Inspired Moments

In venture, it’s not often coming across a team with a high degree of raw talent and passion, solving some of the most ambitious problems in Southeast Asia. I’ve been incredibly grateful to be able to join Harshet and Tommy on the ride since leading SeedPlus’s investment into Qoala last year when it was just the two of them.

Here’s a good profile of Qoala from Tech in Asia which tells the story thus far: https://www.techinasia.com/microinsurance-coming-masses-indonesia

While it’s often exciting to talk about the market and opportunity size (Insurance x technology x emerging Southeast Asia), it’s the human stories that stays with me:

“We once had a case where 17 kids had a delayed flight from Jakarta to Manado. They were stranded at the airport and tried to make a claim for their flight delay,” shares Harshet Lunani, Qoala’s co-founder and CEO. “As the process was automated, all they had to do was snap a picture of the documents to make the claim, and we could pay them immediately.”

Lunani adds: “We later found out that they used the money to have a meal at KFC, and that made my day because I can relate and imagine not setting aside money for a meal due to a tight flight schedule.”

(I can relate to the bit about KFC 🙂)

Moments like these where technology creates an impact with such immediacy is truly inspiring. The truth is, moments like these shouldn’t be rare; moments like these should be experienced by every day consumers across Southeast Asia. I am glad and energised that the Qoala team is en route to making that happen, partnering with some of the most successful investors in the region including Sequoia Capital, Golden Gate Ventures, MassMutual Ventures, MDI Ventures and so on.

To more inspiring moments!

Happy Fathers Day (Year 0)

This is my first Fathers Day being a Dad. It’s been an amazing journey. I learned a lot, about the people around me, and about myself too. The experience has taught me so much, and I am better for it.

One of the key lessons though, I think, is the parallels between parenting and stewardship. Perhaps it’s best captured by the following poem by Khalil Gibran:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

Which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

Thanks for coming into the world and joining me in this journey called Life, Son. I can’t wait to explore life and the world with you.

Early vs Growth Investing

After 3 years in venture I’ve come to appreciate the differences between operating and investing better, and the nuances between the different stages of investing in private, high growth, technology companies. There are many observations and lessons learned for sure that I might share in future posts, though here’re some points very well articulated by Ilya Fushman, who recently joined famed VC firm KPCB.

IF: Certainly, there were some great logos in the growth-stage fund. But I think returns from [earlier-stage] venture were pretty great as well.

I think where we came down as we were thinking about strategy was this notion of how do you compete. There’s a lot more capital at the seed stage; there’s a lot more capital in growth stage. When we think about ecosystem and landscape of venture, when you look where we’re focused predominately today — which is Series A — the type of work we do and the kind of skills required is mentally quite different from late-stage investing. There’s basically no data. We’re helping founders hire their first sales leader and figure out their product strategy and helping them navigate partnerships. And when you look at the late-stage growth side, a lot of it is financial engineering, and you have to be really good at it, because you have to price things really well. For us, if we’re off 20 to 30 percent on price, it’s probably okay as long as we pick the right company.

I believe this pretty aptly describes the work that we do at SeedPlus. We were there when founders are looking at the go-to-market strategy for the first commercial launch of their products; we were there to help navigate complex partnership conversations and financing strategies; we were also there when founders needed the nitty gritty & the mundane – helping hire the right corporate secretary firm, modelling cap tables in Excel, recommending co-working spaces etc. Of course all the above doesn’t preclude a successful outcome (both in the investment sense and in building a successful company), but in general we feel pretty good about our ability to roll up our sleeves and help and being part of the company building process.

In other words our aspiration is to be Company Builders rather than Company Financiers. Hopefully the perceived value is mutual between the SeedPlus team and our portfolio founders. :)

Read the rest of the interview here: https://techcrunch.com/2019/02/14/kleiners-mamoon-hamid-thinks-we-could-be-in-a-15-year-long-bull-market-and-other-insights-from-the-firm/

Coming full circle (2018 -> 2019)

In many ways, 2018 was defined by beginnings, and coming full circle.

