Your startup life in 2014

A few words about Lunar New Year Resolutions (if there is such a thing) that I will lay down for myself and I hope you will like them too.

Back in 2009, there was a huge gap of qualified startup mentors that are able to help first time founders (especially) or serial entrepreneurs building product companies for the first time. The FTM (fuck this moment) came when I see too many sub-par quality companies funded and fail (a total waste of money) and hence sparked the creation of Founder Institute Singapore in 2010 with huge support from the IDA and Spring Singapore. Since then, we are crushing it, thanks for asking.

Four years later in 2014, the mentorship gap has narrowed considerably although never completely, we now have a new, and flourishing startup ecosystem that I am proud of. However, the evolution of founders has brought them to meet different challenges especially people management, setting a vision and direction, work life balance and defining the culture of their companies.

What is missing is the next step of founder coaching. Whether they come from the board, advisors, or fellow founders or even full-time executive coaches focused on startup leadership. Our fraternity should come together to help like-minded folks to plough through the good and mostly tough times.

Back in 2010, I gave away some internal secrets on how to build relationships in business (probably not much of a secret). I spoke about it only once publicly in a SMU lecture. Here are the highlights:

The way to build relationships with anyone in business is to know how to (in that order) take care of their:

  • Love/Family Life (especially Kids - their health, education and/or love life)
  • Physical, Mental Health (especially physical health - a thought, an action will change perceptions deeply) 
  • Money matters/Career (especially making them look good and proud of their achievements)

So taking a page above, in 2014, founders please:

1. Take care of yourself this year. Do not let your startup and milestones consume you whole. Slow down and look up at the blue sky once in a while and take a deep breath. Look at your love ones and be clear on why you are doing what you are doing.

2. Seek out a small fraternity (less than 5) of like minded founders that you can chat, update and share your journey with. Grab dinner with them once a month, create a Whatsapp/FB Group Chat, connect and share. Startup life is hard, period. You need an outlet and a sounding board.

3. Focus on your job at hand (money matters/career), have a personal life (love/family life), and have a side interest/hobby (physical, mental health). And lastly, workout (preferably in the late morning or early afternoon, a few times a week).

No matter what your situation is, founders are a different breed of people whom I have the good fortune to meet, train, (occasionally scold), and invest in. Stick together to help one another. Be blunt. Remember, there are people around you who is there to help, support and lend a helping hand. 

They do care about you no matter what you may think. Sometimes a text, a message, a nod will trigger a catch up that is long awaited. 

Sometimes just knowing that they are around is all you need.

Blogs I found that you might like to start with:


Startup Life

(of course there are plenty more...)

Happy Lunar New Year to one and all. (This post was inspired by this song below, hope you enjoy it).

Comments on Singapore's Wishlist to Elevate Singapore's Startups

Techinasia recently covered the outcome of ACE's 6 month discovery process of the state of Singapore's startups and came back with 10 recommendations. The full post is here to help with the context of what I am commenting on below.  I have been known to chime in on such matters from time to time.

So let's do this.

1. Let private sector partners play a greater role in developing the entrepreneurial community.

Easy to delegate but this needs a clearer strategy with stretched goals as resources and commitment from the private sector are limited. Work backwards from what we want to achieve and figure a way that both public and private sectors can work together in a realistic form and attacking small goals within a reasonable amount of time.

2. Double the number of youths in overseas immersion programs to 400 annually.

Agree with this fully as I have seen and have funded great talent coming out as a result of these programs. However, not all programs are designed well, do regular 360 reviews of such programs, and keep improving them.

3. Encourage schools to introduce tinker labs.

To create interest in science and technology is an excellent goal. Tinker labs should be one of the many items on the list to try to hit that goal. 3D printing and the like is the flavor of the year, try not to be too caught up on it. I do support any creative ideas to interest students. We have some programming workshops and road shows (educating students on the startup culture and job scopes) planned at polytechnics and universities at Startup Academy in 2014, it is one of our small tried and tested way we know how.

4. Unlock corporate venture capital and other private financing options.

Totally in support of this move to unlock more financing structures for startups, be it venture debt or tax incentives for large GLCs or private corporations when they invest. Government should also engage large corporations to invest and support Singapore based venture funds. This could be an indirect way to help serious corporates who are looking to set up their internal corporate venture arms.

5. More collaboration between large corporations and startups.

Agree. However, online platforms will not work in the short term. Do it the old fashion way. Curate the startups and qualify the large corporations with their interest/objectives/problem statements and make sure the decision maker sits in during the pitch meeting. Figure out what his or her agenda is within the large corporation (dig it out) to make sure no one is wasting the entrepreneurs' time.

6. Make Singapore a crowdfunding hub.

Agree. Why not? Whether its crowdfunding of projects like Kickstarter (not very likely to scale due to our market size) or equity crowd funding (if MAS allows). Singapore should be the epi centre for such model innovation. We would love to have Angellist base themselves in Singapore addressing Asia.

7. Help startups get better access to talent.

Agree with the intention and several suggestions. However, we do need more resources on the ground to train our next generation of innovators (like coding, ui/ux and growth hacking schools). That is more important than relaxing foreign employment regulations (although that needs a re-look right now).

8. Grow the physical spaces for startup activity.

Agree as well, this looks to be better suited as a Public/Private Partnership. The government subsidizes, the private sector design, build and manage. Just take note of the eventual location. The top locales so far are still: Blk 71. Chinatown/Tanjong Pagar/Raffles Place. Arab Street/Bugis/Middle Road. I think other hubs in other locations will be hard to achieve stickiness. Focusing on 1-3 hubs will suffice.

9. More government funding in nascent tech sectors.

Agree as well if there are deserved entrepreneurs with great ideas, they should be able to receive the same incentives. However, reality is harsh at times, it will take a while to move the needle.

