Goodbye, Silicon Valley

Greener pastures: Wang at his company’s headquarters in Shanghai. The successful Silicon Valley alumni was lured
back to China by the promise of a brighter future.

Chinese-born talents are abandoning California for riches back home with the rise of China’s new titans.

A FEW years ago, Wang Yi was living the American dream. He had graduated from Princeton, landed a job at Google and bought a spacious condo in Silicon Valley.

But one day in 2011, he sat his wife down at the kitchen table and told her he wanted to move back to China. He was bored working as a product manager for the search giant and felt the pull of starting his own company in their homeland.

It wasn’t easy persuading her to abandon balmy California for smog-choked Shanghai.

“We’d just discovered she was pregnant,” said Wang, now 37, recalling hours spent pacing their apartment. “It was a very uneasy few weeks before we made our decision, but in the end she came around.”

His bet paid off: his popular English teaching app Liulishuo or LingoChamp raised US$100mil (RM397mil) in July, putting him in the growing ranks of successful Silicon Valley alumni lured back to China by the promise of a brighter future. His decision is emblematic of an unprecedented trend with disquieting implications for Valley stalwarts from Facebook Inc to Alphabet Inc’s Google.

US-trained Chinese-born talent is becoming a key force in driving Chinese companies’ global expansion and the country’s efforts to dominate next-generation technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning. Where college graduates once coveted a prestigious overseas job and foreign citizenship, many today gravitate towards career opportunities at home, where venture capital is now plentiful and the government dangles financial incentives for cutting-edge research.

“More and more talent is moving over because China is really getting momentum in the innovation area,” said Ken Qi, a headhunter for Spencer Stuart and leader of its technology practice.

“This is only the beginning.” Chinese have worked or studied abroad and then returned home long enough that there’s a term for them – “sea turtles”. But while a job at a US tech giant once conferred near-unparalleled status, homegrown companies – from giants like Tencent Holdings Ltd to up-and-comers like news giant Toutiao – are now often just as prestigious. Baidu Inc – a search giant little-known outside of China – convinced ex-Microsoft standout Qi Lu to helm its efforts in AI, making him one of the highest-profile returnees of recent years.

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd’s coming-out party was a catalyst. The e-commerce giant pulled off the world’s largest initial public offering in 2014 – a record that stands – to drive home the scale and inventiveness of the country’s corporations.

Alibaba and Tencent now count among the 10 most valuable companies in the world, in the ranks of Inc and Facebook.

Chinese venture capital rivals the United States: three of the world’s five most valuable startups are based in Beijing, not California.

Tech has supplanted finance as the biggest draw for overseas Chinese returnees, accounting for 15.5% of all who go home, according to a 2017 survey of 1,821 people conducted by think-tank Centre for China & Globalisation and jobs site That’s up 10% from their last poll, in 2015.

Not all choose to abandon the Valley. Of the more than 850,000 AI engineers across America, 7.9% are Chinese, according to a 2017 report from LinkedIn.

That naturally includes plenty of ethnic Chinese without strong ties to the mainland or any interest in working there. However, there are more AI engineers of Chinese descent in the United States than there are in China, even though they make up less than 1.6% of the American population.

Yet the search for returnees has spurred a thriving cottage industry.

In WeChat and Facebook cliques, headhunters and engineers from the diaspora exchange banter and animated gifs.

Qi watches for certain markers: if you’ve scored permanent residency, are childless or the kids are prepping for college, expect a knock on your digital door.

Jay Wu has poached over 100 engineers for Chinese companies over the past three years. The co-founder of Global Career Path ran online communities for students before turning it into a career. The San Francisco resident now trawls more than a dozen WeChat groups for leads.

“WeChat is a good channel to keep tabs on what’s going on in the circle and also broadcast our offline events,” he said.

Ditching Cupertino or Mountain View for Beijing can be a tough sell when China’s undergoing its harshest Internet crackdown in history. But its tech giants hold three drawcards: faster growth in salaries, opportunity and a sense of home.

China’s Internet space is enjoying bubbly times, with compensation sometimes exceeding American peers’. One startup was said to have hired an AI engineer for cash and shares worth as much as US$30mil (RM119mil) over four years.

For engineers reluctant to relinquish American comforts, Chinese companies are going to them. Alibaba, Tencent, Uber-slayer Didi Chuxing and Baidu are among those who have built or are expanding labs in Silicon Valley.

Career opportunities, however, are regarded as more abundant back home. While Chinese engineers are well represented in the Valley, the perception is that comparatively fewer advance to the top rungs, a phenomenon labelled the “Bamboo Ceiling”.

“More and more Chinese engineers who have worked in Silicon Valley for an extended period of time end up finding it’s much more lucrative for them career-wise to join a fast-rising Chinese company,”

says Hans Tung, a managing partner at venture firm GGV who’s organised events to poach talent.

“At Google, at LinkedIn, at Uber, at AirBnB, they all have Chinese engineers who are trying to figure out ‘should I stay, or should I go back’.”