The biggest event has got to be welcoming our son, Xiang, into our lives. The moment I held him in my arms for the first time will probably be one of the happiest moments I will ever experience, and will carry through my entire life.

It is a strange feeling seeing a new life unfold in the days since, and being responsible to care for and guide his young existence in this crazy world. It is as though I am re-living life through him all over again. I also saw first hand how resilient, patient and kind a Mother can be. It is genuinely inspiring seeing Ning stepping into the role; this is grit in display.

It is also nice that I am able to reconnect with family, having my mom and sister now living in the same country and also seeing close relatives we’ve not seen for years when they visited Singapore earlier in the year. I am grateful for that.

I was also able to reconnect with the alumni from Evernote. (Hosting Phil L in Singapore was a highlight for sure. Dude loves his durian. ) I am glad that the alumni network stayed strong; in some sense it is a testament of the strong culture we’ve built during our journey together. I am looking forward to further collaborate with the crew and create some meaningful impact together.

It’s easy to grow cynical and jaded, especially in these turbulent times. Geopolitical uncertainties globally and in Southeast Asia. The increasing crescendo of various ethical and moral questions (gender discrimination, pace of creative destruction, privacy and big tech etc) the technology industry has to grapple with. If anything, I think it’s more important than ever to hold true to principles and going back to basics, and do one’s best to do what’s right.

Through all these I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be able to work with some really amazing founders and technologists through the work we do at SeedPlus. I’ve learned a lot through these experiences and am looking forward to collaborate, support and just be helpful in any way I can.

A special shoutout to the team SeedPlus as well – we’d done some great work in 2018. Looking forward to taking things up a notch in 2019.

I expect a bumpy 2019 ahead, as Ning and I continue to learn to be parents, and navigating through inflection points in the Southeast Asia venture ecosystem in the months ahead. That said, I continue to believe in using technology as a lever to create positive impact and to act as a force of good. I am as excited as ever to see what 2019 has to offer.

“Live a World Class Life”

This is probably one of my favourite interviews so far on the Tim Ferriss show. There are many great sound bites from the conversation, so i’ll encourage you to give it a listen via the link here: https://tim.blog/2018/08/02/ann-miura-ko/

Some of my takeaways from the conversation (there are quite a few):

  1. Be world class in whatever it is that you do. This is a consistent theme through the conversation and it shows through Ann’s career. Fun fact: Ann was my TA at Stanford’s E145, where Mike Maples Jr was a guest lecture as well. This was mentioned in the podcast (it wasn’t my team that was imploding nor did we get an A+😉). I’m sure Ann doesn’t remember me but her being pregnant and working on a PHD and working a full time job really made an impression on me. She was definitely world class in #grit.
  2. Not losing does not equal winning. This resonates especially, as I reflect on some of my experiences working with founders. Many a times I’ve met founders who would tell me that their product can be used to tackle the SME market and the enterprise market and the finance vertical etc. Besides showing the lack of focus, the “hedging” strategy shows the lack of true conviction and confidence in leveraging one’s strength to turn that into a sustainable competitive advantage.
  3. Find your world class life and live it. This is a particularly encouraging and empowering message. The thing is, not all of us are meant to be doctors/lawyers/entrepreneurs etc. You are, and you should, try to be the best version of you that you could be. This also means that no matter what you do, try your best to be world class in that category. Effort counts twice (see Grit by Angela Duckworth). If you can’t outsmart, out prepare.

Sequoia Capital’s Doug Leone on Luck & Taking Risks

What a great talk. Here are some personal takeaways for me:

What makes Sequoia great?

  1. Team oriented spirit to help founders build great companies
  2. Only one investment away from being a second tier firm, hence don’t be complacent. “If you are desperate, it’s a great asset.”
  3. Look out for founders with “crystal clear thinking”.

