318: Facebook Ad clicks are down 20%, here’s why (DLA6)

Podcast highlights:

  • 06:17 Simon breaks down the figures of ad clicks on Facebook. Despite having a larger population, the median number of ad clicks for Indonesia was lesser compared to Singapore.
  • 26:05 Simon explains why ROI on Facebook is determined by what we have set as an objective. He further elaborates that ROI cannot be measured in terms of reach, engagement, likes and shares.
  • 45:02 Graham and Simon hypothesize about the different factors that can contribute to the 20% global decline of the Facebook ad clicks. Simon also shares how the World Cup has played a small part in this decline as it takes up a significant chunk of the free time that people spend on different platforms.

310: Social Impact (PitchDeck Asia)

Podcast highlights:

  • 09:30 Mr. Malik advises the social enterprises to have the idea that is commercially viable because they do have moral responsibility towards the people who work for them. They should also know how they are going to show their social enterprises’ value because an investor would not only look at the individual, stories, how they are going to make money but also most important is how they are going to spend the money.
  • 26:40 Mohd Affendy talks about his first time raising funds and about his approach in realising the high demand for Sewing in Singapore. He also shares with us about Teag being the leading social enterprise in making their beneficiaries who are un-trained women with problems to be seamstresses. To build the skills they have also secured an exclusive right to conduct sewing training by one of the leading training centres in Singapore.
  • 37:56 Elke Pascoe shares with us about her goals for the next two years from now. They are hoping to be out in the shelves selling their products and nourishing the babies and toddlers in New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and Middle East. They aim to produce the best and most natural formula in the market so that every child who uses the product is going to thrive because of it.

300: Tiang Lim Foo – SeedPlus, Venture Capital, and Southeast Asia

Podcast highlights:

  • 06:56 People in the region seem to speak highly of the work you guys do at SeedPlus. You seem to check all the boxes for the ideal startup founder most VCs look for. — Never referred to self as an entrepreneur. What entrepreneurs do is way, way harder than what we do as VCs. Having been in venture capital for a few years, have a greater appreciation for the dangers of stereotyping. Great founders can come from anywhere. Biases can lead to dangerous thinking and missing out on great opportunities. Empathy is probably one of the hardest skills to acquire as a VC. You need to have empathy with founders. Of course we are investing for financial gain; but at the same time we want to help build businesses that are good for human beings. An example of a company focusing on empathy is Amazon. Jeff Bezos has always been customer-first, customer-centric. This has not changed over the years.
  • 14:53 When you’re chatting with a founder, what do you look for? — It’s really about the team. At the seed stage there are a lot of unknowns. This means the founder and the team have a much bigger impact on overall outcome during this early period. We look for qualities like mental agility, understanding context, market fit, displays of leadership, and just like pure grit. It’s a delicate balance. When you come across someone who has an opinion about how the world should work, even if it’s not correct, this suggests it’s possible to have a discussion around making ideas work. It’s also relevant to consider the context in Asia. To have an opinion implies you’re willing to go against the grain. Asia is more conformist than other cultures, and this is not always great for entrepreneurship.
  • 45:29 A new generation of talent is wondering how they can be part of the Asian Century. What advice might you give? — There’s no better way than just being here. You can read and watch as much as you want, but it’s not as good as seeing things for yourself. Singapore is a great gateway into the rest of Asia. It’s good for families and it’s safe and efficient here in Singapore. Immersion and acquiring a language are also fantastic ways to get acquainted with the region.

Podcast notes:

