From entrepreneur to angel: Douglas Khoo’s journey
By Benjamin Cher June 17, 2016
- ‘Giving back’ is important, and that giving is not just about money
- Landscape more competitive now, anyone with an idea can be an entrepreneur
THE entrepreneur playbook, as dictated by Silicon Valley, is for entrepreneurs who successfully exit to become angel investors and/ or philanthropists.
Malaysian angel investor Douglas Khoo (pic above), also a principal at The Coding Shophouse, faced a similar turning point after exiting Qunar.com.
Qunar was only among the few startups he had cofounded, but the travel website was his most famous after it was acquired by Chinese search giant Baidu in 2011 for a whopping US$306 million.
“After I exited the company, besides playing golf every day, I decided to invest some of my money in startups,” Khoo said at Echelon Asia Summit 2016, the startup and investor gathering organised by Singapore-based tech blog e27.
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“It was not so much about the need to generate more money, but to have access to startups and provide mentorship to them,” he added.
The problem is, after you have one successful travel startup, you tend to attract more of the same. In the startup world, like attracts like.
“Once you do travel, every other travel startup wants to have you as an advisor or on its board,” said Khoo.
“When I started investing in companies, the tendency was that because I knew the category well, I would try to help them along,” he told Digital News Asia (DNA) on the sidelines of the conference.
“But I felt that travel was pretty much done to death – it was just variations of the same theme and there was not much innovation,” he added.
So Khoo decided to diversify. He has got four travel startups under his belt, but the other four are in different fields, including a drone startup and Vibease – yeah, a remote-controlled vibrator company!
“I wanted to start diversifying and see if there was an opportunity to learn about different industries,” he added, declining to disclose details about his other investments.
Then and now
The startup landscape today is different from when Khoo embarked on his entrepreneurial journey.
“It is a lot more competitive these days because anyone who has an idea can be an entrepreneur – whether they become successful or not is a separate question,” he said.
“Would I do another startup in China? The answer is categorically, ‘No.’
“When I started out, we didn’t have that many real Chinese competitors, but today you have a lot of returning Chinese who have studied in Ivy League schools, who speak good English, have a network, and understand what’s happening in Silicon Valley.
“They are far better equipped to execute better.
“To compete with them now, even though I have the wealth of experience, would be 10 times harder compared with when I started out,” he added.
The Internet landscape has changed too, and some of the different things Khoo tried out when he started have become an essential nature of today’s Internet.
“When I did my first startup, it was all about providing really easy stuff like news coverage and comparisons, but now that is mostly done to death and it’s fundamental on the Internet,” he said.
“The Internet is moving into VR (virtual reality), social sharing and a bunch of other things. You look at these and ask, ‘How does anyone make money out of that?’
“Yet you still have companies like LinkedIn being sold for US$26 billion – the landscape has changed tremendously,” he added, referring to Microsoft Corp’s proposed acquisition of the professional services networking company.
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Khoo has previously advised Malaysian entrepreneurs that Kuala Lumpur is not the centre of everything, and he is now warning Singaporean entrepreneurs about the dangers of getting too comfortable.
“It’s great to be in Singapore where you have a lot of access to government funding and infrastructure, but I tell a lot of startups here, develop your alpha or beta product, but very quickly after that, expand into other markets,” he said.
“Singapore can become very comfortable and if you are going to be an entrepreneur, you cannot be comfortable. You are there to disrupt a process or industry, you cannot get too comfortable, and I think Singapore provides that.
“What you’ll also need is to expand your markets as well, and your market is not just Singapore but the whole region,” he added.
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