10. Enhance programs that help startups expand abroad.

Well, I raise both my hands and feet. We are planning something big for tour soon. We have always advocated to startup founders to travel more and meet like minded people. 

"Amazing shit happens when like-minded people meet". ;)

There you have it. Pretty mild thoughts from me this weekend.

Have a great weekend.

Gif source:

"Are you wealthy" Tokyo Tour 2013

Golden Gate Ventures were invited to speak and attend several startup conferences in Tokyo in December 2013. So we thought why don't we make this trip an off-site for the team and that became a business development and fund raising tour for our portfolios and finally morphed into a formal Tokyo tour with ourselves, portfolio company founders and some entrepreneur friends. A total of 9 of us headed off to Tokyo filled with excitement and anticipation. 

We booked 3 apartments on Airbnb (under the same owner) in the same apartment building in Roppongi, a block away from Ropping-Ichome Station. It was nicely situated in a residential community that is not too far a walk from the subway station or the main street of Roppongi. Highly recommended for traveling groups or families (business or pleasure). The apartments have between 2-3 rooms of both tatami and modern configurations, a shared bathroom and dining/kitchenette. Spacious for central Tokyo apartment buildings and very local (an experience modern hotels do not give you). The group came together mostly as acquaintances/strangers but we quickly gelled after the first night of work and play. Over the next week of living and working together (and crazy texting on Whatsapp), we bonded very quickly and I am sure we all miss some of those crazy mix of night outs, pitch meetings, great food and conversations. Special shout outs and thanks to a few people who made our trip superb! Eugene (Always our buddy and brother, love that 500 Yen Karaoke Bar at Shinjuku and best of luck at Rakuten!), Reina (Amazingly smart and funny surgeon/entrepreneur! You have taught us a thing or two about business in Japan and for that, thank you 0.01!), Batara-san (You are the man, enough said!), Moo (Superb to meet you in Tokyo and thank you for the quick introduction to a potential investor via Facebook, you the solid), Masaru Ikeda (What else can I say, thanks for helping and hanging out with us and am proud to be an advisor to The Bridge, see you in Feb and to a great 2014 to you and your team!), Takeuchi-san (My long-time friend who is a tireless International Business Developer, always there to help with introductions, thank you so much!) and our super associate Justin for all his coordination, scheduling and Google Map Ninja-ing. 

Some of our tour highlights are listed below (some events, meetings are omitted for "privacy" reasons). Pictures are embedded towards the end of the post. 

Main Events: 

Innovation Weekend 2013 Finals (by Sunbridge Global Ventures) - thank you Hiraishi-san for the invitation and slotting our portfolios to pitch, truly grateful! It was an excellent event! 

GlobalBrains Alliance Forum 2013 - thank you Yurimoto-san for the invite and last minute passes for our group. Learnt a lot at the conference, it was full of great content, at a remarkable venue ended with a great dinner party! Some coverage of it here on Techinasia.

Golden Gate Ventures Investor Dinner- An invite only event with investors, friends and partners held at Gonpachi. Thank you to all who came to share Golden Gate Ventures's short journey in Southeast Asia, it was really nice to meet all of you. Look forward to more good times ahead. See you all soon in Tokyo and/or in Singapore! 

Some company visits include:
- Rakuten
- Digital Garage
- Transcosmos
- Samurai Incubate
- ntt docomo
- CyberAgent
- East Ventures Japan
- Qualcomm Ventures Japan
- Mentors and private industry professional meetings
and many more... 

 In the short time I was there in Tokyo, a number of takeaways that maybe useful to you.
- The startup ecosystem is back in Japan! Lots of innovative ideas with exquisite design tastes and plenty of passionate founders. Not in complete full swing but the momentum is there.
- The stock markets are also back with a vengeance. IPO exits are back and have provided great exits to many investors.
- The Japanese government is supporting startups and SMEs with massive budget allocation earmarked for growth. Somewhat familiar in Singapore's context but with more vengeance.
- B2B is bigger than I thought here in Japan. Lots of opportunities for enterprise startups if you know how to navigate the Japanese market. (many Unicorns lie here).
- Southeast Asia on the whole will be a topic of discussions in board rooms in Japan in 2014. We are co-organizing an invite only conference in Singapore in Feb 2014 as one case study to kick off that discussion.
- Golden Gate Ventures will definitely have more things planned for Japan in 2014. Stay tuned.

And that wraps it up folks. Tokyo is indeed a unique city. We all miss it the moment we reached the airport to leave it. But we will be back and that is a definite. See you all soon my lovely "Are you wealthy?" mates! p.s. for those interested to know why we name the tour "Are you wealthy?", ask anyone of us from the tour. 

Kokorokara honto ni domo arigatogozaimashita! 心は本当にどうもありがとうございました! 

Stay tuned for our next tour to Bangkok in 2014!

Welcome home

From a recent dinner conversation with friends from Japan. One topic came to mind which we (at least for me) take it for granted.

In the countless number of Japanese dramas I plough through since I was 21 in Los Angeles, California, I have always been fascinated by the Japanese greetings below and wonder why we don't have the same in Singapore:

A:  Tadaima.  (I'm home.)
B:  Okaerinasai. (Welcome back or welcome home.)
Every time someone comes home, these brief greetings are exchanged. 

After a hard day's of work or a tiring business trip, coming home to family and/or friends and greeted with "Welcome home" is indeed a nice warm feeling. 

May all of you take a moment to greet your loved ones some, if not all of the time.

Thank you for all your birthday wishes today and to my friends who share the same birthday, "Happy birthday!" 

Happy Thanksgiving and welcome home wherever you are.

~ My own version of "Okaerinasai"