Crazy Ideas

Why are there little to no crazy game changing ideas from Southeast Asia?

Recently I gave a short talk at JFDI.ASIA’s Batch 4 teams. My talk was centered around having a simple product hook in your product that makes it easy for founders to articulate their vision to people (users, investors, potential employees, partners) that they engage with.

As we invest and learn from the teams we work with in the Southeast Asia region, watching founders execute on ideas, the one thing that always nag at me is their product hook. How special is that hook? Does it engage emotionally or change behaviorally? Who ultimately will care?

We are in the beginning of the entrepreneurial revolution. Although the Lean Startup movement painted a great picture of what can be taught, it is not a framework for everyone. Execution is important but a lot of that has been commoditized. It all comes back down to the idea and how you think the world should be. You just need time to let the world know that.

So why aren’t there more crazy big changing ideas here in Southeast Asia?

  1. Fear of failure is probably the main cause. It makes people and people around them (i.e. ecosystem) think too short termed.
  2. There is low density of founders who have tried crazy things, failed, and still keep on trying.
  3. Lack of confidence.

Having said all that, it is extremely difficult to design a product hook with global appeal. I know that, we all know that. That is what ultimately differentiates companies.

Try not to paint yourself into a corner and stop there. Keep inventing and rounding up troops that believe in your “crazy”. And break out.

Original Idea Generation

Original ideas and coming up with them is hard. Very hard.

As we navigate Southeast Asia (and Taiwan) working with entrepreneurs in various cities in Southeast Asia, it is extremely challenging to come up with an original idea that matters and lends to your strengths and passion. Getting the formula right is tough.

As I looked at our portfolios (over 12 now going on 14 - most of which are not publicly known) and ideas from Founder Institute in the Southeast Asian region that have received early attention, funding offers and even exited via acquisitions. I noticed there are generally 3 idea types.

  1. A team solving a very local problem or creating a movement or change of behavior within a market that is large enough to be sustainable and not to be distracted about scaling too early because of revenue pressures.

  2. A team solving a local problem or creating a movement or change of behavior first with ambition to bring the solution to other regional countries. Most of the time it shows the ambition of the team but sometimes it is because their chosen market or markets are still too small to be sustainable.

  3. A team solving a problem or creating a movement or change of behavior in a new and original way that position them to be global from day one. For some reason, there are limited and weak to no competitors.

From our data, companies in the 3rd category achieve customer, investor and media interests rather early on in their lifecycle. Even for myself, I am more excited if teams presented something original and unique than something that is a “clone with a spin or a twist”.

As such I am building a little research experiment to help founders work towards ideas that are original and have product hooks that engage users all in a pace and direction that suits the founder on a personal level.

I hope the outcome can help more founders move their ideas to another level (if they wish to) and also to help more aspiring founders to be slightly more prepared as they get involved with events such as Startup Weekend, Lean Startup Machines, hackathons etc.

Ping me if you are interested to discuss or join in the experiment.