49 minutes | Nov 10, 2020
Building One of the Tech Giants of Tomorrow in Pakistan
For being home to the fifth largest population in the world, Pakistan has a comparatively small startup community. That said, the country is hitting an inflection point, with internet and smartphone usage becoming more and more common. It’s not dissimilar to the technology adoption spikes seen in other countries across Southeast Asia, like Indonesia and Vietnam, that led to a wave of high-flying tech startups. Bykea, a Pakistani startup that offers everything from motorbike hailing to delivery of goods, is set to ride that wave in its home country to become the next local tech giant. “One of the key differentiators we see for Bykea is a focus on being local,” says Founder Muneeb Maayr. “That is showcased in everything from our use of motorbikes for navigating the tight city streets, to having our app support voice interactions because many of our customers cannot spell or type in their own language on a smartphone.” This strategy has proved successful, as Bykea leads in a market where giants like Uber and Lyft have tried to make headway.
34 minutes | Nov 5, 2020
Taking a Mobile-first Approach to Democratizing Financial Services in ASEAN
Looking back on the past decade, one of the most notable shifts has been the rapid spread of mobile technology, especially in Southeast Asia. But while consumers and startups were quick to make that shift, older companies found it difficult to quickly pivot to the new standard. Jirnexu was founded to bring those two parties together, specifically in the financial services sector. “Having moved back home to Malaysia in 2010 after ~15 years living abroad, I had to go through the process of restarting my personal financial life,” says CEO Yuen Tuck Siew. “The process was extremely manual, often requiring me to physically go to a branch to get any service.” Jirnexu bridges that gap between existing providers and consumers, offering an easy way to find and buy financial services straight from your mobile device.
38 minutes | Nov 2, 2020
The Journey to Launching a Virtual Events Platform Years Before the Pandemic Hit
They say that with startups, timing is everything. Being early, or late, is the same as being wrong. This year has brought about more change than we can count, but with change comes opportunity for some. And for Johnny Boufarhat and the team at Hopin, the worldwide move to remote conferencing as a result of the pandemic accelerated a trend that they had seen coming for years. “I initially built Hopin to scratch a personal itch,” says Boufarhat. “I was stuck at home with an autoimmune disease, but still wanted to connect with people, network, and attend events, not unlike the situation many around the world find themselves in today.” Listen to this episode to hear how Boufarhat tested his MVP, applied lessons from previous startups, and navigated the journey from launch to leading a team of now 150+ at Hopin.
53 minutes | Oct 21, 2020
Applying AI to the Ever-Expanding Music Industry
The music industry has gone through massive changes in recent decades. Gone are the days of being able to track each week’s new releases. Now, over 40,000 tracks are uploaded on to music platforms each day. While new technologies have led to a creative explosion by lowering the barriers to record music, this new wave has somewhat overwhelmed companies in the industry, per Musiio co-founder and CEO Hazel Savage. “When I was starting my career working in a record store, I was the person stocking the new singles on Monday morning. A busy week would see maybe five or six,” says Savage. “The recent mass increase in track creation means it’s impossible for a human to listen to each new release.” That’s where Mussio comes in. Leveraging the latest in artificial intelligence, the Singapore-based startup is able to analyze and categorize tracks at scale, making it easy to produce unique playlists based on customizable characteristics.
28 minutes | Oct 6, 2020
Using Data to Reinvent the P2P Lending Market in ASEAN
Fintech as a sector has been exploding for the better part of a decade now. Fueled by mass amounts of new data and powerful algorithms, startups around the world have sprung up to innovate within a once stagnant industry. Within fintech, peer-to-peer lending quickly emerged as one of the biggest opportunities—Lending Club saw marked success in North America, as did ANT Financial in China. Validus is on a mission to bring that same level of innovation to ASEAN. “When looking at Southeast Asia, more than 90% of loans to SMEs are collateralized, which means you’re not getting financing from classic lenders unless your business has hard collateral,” says co-founder and CEO Nikhilesh Goel. “At Validus, we look at alternative data sources for our credit assessments, enabling us to offer funds to a wider variety of businesses and much faster than traditional options.” For companies, this means access to capital they need to grow, and having it in their bank account often within 48 hours.