More interesting than prospects for some may be the sheer volume of intimate data available and leeway to experiment in China.

Tencent’s WeChat, built by a small team in months, has become a poster-child for in-house creative licence.

Modern computing is driven by crunching enormous amounts of data, and generations of state surveillance has conditioned the public to be less concerned about sharing information than Westerners.

Local startup SenseTime for instance has teamed with dozens of police departments to track everything from visages to races, helping the country develop one of the world’s most sophisticated surveillance machines.

China’s 751 million Internet users have thus become a massive petri dish.

Big money and bigger data can be irresistible to those itching to turn theory into reality.

Xu Wanhong left Carnegie Mellon University’s computer science PhD programme in 2010 to work on Facebook’s news feed.

A chance meeting with a visiting team from Chinese startup UCAR Technology led to online friendships and in 2015, an offer to jump ship. Today he works at Kuaishou, a video service said to be valued at more than US$3bil (RM12bil), and commutes from 20km outside Beijing. It’s a far cry from the breakfast bar and lush spaces of Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters.

“I didn’t go to the US for a big house. I went for the interesting problems,” he said.

Then there are those for whom it’s about human connection: no amount of tech can erase the fact that Shanghai and San Francisco are separated by an 11-hour flight and an even wider cultural chasm.

Chongqing native Yang Shuishi grew up deifying the West, adopting the name Seth and landing a dream job as a software engineer on Microsoft’s Redmond campus.

But suburban America didn’t suit a single man whose hometown has about 40 times Seattle’s population.

While he climbed the ranks during subsequent stints at Google and Facebook, life in America remained a lonely experience and he landed back in China.

“You’re just working as a cog in the huge machine and you never get to see the big picture.

“My friends back in China were thinking about the economy and vast social trends,” he said.

“Even if I get killed by the air and live shorter for 10 years, it’ll still be better.” – Bloomberg

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Chinese workers abandon Silicon Valley for riches back home …


Rich Gen-Y kids making their own success

SINGAPORE: One of Rachel Lau’s strongest childhood memories is the smell of newspaper. Her father, driving her to school each day in Kuala Lumpur, would make his sleepy daughter open the paper, go through stock quotes and do mental math.

“He would be, like, How did KLK do today? OK, if it’s up four sen and I’ve got 89,000 shares, how much did I make?” Lau recalled. The daily ritual continued through her teenage years. Her father Lau Boon Ann built his fortune in real estate and by investing in companies like Top Glove Corp Bhd, which became the world’s biggest rubber-glove maker.

Some days, he would stand in front of an empty lot with his young daughter and challenge her to imagine a building there rather than watching the chickens running around.

Lau, now 31, is one of the three millennial co-founders of RHL Ventures, along with Raja Hamzah Abidin, 29, son of prominent Malaysian politician and businessman Datuk Seri Utama Raja Nong Chik Raja Zainal Abidin and Lionel Leong, also 29, the son of property tycoon Tan Sri Leong Hoy Kum.

They set up RHL using the wealth of their families with a plan to attract outside capital and build the firm into South-East Asia’s leading independent investment group.

“We look at South-East Asia and there is no brand that stands out – there is no KKR, there is no Fidelity,” Lau said. “Eventually we want to be a fund house with multiple products. Venture capital is going to be our first step.”

RHL has backed two startups since its debut last year. One is Singapore-based Perx, which has morphed from a retail rewards app to provide corporate clients with data and analysis on consumer behaviour. Lau is a member of Perx’s board, whose chairman is Facebook Inc co-founder Eduardo Saverin.

In January, the firm invested an undisclosed amount in Sidestep, a Los Angeles-based startup that’s also backed by pop-music artists Beyonce and Adele. Sidestep is an app that allows fans to buy concert memorabilia online and either have it shipped to their home or collect it at the show without having to wait in line.

“RHL guys are really smart investors who are taking their family offices to a new play,” said Trevor Thomas who co-founded Cross Culture Ventures – a backer of Sidestep, together with former Lady Gaga manager Troy Carter. “What attracted the founders of Sidestep to RHL was their deep network in South-East Asia.”

A lot of startup founders in the United States want to access the Asian market, said Thomas, but they often overlook the huge South-East Asian markets and only focus on China. “Rachel and the team did a great job of explaining the value of that vision and providing really great access to early-stage US companies,” he said.

In South-East Asia, RHL has positioned itself between early-stage venture capitalists and large institutional investors such as Temasek Holdings Pte. Hamzah said they want to fill a gap in the region for the subsequent rounds of funding – series B, C and D. “We want to play in that space because you get to cherry pick,” he said.

RHL’s strategy is to take a chunk of equity and a board seat in a startup that has earned its stripes operationally for at least a year, and see the company through to an initial public offering.

Summer camp

RHL’s partners represent a new generation of wealthy Asians who are breaking away from the traditional family business to make their own mark. They include billionaire palm-oil tycoon Kuok Khoon Hong’s son Kuok Meng Ru, whose BandLab Technologies is building a music business.

