yahoo is now withering on the vine some in places like SEA and India.

Part 3 ::