32 minutes | Oct 4, 2020
Equipping Offline Retailers in ASEAN with the Tools to Thrive in the Modern Age
The rise of e-commerce companies in recent years has made it easy to forget about in-store retail. But, in many parts of the world, physical stores still make up for the lion’s share of money spent. Fave, a startup based in Kuala Lumpur, is looking to connect the two industries by offering offline retailers new-age tools that historically have been only available to online businesses. Pulling from his experience running Groupon in Asia Pacific, Fave founder and CEO Joel Neoh set out to build a company that would equip these offline retailers with what they need to thrive in the modern age. “We saw mobile payment adoption in our market growing quite quickly,” says Neoh. “Existing merchants, however, were getting the shorter end of the stick, as they couldn’t easily adapt to the digitization of commerce.” Operating in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore, Fave offers them a platform to manage everything from vouchers to loyalty programs, payments, and even financing.
33 minutes | Sep 6, 2020
Connecting the Dots to Launch a Travel Startup in Myanmar
When users head to Oway’s website to book travel in and out of Myanmar, they arrive at an easy-to-use portal where planning a trip end-to-end is within a few clicks. Much like U.S.-based Expedia, the 8-year-old startup offers up flight, hotel, car, and activity options for anyone wanting to get away. That said, the road to building and launching such a platform in Myanmar, a country of over 50 million where less than 1% of the population has a credit card, was far from easy, says CTO Tun Tun Linn. “One of the many unique issues we ran into while getting Oway off the ground was accepting payments online when a large majority of our customer base did not even have a bank account,” says Linn. “We had to get creative, leaning on partnerships with new mobile wallet companies that had become very popular to make it easy for our target market to transact with us.” And that’s just one example of the ingenuity employed by the Oway team to build what they hope will be an all-in-one travel platform, encompassing everything from flights to fleet management and ride hailing.
26 minutes | Sep 3, 2020
Optimizing Waterflows Using Machine Learning and IoT
From large metropolises like Singapore to smaller villages in places like Thailand, water is a constant need that flows through any community. And with climate change accelerating, the demand to properly manage this vital utility has never been higher. SpaceAge Labs, and CEO Deepak Pitta, are on a mission to help solve this growing problem by applying that latest in machine learning and IoT sensors, bringing an antiquated industry into the modern age. “At the beginning of the company, our team looked at the consumer market and saw how advanced technologies were being integrated into everything,” says Pitta. “This for some reason hadn’t been applied to the utilities industries, which is exactly what we’re doing.” Using a combination of sensors, low-power wireless connectivity, and machine learning to crunch the data, SpaceAge Labs is able to offer up new insights on how to monitor and manage not only water, but a variety of other utilities that are necessary for any community.