RHL’s story begins in 2003 at a summer camp in Melbourne. During a month of activities such as horse riding and playing the stock market, Lau struck up a friendship with Hamzah, unaware that their parents knew each other well.

Their paths crossed again in London, Sydney, New York and Hong Kong as they went to college and forged careers in finance – Lau at NN Investment Partners and Heitman Investment Management, where she currently helps manage a US$4bil equity fund; and Hamzah at Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Guoco Management Co. Together with their mutual childhood friend Leong, the trio would joke about all returning to Malaysia one day to start a business together.

That day came in 2015 when Hamzah called up Lau in Hong Kong and said: “Yo! I’ve moved back. When are you coming back? You haven’t lied to me for 15 years, have you?”

They decided their common trait was investing.

Hamzah shares Lau’s passion for spotting mispriced assets by analysing valuations. Lau says she trawls through 100-page prospectuses for fun and values strong free cash flow – the cash a company generates from its operations after capital expenditures. Leong helped structure debt products at Hong Leong Investment Bank before joining his family’s real-estate business to learn about allocating capital to strategic projects.

In February 2016, they started RHL Ventures – an acronym for Rachel, Hamzah, Lionel – with their own money. When their families found out about the plan, they were eager to jump in, said Lau. Now they aim to raise US$100mil more from outside investors.

The partners have roped in their family and hedge-fund experts as advisers. “We recognise that we are young and still learning,” Lau said. “There is no point pretending otherwise.”

Leong’s father runs Mah Sing Group, Malaysia’s largest non-government-linked property developer. Hamzah’s father, chairman of mechanical and electrical business Rasma Corp, is a former Federal Territories and Urban Wellbeing Minister. Top Glove chairman Tan Sri Lim Wee Chai is also an adviser, in place of Lau’s father, who died in 2008.

The other two advisers are Marlon Sanchez, Deutsche Bank’s head of global prime finance distribution in Asia-Pacific, and Francesco Barrai, senior vice-president at DE Shaw, a hedge fund with more than US$40bil in investment capital.

RHL added a fourth partner last month, John Ng Pangilinan, a grandson of billionaire property tycoon Ng Teng Fong, who built Far East Organisation Pte and Sino Group.

Ng, 37, has founded some 10 ventures, including Makan Bus, a service that allows tourists to explore off-the-beaten-track eateries in Singapore.

As well as their family fortunes, the four partners bring experience of upbringings in dynasties that valued hard work, tradition and dedication.

Ng recalls his grandfather, Singapore’s richest man when he died in 2010, would always visit a property he was interested in buying with his wife.

After driving around the area, they would sit on a bench and observe it from a distance. Then they would return to the same spot after dark.

“He said to us, ‘What you see during the day can look very different at night,’” Ng said.

Hamzah, whose great-grandfather Mustapha Albakri was the first chairman of Malaysia’s Election Commission, remembers his father’s lessons in frugality – one time in London he refused to buy a £2 (US$2.50) umbrella when it started raining as they had plenty of umbrellas at home.

Leong, scion of Mah Sing Group, grew up listening to tales of how his family business overcame tough times by consolidating and reinventing itself from its roots as a plastic trader. “It made me realise that we have to be focused,” he said.

“So with every deal we do, we have to put in that same energy and tenacity.”

Lau was a competitive gymnast as a child but quit the sport when she failed to win gold at a championship event.

“It’s one thing I regret. In hindsight, I don’t think I should have given up,” said Lau. “The ultimate champion is the person who doesn’t give up.”

One old habit however remains. When Lau picks up a newspaper, she goes straight to the business section. “It’s still the only thing I read,” she said. – Bloomberg/The Star by Yoolim Yee

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Stay true to your dreams, get real like AirAsia, SP Setia …

THIS is my 52nd and last article for StarBizWeek. It started more than a year ago out of a challenge from my golf buddy to communicate with local entrepreneurs in a simple and straightforward manner.

Since I am a simple and straightforward person, I believe I have carried out my duties to the letter even though most of the time, my articles did not make much business sense. But I did try to inject a business idea or concept in each weekly article which I hope did not put you in a further state of confusion.

I have not been friendly to entrepreneur wannabes who wanted to start a business without a solid business model nor having sufficient funding in place. I hate to see precious capital and talent being wasted just to please the ego of being your own boss. Starting a new business is exhilarating and exciting but closing down is painful to your pocket and your soul. Some people healed slowly and some did not recover at all.

If you really do want to be on your own, may I suggest you prepare well, seek experienced advice and stay humble. Lower your expectations and work out survival plans on worst case scenarios. If you are worse off income-wise, are you still keen to continue? Get real but stay true to your dreams.

I have great admiration for the AirAsia business model, not so much for its originality but more for its single-minded execution on its core strategy of low-cost high-volume. The whole organisation is fixated on lowering cost across all expense so that lower priced tickets can be offered continuously to secure constant high volume on an Internet platform that works tirelessly 24/7.

