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The Secret to Extraordinary Growth, According to Ninja Van

Jason is an Investment Analyst at Monk’s Hill Ventures. He had prior experience in GO-JEK and Brake Parts Inc. He studied Mechanical Engineering at University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, with a minor in Business and was President of Illini EcoConcept, an organization that designs and builds a hydrogen-fueled concept car.

Ninja Van was born from co-founder and CEO Lai Chang Wen’s frustration: he couldn’t find a bespoke but affordable shirt, so he created automated custom retail brand Marcella. Later when he couldn’t guarantee timely, seamless delivery for his products, he began to explore last-mile logistics. After Lai resigned from a derivatives trader post at Barclays to pursue his new project, his friends Shaun Chong and Boxian Tan joined as co-founders. Tan doesn’t believe founding a startup with friends is usually a smart strategy, but the close core team yielded extraordinary results for Ninja Van.

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The State of Southeast Asian Tech Report Launch & Panel Discussion

In anticipation for Slush Singapore & Monk's Hill Ventures’ report on Southeast Asian tech, startup and funding ecosystem, we are holding events in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta!

Join us for the launch of The State of Southeast Asian Tech report and panel discussions discussing respective countries' tech startups and ecosystems. What could be a better way to mark the countdown to Slush Singapore!

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Why I Don’t Invest in AI

Last year AI companies attracted more than $10.8 billion in funding from venture capitalists like me. AI has the ability to enable smarter decision-making. It allows entrepreneurs and innovators to create products of great value to the customer. So why don’t I don’t focus on investing in AI? During the AI boom of the 1980s, the field also enjoyed a great deal of hype and rapid investment. Rather than considering the value of individual startups’ ideas, investors were looking for interesting technologies to fund. This is why most of the first generation of AI companies have already disappeared. Companies like Symbolics, Intellicorp, and Gensym — AI companies founded in the ’80s — have all transformed or gone defunct. And here we are again, nearly 40 years later, facing the same issues. Though the technology is more sophisticated today, one fundamental truth remains: AI does not intrinsically create consumer value. This is why I don’t invest in AI or “deep tech.” Instead, I invest in deep value.

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A Startup Playbook

Jon is an Operating Advisor at Monk’s Hill Ventures. and has founded a number of companies in the US and Asia. Currently, he is the head of strategic partnership for the Next Billion Users group at Google. Previously, Jon held positions as Chief Product Officer at KODAKIT and RedMart. He first entered the Asian market as the founder of Perx in Singapore.

When I got to Singapore in 2011 and was starting Perx, the ecosystem looked a lot different than it does today. I am committed to the region for the long-term, so I really want to see the ecosystem expand and mature here. As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time working with incubators, speaking at tech events, and mentoring startups to help grow the ecosystem. As I mentored companies, built my own or helped build others, I noticed that I was hearing the same issues and was offering the same advice, so I started to create a playbook to building a startup. I’m hoping that learning from my mistakes will help save you from making some of them yourselves and get you to your next milestone faster.

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Find a Robust Mentor, Then Adopt Their Strengths

As innovators, we often aim high when seeking out a mentor, hoping that proximity to a Steve Jobs or Elon Musk-type character will help us to reach our own ambitious goals. Most entrepreneurs have more than one mentor, and those advisors go on to serve different roles throughout a company’s growth. Rather than limiting themselves by seeking to emulate a single inspirational figure, startup founders should first outline the characteristics they hope to embody as a leader, and then seek out the right person or people to help them acquire those traits.  Above all, a mentor should reflect their mentee’s aspirations as the mentee undertakes the transition from a fresh founder to organizational leader. When searching for a mentor, entrepreneurs should find mentors who can assist in a variety of ways; often, this means a team of mentors rather than a single individual.

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My First 100 Days as a VC Analyst in Southeast Asia

RJ is an Investment Analyst at Monk’s Hill Ventures, and was previously a consultant at Balmater Consulting Company, where he led a small team to advise family-owned SME's in Indonesia. Prior to that, he was a financial analyst at Fortman Cline Capital Markets in Manila focusing on local sell-side deals in the region.

The first 100 days in any new job can be daunting. Acclimatizing yourself to new faces, new methodologies, new job functions, and new industries is hard for everyone. Below are some of my personal tips working in a Southeast Asian venture capital fund to help you beat the learning curve faster.

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Three Things to Consider Before Starting Your Startup in Southeast Asia

Yee Hoong is an Investment Analyst at Monk’s Hill Ventures, and was most recently founder of Custom Tribe, an online algorithmic custom shirt startup. Prior to that he was an associate with a life sciences VC/PE, and a management consultant working with clients in FMCG and Financial Institutions.

Every now and then in conversations with founders and friends, the question “would you do a startup again” will most certainly creep up. Reflecting on the decision leaving vc to build Custom Tribe a few years back, I now often advise many to-be founders to think long and hard about it. Here are three things I think are unique to Southeast Asia, from collection of conversations with fellow SEA-born (ex) founders.

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So You Want To Join A Startup (in Southeast Asia)

Lucy Luo is an Associate on our investment team in Singapore. One of her favourite things to discuss with founders is about people and fostering talent.

I wrote this blog because it’s a common topic of conversation with friends and founders, and I’m personally thinking through this for myself. Would love to hear other people’s experiences on it - especially if you’re a founder or startup employee (past, present or planning to).