  • 00:05 Welcome Tiang Lim Foo, Operating Partner at SeedPlus, to ATP Stories with host Graham Brown.
  • 01:00 Can you give us a brief synopsis of yourself? — Operating Partner at SeedPlus, a seed-based venture capital fund in Singapore. We closed our first fund in June, 2017. Primarily we invest in the broader Southeast Asia region, not too much in Japan, South Korea, and China.
  • 03:50 All of the members of SeedPlus who have been on our show seem very relaxed for VCs. You all seem pretty informal in your approach to venture capital. This is not how VCs tend to operate in Asia. Is this deliberate? — Partially it’s a reflection of who we are and where we came from. [Tiang] came to SeedPlus from Evernote, the note taking software company that started in Silicon Valley. Worked for them in Singapore from 2012-2015. At SeedPlus, we have backgrounds in tech companies. It informs our dress, our language, etc.
  • 06:56 People in the region seem to speak highly of the work you guys do at SeedPlus. You seem to check all the boxes for the ideal startup founder most VCs look for. — Never referred to self as an entrepreneur. What entrepreneurs do is way, way harder than what we do as VCs. Having been in venture capital for a few years, have a greater appreciation for the dangers of stereotyping. Great founders can come from anywhere. Biases can lead to dangerous thinking and missing out on great opportunities. Empathy is probably one of the hardest skills to acquire as a VC. You need to have empathy with founders. Of course we are investing for financial gain; but at the same time we want to help build businesses that are good for human beings. An example of a company focusing on empathy is Amazon. Jeff Bezos has always been customer-first, customer-centric. This has not changed over the years.
  • 12:41 When you think of your role as a VC, do you take on board inspiration from people like Jeff Bezos? Do you read Tony Hsieh, for example? — That book is on my never-ending to-read list. If you think about this from a game-theoretic perspective, venture capital is one of the few industries that reward long-term strategy. Venture is a multi-round game. You want to partner with founders with whom you can have a long relationship. Reputation compounds over time. Founders may come back after their idea germinates a bit and you find it’s now a better fit for the fund.
  • 14:53 When you’re chatting with a founder, what do you look for? — It’s really about the team. At the seed stage there are a lot of unknowns. This means the founder and the team have a much bigger impact on overall outcome during this early period. We look for qualities like mental agility, understanding context, market fit, displays of leadership, and just like pure grit. It’s a delicate balance. When you come across someone who has an opinion about how the world should work, even if it’s not correct, this suggests it’s possible to have a discussion around making ideas work. It’s also relevant to consider the context in Asia. To have an opinion implies you’re willing to go against the grain. Asia is more conformist than other cultures, and this is not always great for entrepreneurship.
  • 19:18 When you look across Southeast Asia today, do you see these qualities coming through? — In a very macro sense, yes. 3-5 years ago if you were starting a business in Singapore, it implied you were unemployed. These days starting a business is a career choice. Across the region there is more of a groundswell happening.
  • 24:22 What’s happening at the macro level with China in Southeast Asia right now? — Historically speaking there have been very deep networks and connections with mainland China. There is still an enormous growth potential inside China. However, now we’re starting to see a shift towards expanding into Southeast Asia. This is a very natural extension for Chinese businesses. It’s a pretty exciting time. For VCs there are a lot of opportunities as people and markets begin to come online.
  • 28:48 How can investors in Southeast Asia manage this “Chinese effect”? — It’s not obvious there are clear answers. At the seed stage of investing, you go back to first-principles: are we investing in good businesses?
  • 33:18 The period you spent at Evernote was quite an interesting time in your career. They are a company who have tried to keep their product simple even as it evolved. As an investor, how do you manage the temptation many businesses face of wanting to move in many different directions at once? — This goes back to having empathy for users and consumers. Most users can’t verbalize their needs well. Designers have to intimately know what problem they are solving for their users. At the end of the day, the CEO must make a decision and have confidence they’re making the right decision on behalf of customers.
  • 41:43 When one looks at Southeast Asia, it’s possible to see a competition developing between Amazon and Alibaba. Where do you think this will go? — It’s too early to say. Also, it’s not clear Amazon sees it as a competition per se. It’s not just about e-commerce selections. It’s also about the ancillary services around the customer. This could be Amazon Prime media, storage, etc. Amazon is a company thinking 5 to 10 years ahead. You can’t do this if you’re defined by competition in the market.
  • 45:29 A new generation of talent is wondering how they can be part of the Asian Century. What advice might you give? — There’s no better way than just being here. You can read and watch as much as you want, but it’s not as good as seeing things for yourself. Singapore is a great gateway into the rest of Asia. It’s good for families and it’s safe and efficient here in Singapore. Immersion and acquiring a language are also fantastic ways to get acquainted with the region.

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 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.

286: Jenny Pan – CarePod (PitchDeck Asia)

Podcast highlights:

  • 06:10 Let’s talk about traveling with pets. Many people don’t understand how difficult it is, correct? — It’s true, many people don’t understand unless they’ve had to travel with their own pets. In a way it’s like the divide between having kids and not having kids. Until you have kids, you don’t know what it’s like. It’s different for every airline; but what tends to happen is there’s a separate cost you pay and you’re required to take your pet to a separate part of the airport for cargo. There’s often no signage and no one to help you as you might expect. Pets are often then left in the cargo warehouse for hours while the flight is prepared and all the passengers go through check-in like normal. This is a very scary and stressful process for them.
  • 16:25 Let’s talk about CarePod. Can you describe what it is? — We’ve developed an entire solution to help people feel better about traveling with their pets. There are essentially two parts: 1) the physical solution and 2) the software side. The pod itself is basically a first class accommodation for pets, designed to help reduce the stress factors they face. We’ve tried to design something that increases airflow and ventilation while reducing the amount of visual and noise stress pets are exposed to. During flight pets are in the cargo hold, which is not accessible to passengers, and not designed for comfort. With the CarePod, we try to maintain a low-intensity environment for pets during the entire duration of travel.
  • 35:15 Who are you looking for then in terms of investors? What sorts of people do you see really understanding what you’re trying to do? — We’ve been surprised by people who get what we’re doing who may not be pet owners themselves. People who, for example, see tech and design as making the world a better place. They’ve approached us and said we like what you’re doing here with better design and better tech. We are also seeing airlines getting it more and more. They realize they need to acquire consumers long-term and they need to cater to a generation who see pets are part of their family and who very much want to travel with their pets.