This business model is easy to scale across the region which adds purchasing power when negotiating with Airbus. All airlines pay the same fuel cost but AirAsia, with newer and lower cost planes, are much more fuel-efficient and if you add its competitive edge of having the lowest operating cost per seat, it now has a sustainable business model. While Ryanair dominates Europe, AirAsia will dominate the Asian airspace.

While the low-cost model has been proven successful over short quick turnaround flights of less than five hours, I was sceptical from the beginning of the viability of the long haul low-cost operator AirAsia X. True enough, the numbers did not work out for 13-hour flights to London and Paris. But it has found a profitable niche in six to seven-hour direct flights within Asia. The management has been decisive (no political interference) in pulling out of unprofitable routes and concentrating all its resources on routes that makes commercial sense.

Just imagine the potential of AirAsia X if it is able to replicate its business model operating out of Indonesia to Australia or out of Japan to the Middle East and beyond.

That’s why I am looking forward to the listing of AirAsia X this year. It will be the first successful long haul low-cost airline in the world. Malaysia Boleh!

When you think you have a viable and sustainable model, stay true to your strategies and focus on executing the appropriate strategies across your entire organisation. If you are a five-star operator, make sure your organisation is able to deliver five-star services consistently to your customers.

If you have a business model that is able to scale across cultures and countries, your growth potential will reward you in multiples. Big dreams are for those who look beyond our small domestic market of 28 million people. But dreams will remain as dreams if you are not successful with your home market first. You should only replicate successful models.

If you do not find optimum success with your business model or defined strategies, be decisive and admit to yourself that it is not working as planned. Eat the humble pie and swiftly change direction or tweak your business model to find a sustainable and profitable niche where you can survive comfortably.

Do not be afraid to change and do not delay until the shit hits the fan. Unless you can go begging to the Government for more funds, it will be difficult for you to find friendly benefactors to help you then. Your business will suffer a slow and painful death and you will wish that you have not been on your own.

I have been active in the consumer product markets for the last 27 years and I have often wondered why the multinational companies make more money per dollar sales than my company. That is despite them paying higher salaries and spending more on advertising and promotions. I consoled myself then by reasoning that they had first mover advantage, better brand equity and they were smarter than me.

After looking closely at their numbers, I discovered that they have a higher selling price and a lower cost of goods which means their gross margins are easily 10% to 20% higher than mine. Their products fetch better prices because they spend more on branding and they have a lower cost of goods because they understand the supply chain system better than I did. They are brilliantly efficient in logistics and channel management.

To compete, I have to match them in all aspects. Share of voice, understanding the supply chain forward and backward and having an efficient logistic set up. But you can only compete if you have comparable margins. My business model was subsequently amended over a few years to a comparable high margin model with similar A&P spend.

Building brand equity

High margins mean lower break-even point and less pressure on volume sales. Less working capital required means less financial risk. It is easier to make a profit in a high margin business but you have to find the margins in the value chain. Apple makes 30% profit on sales but its OEM manufacturer Foxconn makes only 1.5% profit. Our telco companies make 30% on sales but their prepaid card wholesalers make a 2% gross margin. Soft dollars versus hard dollars.

To earn the soft dollars, you need to build your brand equity. Whether it is product branding or corporate branding, you must be committed and consistent in promoting your brand. Margins for great brands differ substantially from commoditised generic products or services. Differentiate or suffer low margins always.

I particularly like SP Setia as a perfect example of how to build a strong corporate brand. However just as Tan Sri Tony Fernandes is synonymous with the AirAsia brand, Tan Sri Liew See Kin is the face of SP Setia. What will happen to the SP Setia brand after Liew leaves? Can he be replaced successfully by another brilliant marketeer from the new owner, PNB? Your guess is as good as mine.

There are many key words used by management professors to describe the hectic changes in the current business environment but my favourite phrase is the concept of disruption. Technological advancements disrupts technological laggards which disrupts our lifestyle as well. Phones gets smarter by the day, from voice to SMS to data to watching Astro on-the-go. Brands come and go at the speed of disruption. What was your favourite phone-brand five years ago? Can’t remember? Me too.

My thought process gets totally disrupted trying to figure out how to sell products to the Gen Y segment. They don’t watch TV and they don’t read newspapers. They socialise with screens and they communicate faceless through a “book”. They shop anytime in the Internet mall and they sleep in different time zones. As they are our biggest customer segment, we have to tweet them with respect. Or for the heck of it, just blog them into submission.

Gen Y and the Internet

Because of Gen Y and the Internet revolution, entrepreneurs are getting younger and younger. With a laptop, they trade anything and everything across countries like borderless pirates while prim and proper Gen X businessman worry about traditional sales team and distribution channels across the country. They collect cash in advance directly from consumers while Mr X gives credit to the trade. They have all the personal details of their customers and they are connected on a daily basis whereas Mr X can only guess that someone of a certain race, age and size has bought his products.