46 minutes | Sep 3, 2020
The Rules That Have Guided India’s Artists for Thousands of Years, Also Guide This Startup’s Growth
It began with a table that Zwende co-founder Innu Nevatia couldn’t find. She had this image of the perfect piece of furniture, but it didn’t exist anywhere outside of her head. No one was making quite what she wanted. In the process of scouring the flea markets and pop-up design shows in and around her home base in Bengaluru, India the idea for her startup was born. “I was meeting all these incredible artists in this quest to find someone to make me a table,” Nevatia says. “And I began to realize there was an opportunity to match the craft of what these artists do with the more modern tastes of today.” So, with her husband, Sujay Suresh, Zwende was launched. You can think of Zwende as a marketplace that makes it so artists can just make art, rather than, say, wrap packages or find new ways to market their work. And, of course, on the other side of marketplace are people looking to buy that artwork. For example, Zwende features designers and artists who are taking an ancient art form originally used to create characters for shadow puppet performances, and applying the same techniques to lamp shades, screens, and other decorative art pieces for the home. The twist is that Zwende allows its lamp-shade hunting customers to customize their particular pieces in tens of thousands of different ways. “But we do it within the rules of the art forms that have been practiced for a very, very long time,” Suresh says. “We like to say we are using algorithms developed thousands of years ago.” The artists only make the items when they get ordered, so there is no excess inventory for them to carry. The data gathered from Zwende retail customer also helps the artists anticipate when there will be a rush for a certain item, or a certain style, and even experiment with entirely new products created purely digitally to see if they resonate before committing time and materials to making them. Nevatia eventually did find her perfect table, customized by a favorite artist. It sits in the Zwende showroom displaying some of the latest designs, it’s a reminder of what sparked the idea for the startup, and how much more there is yet to do. For even more on Zwende’s co-founders and the artists they work with check out this episode of Now Go Build with Amazon CTO Dr. Werner Vogels. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=7&v=2n7bm0mteG0&feature=emb_title
29 minutes | Sep 2, 2020
Betting on a New Wave of Pakistani Entrepreneurs
For Kalsoom Lakhani, investing in the future of the Pakistani startup ecosystem was something of a homecoming. Having grown up in Pakistan before moving to the U.S. for university, Lakhani watched as her native country began to assemble the pieces necessary to support would-be startup founders in the fifth largest market in the world. Leaning on the lessons learned in other regions that have recently seen success in building strong startup ecosystems, such as Egypt and Vietnam, Lakhani launched i2i Ventures with her co-founder Misbah Naqvi to invest in and support this new group of budding Pakistani entrepreneurs. “When looking across Southeast Asia and other new technology hubs, you can really see themes in the early days of growth,” says Lakhani. “Marketplaces and e-commerce, for example, seem to take off quickly, with startups also popping up to support various parts of that value chain.” This theme can be seen in i2i Ventures’ maiden investment, EZMakaan, a platform for domestic services. That said, Lakhani is quick to point out that while she can glean insights from other countries, building a business in Pakistan is anything but drag and drop. Local knowledge is essential, she says, and clearly i2i Ventures has that more than covered.
30 minutes | Aug 18, 2020
From Zero to Global in Five Years
It was not by chance that Kamarul Muhamed combined his financial background and drone obsession into an AI-powered drone services startup. Aerodyne is Muhamed’s fourth startup, so he can spot a great opportunity. But even he didn’t fully appreciate that if developing technology is your only focus as CEO -- you will fail. Today, Muhamed pilots his own startup with one key focus: people. “I know it’s cliché, but our people are everything,” Muhamed says. “In the past, I used to be focusing more on our technology, on developing our systems and our solutions. I would say the first year of operations put us into a little bit of stress. We managed to coming up with pretty cool tech, but I could see that the team was suffering.” By addressing the struggle he saw within his team, Muhamed also saw Aerodyne’s technology and business soar.
27 minutes | Aug 13, 2020
Building at VC Scale in Southeast Asia
Binh Tran, the founder of Klout and a partner at VC firm 500 Startups, looked out over time and geography and saw in Vietnam a place with a steadily growing engineering culture, and a population ready for an economic breakout. The question he needed to answer was this, did Vietnam and Southeast Asia broadly meet his criteria for investments? Could the region deliver those 100X-plus returns that keep venture capitalists in the hunt? At first glance, the answer was “no.” But then Tran saw in startups like Grab a strategy to get to VC scale, and then some. “There is VC scale here,” Trans says from his base in Ho Chi Minh City. “But to do VC scale, you are going to have to piece together a bunch of very, very different markets. You have Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam. Those are all separate ecosystems with their own regulatory barriers, languages and cultures. So, to get to VC scale you are going to have to approach it in a very different way.”
