500 Startups’ Khailee Ng on his investment preferences: Page 2 of 2

Marketing and growth hacking
 
500 Startups’ Khailee Ng on his investment preferences: Page 2 of 2A key skill set gap that Ng says he has identified in startups from South-East Asia is around sales and marketing, which leads to the third commonality he sees in his companies.
 
“It is very easy to build a product and have passion, but it is harder for someone to have a sales and marketing ability, able to plan how they will reach more customers, and with the execution skills to do so,” he says, describing this, in a nut shell, as “having a growth hacking mindset.”
 
And because he believes this mindset is less developed in South-East Asia and hiring for it is tricky, he feels that founders have to actually learn to do this themselves.
 
“Founders must have this growth DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid),” he insists, adding “if you are not growing customers and revenue, then what the heck are you doing?” 
 
Those fortunate enough to have 500 Startups invest in them will get help in the areas of marketing, distribution and increasing customers because “this is in our DNA since the beginning, and where we add the most value,” says Ng, drawing attention to founder Dave McClure’s marketing prowess in his career before he launched 500 Startups.
 
Ng describes himself as a marketing guy as well, right from his days with Mindvalley.com in 2006 and his second startup Says.com in 2010. In fact, he says “Internet marketing is in my blood,” and this is the main value add he delivers to his investee companies.
 
“I get involved after we invest in them and, if the founders want my help, spend between half a day and a full day helping them to budget for growth, with the funds they have raised,” he says.
 
He makes a point here to highlight the fact that the timing in helping his startups is more important than how much time he spends helping them.
 
“It is about spending the right time with them,” he says, adding that this is when they have raised a few million and will need to budget for how to spend the money, to experiment with various marketing strategies, to measure the effectiveness of the money spent, to measure the data collected, and to dissect it for insights that can be acted on.
 
Ng uses an interesting term to describe the activities he helps his investee companies build around the area of marketing and sales. “I set the teams up for cadence,” he says.
 
Among the activities are making sure the marketing and tech teams are aligned. For instance, are they meeting every Monday? When do they review the analytics together to fish for insight? Is there a daily standup by marketing and sales to discuss targets for the day, or the week? Are they having speakers from other startups come in once a month to learn how they are doing things?
 
Some of these may sound like activities that large companies do and give a glimpse into the detailed efforts that go into sales and marketing by the companies 500 Startups invests in.
   
This then leads to yet another stereotype that he wants to dispel: That Silicon Valley VCs invest in young college dropouts, or in some crazy technology with billions of users, etc.
 
“The greater story for VCs globally is actually about the use of the technology to solve real business and consumer problems. It is not about the technology per se,” Ng says.
 
And it is not about taking a solution that works in another country and bringing it into Malaysia or Singapore, for instance. “Rather, it is about identifying a problem set overseas and seeing if there are a similar set of problems here,” he adds.
 
“The problem set is more important than the solution set because if a similar problem exists here, then you can look into bringing the solutions here, albeit by modifying them for local market needs,” says Ng, highlighting this as a key investment criterion he uses.

To download a list of 500 Durians' portfolio companies, click here.

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