E-commerce will be the single biggest influence on rental rates of brick and mortar retail space. Already certain successful e-commerce products like books and music have decimated the traditional distribution channels of bookshops and music shops. The middleman’s job has been taken over by

Now you see other products like shoes, apparels, contact lenses etc gaining popularity on e-commerce platforms. And retail prices trending downwards much to the delight of consumers.

The only option for traditional businesses threatened by the e-commerce wave is to join them. Sephora has seen its cosmetic and fragrance sales slowing down and rental rates of their shops going up. So it set up which has been growing very well, protecting its overall market share in the luxury segment of cosmetics and fragrance.

For traditional media companies, all the newspapers have a similar e version now. Even though visibility of e advertising revenue is still shrouded in fog, they are prepared for any eventual switch by news hungry consumers to e-consumption. While Astro offers TV couch potatoes with Astro-on-the-go mobility, Media Prima countered with Tonton, an e-content platform where you can watch missed programmes on the net and on-the-go. Mind you, these massive investment and creative efforts are made just to ensure its business stay relevant in the fast changing landscape.

Just as I give an “A” to these top private companies for their innovative business acumen, the Government and the GLCs deserve an “E” for their involvement in business. I do agree that the Government should play a major role in sensitive sectors of the economy like utilities, education and national security but to be actively involved in all businesses competing with the private sector is counter productive and in most cases a waste of public money. Lack of competition breeds inefficiency and lethargy. Enough said.

I am pleased to note that there has been a major shift of public perception towards politicians being involved in business. Politicians should stay exclusively active in the political arena if they want to avoid unnecessary accusations, nasty tweets and rumoured scandals. A clean politician who cares and fights for the people that he represents will always be voted favourably by his constituents. I read that from Dummies for Politicians.

I was born in 1960 thus I was given a blue Identity card. Having been a Malaysian since birth, I grew up in Petaling Jaya and studied in local schools and Universiti Malaya. I have worked all my life in Malaysia. My wife is Malaysian and all my three children were born in Malaysia.

So you can imagine my outrage when I am called an immigrant by some senseless and dumb politicians out to score a point or two with their supporters. As a Malaysian would say “I so angry until I cannot speak.”

But speak out you must in the coming 13th General Eelection. Choose wisely and please vote for sincere and smart candidates. Avoid wolfs in sheep skin for the sake of our children’s future. Do not live to regret.

It has been a fun write for me the last 52 weeks and I must thank the StarBizWeek editorial team for sacrificing valuable space to accommodate my nonsensical and shallow articles. I hope I have given you some weekly chuckles and brought a wry smile on your face on lazy Saturday afternoons. I thank you for your kind patience. Goodbye.

The writer has decided to go e-communicado. For further nonsensical musings, stay in touch with him at You might just find some useful tips on your own.

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Tips on courting investors

IN this penultimate column, I would like to explore the world of romance, courtship and partnership. Why some marriages are happy and long lasting and why some end in a messy divorce. I will also talk about quickie engagements, marriage of convenience and spouse for hire.

Courting-investorNo, I am not Aunty Thelma providing counsel on your turbulent personal life. Neither am I qualified to talk about politicians and rent seekers. This discussion is confined to entrepreneurs who need partners to help them kick start their business. Occasionally, desperately sourcing capital for survival and sometimes needing a healthy dose of cash injection to grow.

For new startups, courting the investors will be the most stressful stage. Before they part with their money, they will question the viability of your business, sustainability of your business model and most importantly, the potential to scale. You are advised to be well prepared with facts and figures supporting your proposal. If a knowledgeable investor tears up your assumptions and forecast, swallow your pride and rebuild your model if necessary. You will be better prepared to face the next potential investor.

Knowing the type of investors that you would like to “sleep with” will save you unnecessary stress and avoiding misaligned discussions. Short-term investors think very differently from long-term investors. Temporary relationships means moving in together and having fun without any responsibility. Breaking up is not hard to do.

Long-term relationships requires patience, understanding and tolerance between both parties. Like all marriages, there will be fights and misunderstandings but both sides will make up and continue for the sake of the children, albeit on an uneasy truce.

If you have a quick turnaround project with an early exit plan, then you will click immediately with short-term investors who will be willing to take on higher risks but expecting immediate returns on invested capital. Normally they do not mind having a smaller equity share as long as they see good upside but you will have to pay interest or dividends on their different class of preferred shares. It is best you find out more on terms like convertible cumulative preferred stocks and RCCPS (redeemable convertible cumulative preference shares) etc … If you want to be on the same page as these savvy investors.

If your project has a long gestation period, get a rich investor who looks for steady recurring income with an eye for capital asset growth. Be conservative with your forecast and highlight your cashflow management skills. Nothing pleases the long-term investor more than having a mature thinking partner who will conservatively build a meaningful asset business in a steady environment.

Once you have the investor interested, the real negotiation starts. Assuming all investors are fools, you will be able to load the investors with a high valuation, retain majority equity and management control and yet raise a lot of capital by giving little away. Alternatively, assuming you are the desperate fool, you would end up working for the new investors, saddled with a low valuation and stuck with minority equity stakes. Nobody likes playing the fool so either one of these relationships will definitely end up in divorce.