Doug Leone’s Advice for graduates:

  1. If you’re going to have kids, invest in your kids.
  2. Go for it, have successes, but bring others along with you.
  3. Bring it everyday, fearlessly

Why I Read

Pretty much summed up here:

“Books have always been time machines, in a sense. Today, their time-machine powers are even more obvious – and even more inspiring. They can transport us to a pre-internet frame of mind. Those solitary journeys are all the more rich for their sudden strangeness.”

A great piece here: I have forgotten how to read

To me, it’s about practising mindfulness and being conscious on focusing my attention. We do live in an increasingly distracted world, the tweets, the posts, the timeline, notifications, little red alerts, chat bubbles and talking heads.. Endless little attention grabbers gnawing at your attention span. I believe this situation is especially pronounce in tech and venture, empirically speaking.

My strategy is helping me develop mindfulness:

1. I read two books in parallel, one fiction and one non-fiction, a chapter each day.
2. Daily meditation in the morning. Headspace is my app of choice.
3. Run. I try to run two to three times a week, clocking 6km ~ 7km each session. Clears my mind with what i dubbed “active meditation”.

I believe in this increasingly noisy world, mindfulness isn’t just crucial for well-being, it can also be a very real competitive advantage. To be able to do great, deep work, mindfulness and focus is key.

Year One.

It’s been one year since I, like Harry Stebbings would describe in his podcast, stumbled into the wonderful world of VC. I couldn’t ask for a better set up and colleagues, in the likes of Michael and Gabriel , and the wonderful support and mentorship from the team at Jungle Ventures.

I’ll like to share a few quick notes on some lessons learned, and also observations along the way. These are far from exhaustive I am sure.

Pace.

The pace of decision making is quite different. When you are an operating executive, especially when you are in a start-up, you need to make decisions quickly as the cost of not moving fast enough is higher than the cost of mistakes. In most situations, the downside cost of mistakes can be limited, as the feedback cycle of each decision is fast and you get a chance to course correct. On the contrary, one almost has to slow down decision making in investing as the cost of mistake here is high, and the feedback cycle is long. It should be a calculate and deliberate decision, and to a large extent a very uncomfortable environment for me. A lot of the time I wonder if I’m actually making progress, or I’m just getting busy without moving the needle. 

It’s about people.

What surprised me is how much the people factor weights in the business, from building relationships with founders, colleagues in the industry from other VC firms and potential (and current) LPs, VCs spend a lot of time managing these different stakeholders and relationships. It’s interesting to think of the VC industry of the few industries which incentivize participants in the ecosystem to be good actors for the long run (H/T: Anjney).

(Not) knowing it all.

This sounds cliche, but I truly feel that VC is a really humbling profession. Day in and day out I work with truly smart and driven founders, and I meet many more from different pitch meetings and demo days. It’s both humbling and scary to learn about many cool new technologies and innovation gaps in many industries, and at the same time I can’t help but think about how much I don’t know. In some sense it’s a really subtle but important shift in mindset between operating and investing – in that when you are executing, your job is to provide the answers but when investing the job is about asking the right questions and getting comfortable with not knowing it all.

Bitter work (苦活)

I recently had the opportunity to have lunch with the legendary Jenny Lee from GGV, and what she shared struck a chord with me:

VC is hard work. In Mandarin, we call that 苦活, which literally translates into bitter work. The real work starts post investment when you are working with the founder, it is a 24/7 service oriented work. One minute you could be interim CFO trying to help the founder with cap table modeling and budgeting, the other you are playing the head of HR, listening to founders and providing emotional support. It’s highly unstructured work, and the glory (should the company succeed) belongs to the founder, not you (rightfully).

I am sure there’re much more lessons to be had, and much more work to be done, and we are just getting started. Interestingly my one year anniversary coincided with this piece of wonderful news: https://techcrunch.com/2016/05/31/seedplus-is-an-early-stage-fund-focused-on-finding-global-startups-in-southeast-asia/ so that’s one happy happenstance.

On that note, if you are a founder looking to build a globally disruptive start-up from Singapore and beyond, I look forward to partner with you. If you have questions about fundraising, or start-ups in general, I am happy to talk to you. You can find me on Twitter at @tianglim.