Week in Review: Who is Edward Chen?

  • Founder of startup, oBike, does what Anthony Tan and Patrick Grove could not
  • Are family offices well versed in intricacies of startup investing?

I DON’T know who Edward Chen is, but he has done what Patrick Grove of Catcha and Anthony Tan of Grab could not do – raise US$45 million (RM193 million) within 8 months of launching his bike sharing startup, oBike in Singapore.

Tan took 2 ½ years to raise his Series B of US$15 million while Grove never raised the amount Chen has, within the first 8 months of all his previous startups. And while Grove did raise US$30 million for iflix even before it launched in May 2015, this came on the back of his already successful track record as an internet entrepreneur.

I could not find anything on Chen to indicate he was a successful entrepreneur in the past. I couldn’t find anything on him in relation to oBike before he appeared in its latest press release announcing its US$45 million funding round this past Friday.

I do know that it has gone from being a Chinese owned, Singapore-based startup, with two of its three directors coming from Shanghai, to becoming a “homegrown Singapore startup”.

And actually, where it is from, or where its directors are from is not important. The fact that it has raised so much money in 8 months is what is amazing to me, especially when it is competing is a space with larger competitors who have raised way more money than it. For instance a Chinese founded bike sharing startup, Mobike, has raised US$928 million.

And mind you, while Grab is still focused on Southeast Asia, despite raising close to US$3.5 billion and iflix is focused on emerging markets, oBike, is already aiming for the global market – which actually makes the amount it raised, small, versus the scale it is hoping for.

And it is not in an asset-light business as well. It is using its own bicycles, and will likely need tens of thousands of them if not more, especially if it dares to get into China anytime soon. Have a look at this quick story on Bloomberg about the bike sharing scene in China.

So what do its investors see in it? Its current usage metrics? The founding team’s outstanding track record? Who are they, anyway? The business model? I note that oBike is a paying service right off the bat and that is great, but how much can you make when charging users S$1 for 30 mins in Singapore or RM1 per 15-mins in Kuala Lumpur? And what other revenue streams can a bike sharing startup have?

Is this investment a sign that there is still some froth in the funding system where all indications suggest that funding has gotten tougher over the past 18-months?

An established regional entrepreneur suggests that oBike’s current funding round is indicative of the amount of venture money flushing through the SEA startup ecosystem with that money looking for  startups to bet on. Noting that a number of family offices also participated in the round, he muses if this group of investors has a strong enough grasp of the intricacies of startup investing to make well informed decisions.

What I found interesting among its current investors is the presence of a “global transportation platform”. Surely this group knows the industry landscape? And they are willing to bet on oBike. That makes this a startup to watch. And I may just use one of their bikes to get to my next assignment this week!

May you have a productive week ahead.

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