Echelon a great place to meet Asian ecosystem players
By Karamjit Singh June 12, 2013
- Echelon 2013 saw strong participation from region’s startup players
- Malaysians who went benefited greatly too, including technocrats
I DISCOVERED while attending e27's Echelon 2013 in Singapore, that it is not just investors who seek validation when checking out startups. Even entrepreneurs do that.
I know because the almost 30-strong Malaysian contingent of entrepreneurs and government agency executives who attended Echelon 2013 almost always asked each other the same question: “So, see any interesting startups you like?”
With 90 startups exhibiting in total, it was easy to understand why we would ask that question. Even though half of them had gone through a filter process to pick the best startups from Asia, there were just too many companies to speak to.
So, did I spot any potential gems? I actually don’t know. A number of them did stand out for me, but before I share who they are, let me just say that there are no Malaysians in this list and this is simply because I focused my time on meeting the non-Malaysian startups.
I am already familiar with the Malaysian startups which were there, plus have easier access to them. But kudos to Netizen Testing, ChopInk and others for participating and increasing awareness of their business among all the regional players there.
Of course GridMarkets was also there, having been adjudged the best of the Malaysian startups at Echelon Malaysia Satellite. Two more companies, Xilnex Retail Business Solutions and Savemoney.my, were apparently there too but I have to admit I did not notice them.
I also did not speak to all the startups there. No, I was not being lazy or getting jaded. My own filter came into play too. I did not look at any enterprise startups, social media plays, gaming, sports or pet-based startups.
But there were also just too many interesting people to meet from all the various ecosystems in Asia who had descended on Echelon 2013 to learn from each other and network, and perhaps start a relationship which may bear fruit in the future.
These ranged from entrepreneurs and investors to technocrats, telco players and startup service providers.
As Alvin Koay (pic, right, with a visitor at Echelon), the Penang-based founder of Rich Media Ads, says, “Overall, it was really worthwhile for us, with loads to follow up on. Startups should really be out there to be more visible among investors, potential customers and partners in order to grow.”
A seasoned Internet entrepreneur and one of the earliest in Malaysia to strike it rich, he quotes actor-director Woody Allen, saying, “80% of success is showing up.”
For Koay, showing up in Singapore was made easier by the fact that his trip was fully sponsored by BlackBerry which wants him to build his patent-pending mobile advertising solution for their platform.
For Alvin Chai of Netizen Testing, he and his team got to talk to many interested clients from Singapore’s big corporates. Many were heads of departments taking care of digital products.
But beyond that, “it was a very good opportunity to network with other startups from all over Asia,” says Chai. “We got to know people with whom we are already partnering to explore new business opportunities because we can see a lot of synergies.
“If startups can work with each other, the possibilities are endless – they become stronger together,” he adds.
Malaysians fishing in Singaporean waters
Some of my more interesting conversations came from speaking to the various ecosystem players. For example, I came across an interesting gentleman who failed his O Levels, yet went on to launch an enterprise tech company which he eventually listed in Singapore and then went on to sell his stake for S$120 million (US$96 million).
He is now actively involved in the startup space through his seed venture fund. He plans to make 18 investments this year.
Oh, and did I mention he was born in Kedah? Watch out for his story in Digital News Asia (DNA) soon.
On the theme of Malaysians playing in the venture capital space in Singapore, I ran into Lau Kin Wai, whom I used to cover when he ran a telco and mobile Internet software company called Viztel, which he listed in 2004 and eventually exited.
Lau now runs FatFish Group which operates a venture fund and digital incubator with operations in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. He is looking into the Internet, biotech and entertainment spaces.
So we know there are Malaysians fishing around the startup waters of Singapore, hoping to snare promising startups. Chances are, they may run into young Malaysian graduates of Singapore universities eager to make their mark with their own startups.
Singapore’s ecosystem has also proven fertile, attracting talent from around the world to relocate there and launch their next startup. That is what I liked about Styleprofile.me (the .com domain is owned by a US-based recruitment company).
I first came across Styleprofile when two of the founders pitched in Kuala Lumpur at Echelon Malaysia Satellite. I did not take them seriously then, thinking to myself, “Not another startup hoping to merge two big trends, e-commerce and social, into one sexy package?”
But I spent some time chatting with one of the co-founders, Liling Ong, and discovered that her cofounders Roland Felber and Manuel Gruber had exited a group- buying site in Germany, DailyDeals, bought by Google in 2011.
Recognising that South-East Asia was ripe for an explosion in e-commerce, they brought their experience and cash with them to Singapore where they were eventually introduced to Ong, and realised they shared a common interest in e-commerce and spotted the same opportunity in social commerce.
They raised angel funding from the CEO of DailyDeals, Markus Pichler, who set up his own fund after the Google acquisition. Markus also acts as an adviser to Styleprofile.
What impressed me was how the team, together with Markus, has leveraged on its network to give Styleprofile a running start in its difficult mission of merging social, fashion and e-commerce.
Even the Taiwanese team that was adjudged the ‘most promising startup,’ WayGo, had a multinational founding team which I found interesting. At the end of the day, it is the expertise, desire and drive of the founding team that will carry a startup the furthest, and I think that is what drew me to the companies I found interesting at Echelon 2013.
In the weeks ahead, I will share with you some of their stories and hopefully we can all learn something from their journey.
And imagine that, I have not even talked about the two-day conference held at Echelon. The highlight was the 20-min startup talk given by Dave McClure of 500 Startups.
That deserves a full article in itself as the sandal-clad McClure absolutely skewered all those wasting their time on MBAs and chided startups in Singapore which were spending more time trying to get various government funds than customers.
“Don’t even get too enamoured on the technology. Focus on getting customers,” he urged. At the end of the day, it’s customers who will give you the revenue to sustain your business and hopefully grow it, he added.
That’s just common sense, but when it comes from someone regarded as a leader in the startup space in the United States, it strangely comes across as thoughtful advice worth remembering.