Venture capital is arguably the lifeblood of entrepreneurship. As much as a founder can pull herself up by her own bootstraps, it’s an extremely lucky (or successful; same difference) business that never needs the VC touch.
Good thing, then, that the VC touch is strong, as last week’s Kauffman Fellows Venture Capital Summit showed. Selected guests from the global VC community and fellows of the US-based, two-year educational and networking program gathered in Singapore to eat, drink, be merry, and discuss the current state of the industry.
Among the 200 attendees were representatives from firms like Sequoia Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, Accel, Google Ventures, and more. Local and regional venture capital was represented by firms like Vertex, NSI, Qiming, and more. The Singapore event was organized with the help of home turf firm Golden Gate Ventures.
Hello from the other sideThe Asia VC panel that followed reiterated the call for heroes. The established career mindset in Asia can be a hindrance for new entrepreneurs if there aren’t any role models to inspire people, said Shailendra Singh, managing director for Sequoia India.
Interestingly enough, China might have the exact opposite problem, according to Qiming Ventures partner Helen Wong. “In China, you don’t need to encourage people to be entrepreneurs,” she said. While this confidence leads to a lot of “me-too” type of companies, would Alibaba exist without it?
Sozo Ventures founding partner Koichiro Nakamura said that Japan’s younger generation is more interested in the venture industry, especially the services industry. It’s a shift from the steady career-focused Japanese mindset.
The trend is catching on in China and India more than Southeast Asia, Shailendra noted. Fewer success stories combined with a continuing drought of engineering talent make for greater challenges in growing the ecosystem. He said that Indian or Chinese founders tend to be more aggressive than their Southeast Asian counterparts.
As happens more and more when people interview VCs, the conversation quickly turned toward the bubble question – is it real in Asia or not? According to Golden Gate Ventures founding partner Vinnie Lauria, a bubble is indeed forming as “unsophisticated money” is coming in – like inexperienced investors attracted by the increased venture activity. Helen mentioned that China’s investment space is affected by some companies being unable to get the valuations they’re asking for, which leads to consolidation.
Vinnie mentioned Singapore’s peer-to-peer (P2P) online marketplace and Golden Gate Ventures portfolio company Carousell as an example of starting out as a twist on a familiar model and evolving from there.
Asia risingBoth the VC panels as well as the founders’ panel that took place (featuring William Tanuwijaya of Tokopedia, Alexis Horowitz-Burdick of Luxola, and Ross Veitch of Wego. Ken Bishop, managing director of Southeast Asia for Facebook, also joined) stressed the importance of mobile penetration in the region. Increased mobile usage in developed markets like Singapore and the smartphone acting as the gateway to the internet in developing markets – from India to Indonesia to Myanmar – present startup opportunities that might not be there in other parts of the world.
While it took Tokopedia a while to get going because mobile development talent wasn’t abundant in Indonesia when the P2P marketplace started out, William explained that 75 percent of its current traffic comes through cellphones. Alexis, who got cosmetics estore Luxola acquired by global cosmetics brand Sephora last year, cautioned against putting all of one’s eggs into the mobile basket, however. It may be prevalent in the region, but it’s probably not the only avenue your customers use.
Startup ecosystems are springing up all over the world, and Asia is no exception, according to Phil, who is also co-founder and managing partner of Sozo Ventures. “I’ve been in the industry for 20 years, so I had some perspective on Asia even before I came in,” he tells Tech in Asia. “20 years ago there wasn’t the natural impulse for innovation there is today because industries and products were more stable.”
“What makes Asia more exciting is, I think, the population and the demographics,” he adds. “It’s very young, it’s very dynamic, it’s very well educated, it’s very global. This is arguably the most promising place in the world.”