Basically, the whole negotiation rests on the basis of valuation. For a new startup with no prior track record, the valuation is based on forecast budgets normally over a five-year period. To investors, getting the forecast right determines the level of risks to be taken. But his guess is as good as your guess. Then you end up with two sides articulating their understanding on market trends, benchmarking best practices etc, just to justify their number guessing skills.

So the final numbers to be agreed upon will depend heavily on your negotiation skills or how much the Investors believe in you. If you are desperate, the Investor will see through that and you will not be negotiating from strength. A right minded investor would prefer to have a highly motivated entrepreneur at the controls of a start up so you will not be forcefully bullied. Just remember to tell him that you need to feel motivated when you wake up every morning and he will back off and see that you are fairly treated.

If the Investor pushes you into a corner, just walk away. You have not lost anything. That said, I assumed you have been realistic with your forecast numbers and have comfortably addressed the investors concerns. If not, do not be surprised if the investor walks away instead.

Understanding how investors think will help you prepare your proposal. Greedy investors look for maximum short-term returns and these are normally fund managers who wants to believe in well structured glossy presentations so that they can justify to their investors why they should invest their money into your project. It will be unfair for me to say that these professional fund managers are willing to invest in high risk projects since it is not their personal money but the pressure to perform forces them to take higher risks that carries higher returns.

Individual investors are way too careful and they prefer proposals with reduced risks and long-term asset building models. This has been my preferred business model as an entrepreneur then and even now as an investor. But the lure of fast short-term gains enjoyed by so many has whetted my appetite and I am now reconsidering my investment strategies. Greed is indeed sinful and irresistible.

Since I made a promise not to write about politicians and GLCs (government-linked corporations), I will not be elaborating on the topics of quickie engagements and marriage of convenience. I apologise if you have found this column dry and boring but I hope my advice on having safe sex in a monogamous marriage will help you live longer with a healthy bank balance by your side. Stay happy always.


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Singapore start-ups struggle to woo investors, failure to launch

VC_Start Up

Singapore’s decade-long push to become a hotbed for entrepreneurs is stuck at stage one.

The city-state of 5.3 million people ranks No. 1 in the world in ease of doing business and fourth in starting one, according to a World Bank study. It offers low taxes, easy-to-obtain seed money to start a business, and a well-educated, English-speaking workforce in the gateway to Asia.

It just takes one day and S$315 ($260) to register a business in Singapore. Yet, the country has struggled to attract international investment money for its own start-ups.

VC_tee shirt

Venture capital firms are put off by the small size of the market, lack of big ideas that can be a global success and an uncertain exit strategy. Only 50 out of 301 venture capital firms based in Singapore are interested in local investment, according to the Asian Venture Capital Journal Research.

Of the 70 high tech start-ups the government has invested in over the past two years, just 10 received follow-on private funding from investors locally and abroad, according to the National Research Foundation, the government arm responsible for research and development.

“There is a real shortage of venture capital firms investing in Series A in Singapore,” said Leslie Loh, an entrepreneur-turned-investor, referring to the first round of funds raised by start-ups after seed capital.

“VCs are looking at countries like India and China where there is a larger domestic market.”

Only 2 percent (about $15 million) of the total venture capital investment in Asia is aimed at Singapore, according to Asian Venture Capital Journal Research’s data for 2012. Japan,

China and India topped the list of big VC investments in Asia.

“In the early stage there is a big push (by the government). But if you look at the whole ecosystem for helping companies grow, there is a gap in the growth stage,” said Wong Poh Kam, a professor at National University of Singapore’s business school.

“For a Singapore company to be able to achieve global success, it needs to have sufficient follow-on venture capital funding.”


Pampered by government funds at the early stage, when start-ups can tap up to S$500,000 in grants, companies are finding it hard when they go looking for millions of dollars from venture capital firms for Series A funds.

Of the 374 venture capital investments in Asia in 2012, Singapore accounted for just 24, according to AVCJ Research.

“If there are no success stories, VCs do not think there is a compelling reason to be here,” said Wong.

But that success depends on big money from venture capital firms, leaving start-ups stuck in a vicious cycle.

Andrew Roth, co-founder of Perx, which makes a digital loyalty card application, said one of the first questions he heard from investors when he went looking for funding was, “What is your net operating income?”

Roth says he would not have been asked that question if he was in Silicon Valley, where investors care more about the functioning of the product and its ability to gain scale.

“The mindset has to change,” said Roth, who is currently in the process of raising a second round of funds from individual investors and funds. “It is a younger ecosystem so investors are so much more risk averse.”


Singapore start-ups are also forced to think globally right from day one as a product aimed at a small domestic audience is not going to bring them a lot of success.

Henn Tan, head of Trek 2000 International Ltd, the company that introduced the ThumbDrive USB flash drive in 2000 and ranks among the few globally known success stories of Singapore, said it is difficult for Singapore to produce entrepreneurs.