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VCs evaluate a lot of startups. This gives us a good look into how they operate, what they care about, and the type of people they want to hire. VCs also meet a lot of people, including those who are looking for their next job. This puts us in a pretty logical spot to matchmake candidates and startup jobs. It’s always interesting to hear what each side thinks they’re getting, and then in hindsight what they actually end up with.

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A Frequently Asked Question: “What’s a VC fundable startup?”

June Chen is an Associate at Monk’s Hill Ventures, and was previously an associate in the investment banking industry primarily advising large corporate clients on IPOs, local and cross-border M&A transactions in Southeast Asia.

 

I received a lot of queries (along with raised eyebrows) from founders I talked to about why we decided not to invest in their startups. For many instances, the answers were simple enough: it was a hardware business (which we don’t typically invest in), or it’s out of our geographical focus. However, when it comes to explaining why a startup that ticks all the boxes but might be ‘too early’ for us, I often find myself digging deep into its business model and its founders to come up with a reasonable answer. For the benefits of the general public, this article seeks to shed light on our thought process in determining whether a startup is VC fundable and whether it is ripe for a Series A round.

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Simple Formula for Exponential Growth

Wondering if there's a simple formula for exponential growth? Here's a brief explanation as described by Bayram Annakov, CEO of App in the Air, in his article.

 

The formula is: 

k > (1-retention), where k is the fraction of new users attracted by existing users. 

The system incorporates 2 feedback loops: 

1. Reinforcing loop: more active users >> more new users >> more active users.

(New Users = Active Users * k)

2. Balancing loop: more active users >> higher churn rate

(Churned Users = Active users * (1-retention), since churn rate is reverse of retention)

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EdTech, Don’t Get Left Behind!

Technology has had a profound impact on every aspect of our life, and education is no exception. With the commoditization of information and the rise of AI, our methods of education are obsolete. Though at the root of the problem, technology can help accelerate the progress in education. Innovation in edtech should help drive better learning outcomes, stay relevant, and make education more accessible.

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Peng T. Ong's Interview with Great Owls

This interview with Managing Partner Peng T. Ong first appeared on GreatOwls.com

Interview by Olga Sych

 

You created three highly successful, but very different companies ranging from gaming to content management. What led you to create each of them?

I look for what I call ridiculous states of the world that don’t make any sense and then try to fix those states. The first one was looking through classified ads with your finger on newspapers. That didn’t make sense, so I thought, ‘Why doesn't a computer do it?’ The second one was how to manage hundreds of gigabytes of content with thousands of employees contributing to the content on a website. I thought there must be a better way to do it with automation. The third one was about how digital security is so archaic in our space and the world we live in, so I tried to fix that.

 

What is one of the most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?

To choose to be an entrepreneur.

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Building and Scaling Data Science Teams For Your Startup

Today, data is an important competitive advantage for companies. Companies use it to understand their customers, decide on a business strategy, and optimize their business.

As an operating advisor at Monk’s Hill Ventures, I talk to startup founders on how they can do that. These startups range from early-stage companies, to more mature companies in the pre- or post-IPO stage. Some companies already have established data science teams and are keen to scale that out, while others are figuring out how to hire their first data scientists or even decide what kind of data they should be collecting. Nevertheless, there are a few common themes that keep coming up, and I hope to address some of them here.

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Vietnam: A tech hub ready to boom

Everywhere I look these days I see cranes. Not the kind that fly, but construction cranes. While some look at them and see ugliness, I see something else: the towers reaching skyward symbolize Vietnam’s striving ambition, Vietnam’s promise.

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The Sales Engine

Why do big corporations find it so hard to innovate? Why is it difficult to create products that are somewhat different from what they have already produced or using different distribution channels? In short, what is the nature of innovation that makes it so difficult to process-ize? One of the reasons is the same reason why many startups do not get past the seed stage.

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Solve Education!

A speech given by Peng T. Ong on scalable and sustainable solution to education around the world at AVPN Conference 2017 in Bangkok on June 7, 2017.  Peng T. Ong is the Chairman of SolveEducation!, a non-profit organisation that focuses on making high quality education accessible to everyone. Leveraging on technology, SolveEducation! aims at revolutionizing education through gamification and artificial intelligent.

 

Greetings, honorable members of AVPN and all the participants of this year’s conference. … Ladies and gentlemen. Friends and future friends. 

The theme of this year’s AVPN conference is collaborating for impact.

We are here today because we are hopeful that through collaboration we can make a bigger difference to the world we live in.

Contributions that will benefit individuals and groups, with collaboration, can possibly scale up to make a difference to towns, cities, and nations.  Thus, one of the key purposes of collaborating is so that our collective impact is much more scalable than our individual efforts.

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A chance meeting leads to opportunities: on making your own luck

Personal insights from Justin Nguyen, one of our Operating Advisors.

 

I often say that success is half luck and half what you make of it. But the thing is, you can make your own luck.

Not that long ago when I was the CEO of a young gaming company, an opportunity was literally standing in front of me, but if I hadn’t been paying attention, I might have missed it.

I was in line at the Macau airport (economy class, of course), heading home from the Global Gaming Expo, when I happened to look up at the business class line. That’s when I saw him: the CEO of one of the biggest players in our space.

I prefer not to identify him by name, but let’s just say he was a big fish. Seeing him there would be like a software startup CEO spotting Larry Page, just standing there with his wife.

He had no idea who I was, but of course, I knew exactly who he was. Me? I was running a small company, competing against giants: their R&D spending in a single year was 20 to 30 times the size of our entire budget. We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars.

We weren’t even a blip on his radar.

I decided to change that.

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