34 minutes | Aug 12, 2020
Open Sourcing Investment Analysis
The power of the open source software movement is how it harnesses the collective power of many developers to solve a shared problem. Raghav Kapoor, CEO and co-founder of startup Smartkarma, is looking to apply that same sense of collaboration to remake the investment research market. Historically, investment research was a service that rolled up into a department within a bank. Analysts would work in a siloed environment, producing their own insights and sharing with a very select group of readers. Smartkarma was founded on the idea that to increase the quality of research, you need to open up the process to be collaborative, instead of siloed. Per Kapoor, “Our team believes we’ve created a fundamentally different model of how to produce investment research. Inspired by the open-source software community, Smartkarma puts a focus on collaboration, creating a peer-review process that leads to better, more accessible analysis.”
29 minutes | Jul 23, 2020
Ideas are Easy, Execution is Hard: Here’s How to Execute
As every startup founder or would-be founder knows, there is an endless supply of ideas for the next great product, or the next great company. It is uncanny (but maybe not surprising in our information-at-warp-speed lives) that what may seem like an original invention is often not only occurring to some number of people in the exact same way, but at the exact same time. The key to leaping ahead, of course, is converting your ideas into something that can be put into the market before all those other people do it. That is why Singlife CTO Ned Lowe has built a team and a product development approach to do just that. “We’ve constructed a methodology at Singlife, heavily dependent on AWS to be honest,” Lowe says. “Around experimenting, getting products out there, failing fast and killing anything that is not working.” The last big product Lowe and his team pushed out, a unique insurance savings account, went from idea to initial customers in nine months. Remember, insurance is a regulated industry, there are more than a few boxes to check when you are launching something no one has ever seen. That is not just fast, that is crazy fast.
26 minutes | Jul 16, 2020
Seeing Yourself Through Machine Learning
Michael Musandu grew up in Zimbabwe and South Africa before heading to the Netherlands to study computer science as an undergrad and then in graduate school. While shopping for clothes online Musandu had the experience, as many do, of never seeing someone like himself in the smiling fashion scenarios that were presented on his phone and laptop. For Musandu, it was yet another example of the lack of diversity and inclusion in the world he saw around him. And so, like any student focused on machine learning in his graduate studies, he turned to ML (specifically generative adversarial networks) to help solve the problem. Musandu would build the “people” he never had a chance to see. The result is both a company, Amsterdam-based Lalaland, and Musandu’s attempt to not just increase retail sales for his fashion brand customers, but to increase the diversity of what we all see when we shop online.
54 minutes | Jul 16, 2020
Inside Angel Investing: Teach Me Everything You Know About Virality. Lesson No. 1 -- There is No Such Thing as True Virality
Rahul Vohra already knew there was a startup CEO + productivity love connection at his first startup, Rapportive. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have built the contact management email extension. What he didn’t know was how much that affinity would create a customer acquisition flywheel for Rapportive, and how, given the right product and target customer, it could be engineered. Here’s how Vohra describes seeing this flywheel in action. “At Rapportive, the product would spread horizontally between companies as founders and CEOs would talk about this amazing tool they had found,” Vohra says. “And then we noticed something remarkable, the product would spread vertically, firstly from the CEO up to their board, which would kickstart even more horizontal growth as board members can sit on as many as 10 boards. And secondly, from the CEO into their executive team and managers, which would kickstart another wave of horizontal growth as folks moved jobs and loved to talk about their own productivity … It was a very happy accident.” Happy accidents happen, but not at Vohra’s latest startup, email service Superhuman. This time that customer acquisition flywheel has been deliberately engineered into the product. The good news? You can do it too. And we’ll say it. You are going to want to take notes on how to be an exceptional startup CEO from Vohra. (Here’s a monstrously popular piece he did on finding product market fit: https://firstround.com/review/how-superhuman-built-an-engine-to-find-product-market-fit/, and for a survey tool to help you do exactly as Vohra recommends check out: viable.fit.) Not to mention how to have the best shot at getting his attention when he has his angel investor hat on.