“Because fellow Singaporeans are being subjected to regimented life from early years…there are too many rules and regulations for the young generation to think out of the box without being reprimanded,” Tan said.

The problem of raising funds beyond the government-created cocoon raises the question of whether its involvement in the start-up scene is actually a good thing.

Some think the government initiatives allow undeserving start-ups to get easy money, while others say the lack of private funds just proves that the government has to be active in providing a catalyst to start-ups and entrepreneurs.

The government says it needs to support start-ups at the early stage because that’s where the most risk exists.

“When the landscape is one which sees the vibrancy that you see in California and where multitudes of VCs have taken root and (are) able to manage a portfolio from early stage to growth stage to pre-IPO, then we can take a step back,” said Low Teck Seng, CEO of the National Research Foundation.

But he also warned against too much government involvement. “If the government funds what the industry thinks is not worth funding, then we will not be doing justice to public funds.”


Other than state-run or state-backed companies such as Singapore Airlines Ltd and Keppel Corp Ltd, the world’s largest oil rig builder, there are only a few big home-grown companies from Singapore.

There was Creative Technologies Ltd, whose PC audio cards, speakers and MP3 players were a hit in the early 2000s, but it fell out of favour with increasing competition. The company has posted 21 straight quarters of losses and voluntarily delisted itself from the Nasdaq in 2007.

For Perx’s Roth, who moved from New Jersey to Singapore to start his company, the attraction is the presence of global firms that set up an Asian base here, providing a steady stream of potential customers.

The fact that Singapore is home to high-flying business executives also helps. Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin invested in Perx early on. He sits on Perx’s board, and meets with Roth and his team once a month, Roth said.

“It’s hard for Singapore to claim to be an entrepreneur hub for (the) whole of Asia,” said NUS’s Wong. “A more realistic target would be for Southeast Asia.” ($1 = 1.2182 Singapore dollars)

(Editing by Emily Kaiser) (Reuters)

Is venture capital model no longer working?

The money manager mentality also meant that VCs became risk averse

KUALA LUMPUR: An expert on venture capitalism is of the opinion that the venture capitalist model is broken.

NOT BEYOND REPAIR: Green believes that the VC model is broken but it can still be fixed.

Jordan Green, chairman of the Australian Association of Angel Investors, said the latest generation of VCs has not been delivering results.

“Up until the mid-90s, VCs could reap a double digit return on investment on the companies they invested in,” he told Bytz on the sidelines of the Asian Business Angel Forum (ABAF) 2012 here.

Green said today’s VCs fail to do better than their predecessors because of their money manager mentality, and they aren’t capable of advising entrepreneurs on how to viably commercialise their products.

“Venture capitalism predicated on the idea that people in the VC firm would be able to help the startups they invest in to grow effectively. But you need to have business experience to do this, ” he said.

According to Green, many of today’s VCs have the academic qualifications but not the experience of having run a business.

This situation arose when VC firms started to institutionalise, to give themselves bigger funds to work with, he said.

However, as the establishments got bigger, there was not enough qualified people with the right business experience to hire.

“As a result, those without any entrepreneurial skills could not properly help the startups move forward,” Green said.

“And the money manager mentality also meant that VCs became risk adverse and would only fund startups when they started being profitable. This created the ‘VC gap.'”

The gap is where entrepreneurs have difficulty getting funding between starting up and starting to show profitability – the period when VCs are most needed.

Green believes investing in a business requires empathy, and is not merely an intellectual exercise.

Malaysia is moving in the right direction by starting angel investor networks because this will give startups here an alternative to VCs when they need funding for their fledgling products and services, he said.

“Angels are actually replacing the VCs of yore. They are the experienced business people who can advise entrepreneurs on how to bring their products to greater heights,” Green said.

The Malaysian angel investor network is still young, with two known agencies – the Virtuous Investment Circle and Pikom Angel network. Another is set to emerge later this year and is called the Malaysian Angel Business Network.

However, Green said, the VC model can still be saved if venture capitalism returns to its original investment model.

He said this will require braver institutional investors and a better understanding of how VCs should work.

“With the original intent and model, they can make better decisions and better help startups grow faster,” he said.

ABAF is organised by Cradle Fund Sdn Bhd, which manages an investment programme that funds technology startups in the country.

The forum is aimed at bringing the best of Asia’s angel investors, venture capitalists, decision makers, policy leaders and entrepreneurs to one location. Some 500 delegates gathered to hear 30 speakers at this year’s event.


Web Startups: Tips For Raising Money

Great products, teams and business models are still most important.


As the market continues to recover from the 2008 dive and subsequent fallout, many investors are understandably jittery about throwing money at early-stage companies and have instead opted to join less risky rounds for more mature startups.

But for young startups with solid Web products, there’s a silver lining: Statistics are showing slightly better numbers for seed and early-stage deals at Web startups than for startups in other verticals.

Have a killer product. Product is still the most important consideration when you’re trying to raise capital.

