Digerati50: The effervescent influencer

  • Works on establishing a cadence in all his investees to get them to market fast
  • Three factors have to come together for more exits to happen in Southeast Asia

Digerati50: The effervescent influencer

Digital News Asia (DNA) continues its series that profiles the 50 influencers who are helping shape Malaysia’s Digital Economy, from Digerati50 2016-2017 (Vol 2), a special print publication released in February 2016. The digital version of that publication can be downloaded from the link at the top right corner of the page thanks to the sponsorship of Telekom Malaysia Bhd, Malaysia’s convergence champion.

For information on customised reprints email [email protected]


IT would not be a stretch to call Khailee Ng a major force in the startup ecosystem, not just in Malaysia but in Southeast Asia. And it is not just the numbers that hint at his impact, though they do help paint a picture.

He started leading Silicon Valley-based 500 Startups’ South-East Asian fund, 500 Durians, in mid-2013, and by the end of 2015, almost 100 startups had found funding, or were in the midst of the requisite paperwork.

In mid-2015, 500 Startups also launched a new fund, Distro Dojo, targeted at accelerating the growth of high-impact startups focused on Southeast Asia. The goal here is to invest in 100 startups in the region over the next three years.

Too aggressive? Not really, says Khailee, who feels the target is quite conservative. This is because he anticipates a ‘feeding frenzy’ in Southeast Asia similar to what’s happening in India today, where, incidentally, 500 Startups is well positioned thanks to a bet it made there early. He recalls that they were warned that the Indian market was not ready in 2011.

But 500 Startups went ahead and cut cheques for 50 startups over the past four years. By 2015, every venture fund wanted to get in on the action in India, and valuations were shooting up.

But Khailee’s impact goes beyond just funding entrepreneurs. As a much sought-after investor, mentor and adviser – especially for early stage startups – he tries to help them establish what he calls “a cadence.”

This is essentially a rhythm – a fast-paced, execution-oriented one, since Khailee never does anything slow – that helps startups find the fight formula for market traction. And in Malaysia, a lot of the work he has been doing around the startup ecosystem has been by engaging with the Malaysian Global Innovation & Creative Centre (MaGIC), a government agency tasked with developing the ecosystem – both when he was on the MaGIC board and even after he stepped down due to heavy travel commitments.

A MaGIC executive describes Khailee’s impact as “immense,” and another credits him as a “thought leader who inspired everyone around him to level up. He is always pushing the boundaries of what is possible.”

Peers describe him as an inspiration to not just entrepreneurs, but also to fellow investors and even ecosystem builders. He is also an inaugural Digerati50.

What’s undeniable as well is that he has created high visibility for the Malaysian startup ecosystem, and within Southeast Asia, he is arguably the most charismatic angel and seed investor.

And while 2015 was a year of a low number of exits, looking ahead to the 2016-2017 horizon, Khailee thinks three factors have to come together to trigger any exit.

“It starts with founder willingness – whether they wish to exit now and cash out, versus raising another round and exiting later.

“Then, of course, there is buyer willingness. Do they want to buy now (when it is cheaper) or wait to see how a business progresses and end up paying more later?

Father Time is the third factor. “Most exits in all markets take time, sometimes between five to seven years, especially if via an IPO (initial public offering). And with 2015 experiencing a huge shift in investing, the next wave (of eventual exits) has truly begun,” he says.

And who is going to bet against the effervescent Khailee having an outsized impact when this wave materialises?

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