298: Jianggan Li on Momentum Works, Tech Accelerators, and Opportunities in China

298: Jianggan Li on Momentum Works, Tech Accelerators, and Opportunities in China

 

Podcast highlights:

  • [04:33] You describe Momentum Works as a tech accelerator. What do you do? -- Over the past two years we've changed our business model quite a bit. For many ventures, you can get a team together, get some investors, and start producing a product. The problems come next when you have to deal with customers, have to find the right people to help you expand, etc. At Momentum Works, we hunt startups. To be a successful accelerator, you can either be really knowledgeable about niche markets and products, or you act more like a pure VC where you basically just supply money. We do a bit of both.
  • [32:55] Do you spend a lot of time traveling to and from China? -- In 2018 have traveled there at least once every six weeks, usually to either Beijing or Hangzhou. We have to otherwise you end up losing touch with the market. What's interesting is the degree to which there is a lot of second-generation wealth in China looking for places to invest. It's very common that once people get rich in China they begin to look for off-shore opportunities for their assets. Singapore is becoming more and more attractive in this regard.
  • [41:30] As you continue to develop Momentum Works, what kinds of startups are you looking to have walk through your door? -- We are always open to talking to people. The people we like to work with are those who are passionate, but who also understand what's going on in the world. How is what they are doing similar to what others are doing in different markets? Having this sort of strategic openness to what's going on, to the bigger picture, really helps. It's really hard to tolerate people who lack logic in what they're doing. People are good at telling stories, but it takes logic to turn plans into reality.

Podcast notes:

  • [00:05] Welcome Jianggan Li, founder and CEO of Momentum Works, to ATP Stories with host Graham D Brown.
  • [00:27] You describe yourself as an entrepreneur across emerging markets. Can you describe what this means? -- We are living in a world where there is lots of growth in different markets. Interested in the dynamics of each market and how to break into each market, work with locals, and make something happen. Have worked in six markets across Southeast Asia and speak seven languages, if only basic conversations in some of them.
  • [04:33] You describe Momentum Works as a tech accelerator. What do you do? -- Over the past two years we've changed our business model quite a bit. For many ventures, you can get a team together, get some investors, and start producing a product. The problems come next when you have to deal with customers, have to find the right people to help you expand, etc. At Momentum Works, we hunt startups. To be a successful accelerator, you can either be really knowledgeable about niche markets and products, or you act more like a pure VC where you basically just supply money. We do a bit of both.
  • [10:30] You've lived in many places, but you've gravitated towards Singapore as a base for your latest project. Why does it make sense to have an accelerator in Singapore? -- Over the course of 13 years, have been coming to Singapore. It's in the middle of everything. There's money, there's a great network, etc. It's a good place to have your tech lead or your talent lead.
  • [13:40] You helped set up Easy Taxi in Singapore. Tell us what that was like. -- Originally the Easy Taxi work was part of Rocket Internet. While living in France, met someone who knew about Easy Taxi and encouraged me to get into touch with them to see if they were interested in coming into the market in Singapore. The tech team was based in Brazil, which made the time difference quite complicated to work around.
  • [16:33] If a startup came to you now at Momentum Works and described having their various units spread around the globe, do alarm bells ring in your head? -- Wouldn't say alarm bells. If you've managed to build a team across different geographies, this in and of itself is quite a feet. We would be keen to see if it could be made to work.
  • [21:05] Tell us more about Momentum Works. How do you organize yourself? -- People usually come to us, often through referrals. We thought about the idea of doing batches, but we didn't go in this direction. If someone comes to us, we will have lengthy discussions with them and see if it is something we can get involved with and to what extent we can contribute. For us it can take the form of joint-ventures where we're involved in the day-to-day, or as simply providing cash.
  • [31:10] Are there any other players in the accelerator space trying to operate similar to the way you do things, as sort of a middle ground? -- There are a few here in Singapore who do that. There are also some alumni from Rocket Internet in various places trying to do things in different ways. It is interesting to see how people are trying to experiment with different accelerator models.
  • [32:55] Do you spend a lot of time traveling to and from China? -- In 2018 have traveled there at least once every six weeks, usually to either Beijing or Hangzhou. We have to otherwise you end up losing touch with the market. What's interesting is the degree to which there is a lot of second-generation wealth in China looking for places to invest. It's very common that once people get rich in China they begin to look for off-shore opportunities for their assets. Singapore is becoming more and more attractive in this regard.
  • [37:10] With the rise of Chinese wealth, there is a massive shift of talent moving to Asia. Have you noticed a different type of entrepreneur on the ground now? -- Certainly. In one regard, we see people working on projects where it's simply easier for them to operate in a more relaxed privacy and regulatory environment. In time, when regulations in China catch up to those in the West, companies will have been able to learn a lot from the data they were able to collect and analyze.
  • [41:30] As you continue to develop Momentum Works, what kinds of startups are you looking to have walk through your door? -- We are always open to talking to people. The people we like to work with are those who are passionate, but who also understand what's going on in the world. How is what they are doing similar to what others are doing in different markets? Having this sort of strategic openness to what's going on, to the bigger picture, really helps. It's really hard to tolerate people who lack logic in what they're doing. People are good at telling stories, but it takes logic to turn plans into reality.