Being the original is trumped by being the best, and sometimes–just sometimes–having an intriguing product is better than making money right out of the gate. One of social media’s biggest startup success stories in recent years is Twitter, which without a doubt has turned out to be a killer product, one that the Twitter team focused on to the exclusion of almost every other business consideration, including revenue.

Most importantly, having a killer product is one of the few things that will help you raise money in the face of stiff and ever-increasing competition. In the current tech ecosystem, a clone is born every minute, but fighting off your competitors won’t help you as much as looking inward and building the absolute best product you can.

Foursquare’s Series B: Foursquare’s core offering–a mobile check-in application–has seen iteration after iteration over the past year or so. As a result, the application has gone from being a spin-off, nerd-centric game to a potentially scalable location and marketing application.Examples:
TweetPhoto’s Series A: This startup had competitors in spades–and popular, well-entrenched ones, too. But that didn’t detract from its focus. When I spoke with the founders at Chirp, creators of TweetPhoto, they displayed single-minded confidence in their product; they believed that what they were building was better than anything else on the market. And they were able to convince investors that this was the case, as well.

Collecta’s Series B: The folks on this team were facing some serious competition last year, and not just in the company’s vertical of real-time Web search. When Google ( GOOG news people ) and Microsoft ( MSFT news people ) simultaneously announced they’d be entering the real-time search market, the startups on that scene were definitely shaken. But Collecta focused on creating more value, more relevant results and a better algorithm, and investors rewarded that dedication.

Have a killer team. Quora, Brizzly, SimpleGeo and Square have all gotten funding over the past year, and it would be fatuous to think that their founders’ backgrounds at Facebook, Google, Digg and Twitter had nothing to do with those deals. We suspect that the access to high-quality networks of investors, which generally comes along with working at one of the larger tech companies, helps in securing funding. But also, having been an important part of a world-famous and innovative team proves a lot to would-be investors. And look at Internet phenom Ze Frank; the meme master got $500,000 in seed money for his stealth social gaming startup.

But a “killer team” doesn’t necessarily mean all-star tech pedigrees and Internet fame. Investors are looking for, to put it plainly, good people who are intelligent in their disciplines and flexible in how they see the product.

As VC Sumeet Jain of CMEA Capital wrote to us, “If we can’t think of a better team, we’re excited … Seed and Series A companies can pivot several times, and the company at the end of several years of development can be radically different than what was first envisioned. The bet, therefore, has to be on the team to a much greater degree than any one idea or business.”

SimpleGeo’s Series A: Matt Galligan was the boy genius behind SocialThing, a product of the TechStars program and an AOL acquisition in its early stages. Joe Stump was the chief architect of Digg. When Galligan told us last year that they were working together on a social, location-based startup, his passion for the project was on par with his team’s expertise. Funding a team like that was a safe bet.

Quora’s Series A: Facebook’s engineers are reportedly some of the best in Silicon Valley. So when a few of Facebook’s early hires–including the company’s CTO, Adam D’Angelo–bolted to start something new, investors were certain that whatever came out of the company would be scalable and beautifully coded.

Square’s $10M Series A: It’s true that investors love apps dealing with shopping and finance, but what jump-started Square’s success early on was the big-name appeal of its CEO, Jack Dorsey. As a Twitter co-founder, Dorsey carried that most elusive of Silicon Valley trophies: mass adoption. Dorsey’s cachet undoubtedly helped Square secure its atypically large Series A.

Have a killer business model and revenue opportunities. While we’ve seen a few examples of new apps getting funded as the founders steadfastly refuse to focus on revenue during formative product-development stages, we’re seeing many more deals being made around apps that show solid, money-making potential out of the gate.

The technology market may boom and bust, the global financial market may crash and recover, but VCs will never get tired of companies that can make money.

Even if the tech world is full of bigger competitors than your company, your startup still has a chance at raising money (and at longer-term success) when there’s a proven revenue model and enough customers, users and revenue to go around.

Shopkick’s $15M Series B: Shopping and location apps are among the hottest for investors right now, and it’s easy to see why. They connect to a direct revenue pipeline (advertising dollars for marketing campaigns and, depending on how the app is executed, user dollars for special features) and a huge amount of pursuant data on how, where and when people spend money. Shopkick is capitalizing on both trends at once and is primed to snag consumer and brand attention and cash.’s $10M Series C: did revenue the old-fashioned way: It asked users to pay for their service. And although YouTube, which has chronically struggled to turn a profit, has proved to be the Goliath of the online video world, and a handful of scrappy video startups have fared well through offering clever partnerships and freemium benefits.

LivingSocial’s Series C: LivingSocial is competing with Groupon, the large and fairly well-known bargain-hunters’ app. But when it comes to this market and this economy, there’s enough room for more than a few smart-shopping sites and applications. By linking their product directly to consumers’ buying habits and creating a built-in opportunity to partner with large brands and small local businesses alike, LivingSocial crafted an attractive investment opportunity.

Jolie O’Dell is a technology and social media journalist for Mashable.

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