What makes a good startup? No one knows the perfect formula, but this year’s Startup Asia 2014 has taught us that with a healthy dose of confidence, traction and disruption, you are on the right path. The annual communal event for startups saw it happen over the first week of May, from 6 May with the pre-conference meetup to 8 May when the Arena announced the winners and startups gathered at the after-party.
Held again at Biopolis’ Matrix, the space allowed startups to be sprawled across the four floors, packed like sardines in an eco-friendly tin, and all the way out to the garden surrounding the outskirts of the building. Investors either entertained startups at the “Speed Dating” area or roamed the space for interesting sights. Speakers gathered at the backstage, waiting to catch each other to tweet a photograph. From the grand lineup of conferences to the never-ending wave of buzz to the free coconuts, we know that this year was a rolling ball towards success.
The crowd first formed on the evening of the pre-conference meetup, “What to Do Differently When Raising 50K, 500K and 5M”, held at the Singapore Microsoft Auditorium. The leading team from Tech in Asia and Microsoft collaborated to bring an interesting session with buffet spreads and nuggets of entrepreneurship wisdom.
Featuring three highlighted startup founders, namely 99.co’s Darius Cheung, Scrollback’s Aravind Ravi Sulekha, and Luloxa’s Alexis Horowitz-Burdick, they talked about the different processes of fundraising and teased out the trend of startups in this stage. Darius was no newcomer to big fundraising projects but still he commented, “Making friends [the second time] became easier. Raising fund didn’t.” He advised that if you are trying to pitch to someone really important, try to sacrifice a few investors previously first. This is because total confidence is key, and then followed by how you sell yourself as a founder. Alexis’ advice? “Work in sales for a year if you are nervous.”
Minister of Trade & Industry Teo Ser Luck kicked off the first day of Startup Asia with a keynote on why Asia can be the next Silicon Valley and shared the expansion plans for Block 71. “We want to give a chance to young people,” he said, “Or anyone who didn’t have a chance to be in entrepreneurship.” He was followed by Vietnam’s top Internet company, VNG, as CEO Le Hong Minh introduced himself as a gamer in the run with other companies to be the top in the gaming industry. His presence was certainly with enough game, but Hootsuite and Quietly’s fireside chat made a loud entrance with their ““thriv[ing], not just surviv[ing]” attitude. “If you aren’t embarrassed by your first product launch, you probably waited too long,” said co-founder Dario Meli on Quietly’s progress. Ecommerce giants gathered on the stage next to discuss the logistics behind the markets of Southeast Asia, and we were opened to the predicted trends from the minds of key players from Qoo10, Taobao, Zalora and Rakuten Ventures.
Afternoon highlights were just as enriching with the gathering of hardware companies discussing the steps to take to ensure that your idea is your hardware. Difficulties were shared, but Vibease’s Dema Tio stood out with his smart vibrator and shared that raising money for the sex aspect is harder than normal. “Do a hardware startup now if you want to leave behind a legacy,” said Pulkit Jaiswal from Garuda Robotics as he held his own drone high in the air. The day was wrapped up with ever-popular Rita Nguyen, the CEO of Myanmar’s Squar.asia, as she excitedly shared the potential of her country and what plans are in stored for progress.
The second day was opened with disruptive names such as Viki’s Razmig Hovaghimian and MyRepublic’s Malcolm Rodrigues. Both of them went against the current and are gaining a lot of attention towards themselves, and this only strengthens their goal towards territorial quests. However, everyone was looking forward to the Bitcoin debate between Aurélien Menant, the Co-founder and CEO of Gatecoin and Richard Jerram, the Chief Economist at the Bank of Singapore. An intense session of currency exchange but the victor proved to be Richard. That was aptly followed by a keynote on disruptive platforms for anything from files to currency by Taavet Hinrikus, the first employee at Skype, and founder of Transferwise. The lessons that he learnt from Skype were:
1. Team / 2. Location / 3. Keep Users In Mind / 4. Innovators’ Dilemma
His one belief is that while the goods and services sectors are moving as fast as the consumers, finance is a part that is still catching up. From government policies to shady bank rules, he stands firm in his aim to disrupt.
500 Startups’ Khailee Ng shared with the crowd about his “shithole mentality” when he first started in Malaysia with one developer, and imagined a life better in Silicon Valley. Juggling his experience and attitude, he came up with a set of rules to live life by and grab dreams as they come into your life. His funny anecdotes were a reflection of his progress (one Ruby on Rails developer, a failed pitch after months of planning) and he encouraged everyone to “move at the speed of Internet.”
After a short coffee break, the room was refilled with people for the start of the Startup Arena; where 10 startups have the opportunities to mass pitch their idea to the crowd and judges to win up to US$10,000. This year’s group saw StudyPact (Japan), Kairos Watches (Korea), Haystakt (Singapore), AppVirality (India), Bindo (Hong Kong), Facerecog (Singapore), Astroscale (Japan/Singapore), MergePay (Thailand), Asli Goli (Pakistan), and Proxperty (Singapore). While spaceship-worthy Astroscale was a crowd favourite, Bindo took home the grand prize with their complete outfit of marketplace hardware and software.
With startups galore and inspiration spilling out of the auditorium, the last day for Startup Asia 2014 stretched a long way with ETPL’s wearable gadgets runway show and last-minute networking ventures along the corridors. Revved up with the right spirit, we are all set for the next Startup Asia. Right now we might just settle for starting up something of our own because after all, disruption is contagious.