29 minutes | Jul 13, 2020
Rewrite, Redevelop, and Rebuild: The Hard Choices That Led to the Success of Perx Technologies
Anna Gong was brought into Perx Technologies in late 2014 as CEO to lead the Singapore-based lifestyle app company through its next stage of growth. But instead of scaling things to greater heights, Gong found herself shutting down the core business and turning what was a consumer-focused business into a full-tilt enterprise SaaS platform. “This was one of those weird scenarios where you are supposed to be hired as the growth CEO, but you end of being the re-founder,” Gong says. “I had to sunset the business, shut down the B2C business after months in, and decide to propose to the board that this was not where we should be heading towards -- and it is going to fail.” From B2C, to going after the enterprise market was like starting from scratch. Gong had to redo everything. Not to ruin the surprise, but it worked, incredibly well.
45 minutes | Jul 2, 2020
Inside Angel Investing: Chris Mairs’ Embarrassingly Long History of Getting it Right
Telecom software maker Metaswitch Networks was bootstrapped for the first 25 years of its profitable existence before the team decided to take outside investors including Sandhill Road standout Sequoia Capital. A few years after Sequoia invested in the London-based company, Chris Mairs, who was Metaswitch’s chief scientist, asked a Sequoia partner what the key requirements were for investing in a company. As Mairs recalls the conversation, the Sequoia partner highlighted three things. 1. The people. 2. The business needed to be quite young so there was plenty of opportunity for growth. 3. The Sequoia team needed to be able to bicycle from Sandhill Road to the company’s head offices. Metaswitch had only one of those right. The only one that mattered. Remember, Metaswitch Networks was a 25-year-old business based 5,380 miles away (and across an ocean) in North London. “All I can say,” the partner told Mairs, “is your people must be pretty damned amazing.” And while that punchline was delivered with humor, it cuts to the core of how Mairs invests today. “That has been the core thinking behind my own angel investing since then,” he says. “If the people aren’t exceptional it doesn’t matter how good the market it, it doesn’t matter how smart the technology is – it’s not worth making the bet.”
42 minutes | Jun 16, 2020
Inside Angel Investing: How Long Have You Been Working on This?
The time and cost it takes to build things has come way down for all kinds of startups. So, unless you are deep in the R&D game, the answer to, “How long have you been working on this?” takes on deeper significance, says Seedcamp’s Reshma Sohoni. The speed to market, and the speed with which competitors also crop up, has vastly increased since Sohoni co-founded the London-based seed investment in 2007. “Particularly in the world of consumer and SaaS it is (now) an execution game, and a go-to-market game rather than it is fundamentally tech infrastructure as a moat,” Sohoni says. “So, a lot of our questioning and push is around the brilliance (a founder demonstrates) around go-to-market. “So much money has gone into so many startups roughly, attacking the same use case with same roughly the same solution, and it becomes a marketing money game, and as an investor you have to be conscious of the game you are entering.” In other words, remember that go-to-market brilliance Sohoni is looking for? You better bring it. And in the startup religion of “fail fast” and the “pivot” there is something you should always consider Sohoni says -- greatness. “I don’t think in our experience any of our companies have dramatically changed their product where it went from shit to great,” she says. “There were always kernels of greatness there in the product, and then it got even slicker, it evolved and hit the right nerve with users.”
28 minutes | Jun 10, 2020
What’s Behind the Startup Boom in Vietnam
From an economic standpoint, Vietnam may be at a tipping point, at least that’s what Olivier Raussin and his partners at FEBE Ventures are betting on. With a growing population of roughly 100 million people, consistent annual GDP growth, and more specifically, marked digital economy expansion of roughly 25% annually in recent years, Raussin and his team believe the Southeast Asian country is posed to see a jump in innovation similar to what has been witnessed in China and India. In this conversation with one of the co-founders of VC firm FEBE Ventures (For Entrepreneurs By Entrepreneurs), we dive into what Raussin and his partners look for in potential investments, the unique opportunity Vietnam and its surrounding ASEAN neighbors present, along with tips and tools for surviving the current environment (he’s a big believer in the importance of regular self-reflection). Having worked through a handful of tough economic times, the team at FEBE see reasons to be optimistic, and are actively investing in companies ready to take on the challenges ahead.