Podcast notes:

  • 00:05 Welcome Jenny Pan, founder of CarePod, to The Pitch with host host Graham D. Brown.
  • 02:15 Before we talk about CarePod, let’s talk for a moment about Lhasa Apsos. Tell us about them. — Along with Tibetan Mastiffs, which typically guard temples, and the Tibetan Terriers, the Lhasa Apso is a common dog breed in Tibet. The mastiffs were traditionally protectors and were once used to fight lions, whereas the Apsos were lap dogs that resided inside temples. For me there’s always been an interest in dogs and so it was apparent the difficulties involved in flying with pets. It can be a very rough experience for the animals.
  • 06:10 Let’s talk about traveling with pets. Many people don’t understand how difficult it is, correct? — It’s true, many people don’t understand unless they’ve had to travel with their own pets. In a way it’s like the divide between having kids and not having kids. Until you have kids, you don’t know what it’s like. It’s different for every airline; but what tends to happen is there’s a separate cost you pay and you’re required to take your pet to a separate part of the airport for cargo. There’s often no signage and no one to help you as you might expect. Pets are often then left in the cargo warehouse for hours while the flight is prepared and all the passengers go through check-in like normal. This is a very scary and stressful process for them.
  • 12:15 Why is it that airlines still treat pets as cargo despite growing wealth in Asia and more sophisticated pet ownership as people become wealthier? — As passengers, what we don’t see is airlines consider themselves built as both passenger businesses and cargo businesses. There is very much a sense of two different teams. They are two very different entities and the two sides normally do not work very closely together. Pets are the only things that cross the divide between the cargo side and the passenger side.
  • 16:25 Let’s talk about CarePod. Can you describe what it is? — We’ve developed an entire solution to help people feel better about traveling with their pets. There are essentially two parts: 1) the physical solution and 2) the software side. The pod itself is basically a first class accommodation for pets, designed to help reduce the stress factors they face. We’ve tried to design something that increases airflow and ventilation while reducing the amount of visual and noise stress pets are exposed to. During flight pets are in the cargo hold, which is not accessible to passengers, and not designed for comfort. With the CarePod, we try to maintain a low-intensity environment for pets during the entire duration of travel.
  • 23:00 What is the effect on owners when traveling with pets? — When we spoke with pet owners, what they wanted most was peace of mind. They wanted to know airlines were providing the right level of service and care. They also want to know how their pets are doing, which is why we have a tracking element allowing people to see where their CarePod is at all times. 80% of pet owners expressed a desire to us to have this information. Also if you think of all the products airlines fly around, it’s amazing the things they can do. For example with pharmaceuticals, there are all sorts of sophisticated, temperature-controlled transportation options available. We don’t have this for pets. Why not?
  • 27:45 Let’s talk a bit about your business itself. What are the things we need to know about how you’ve gotten to where you are now? — We’ve been doing this for almost four years now. We have taken the time to develop a product to meet the needs of veterinarians, pet owners, and airlines. We have a product ready to go, we’re ready to launch.
  • 29:00 How have you funded this project up until now? — We’ve bootstrapped this for a long time. Basically we’ve self-funded with some good investors. Because we also have a hardware component, it’s a bit more expensive for us than for a purely digital startup. We expect to do a seed round later this year or early next year.
  • 31:45 This is an interesting funding model. Why have you chosen to do things differently than many startups in terms of how you raise money? — We have done some fundraising. What we found difficult was the investor’s mentality in this particular space. When we first got started in 2014, pet travel was just not on people’s radar. Being based out of Singapore, the mentality towards pets was quite different. Pets were still viewed as a status symbol rather than a family member. Things are different in Europe and the US.
  • 35:15 Who are you looking for then in terms of investors? What sorts of people do you see really understanding what you’re trying to do? — We’ve been surprised by people who get what we’re doing who may not be pet owners themselves. People who, for example, see tech and design as making the world a better place. They’ve approached us and said we like what you’re doing here with better design and better tech. We are also seeing airlines getting it more and more. They realize they need to acquire consumers long-term and they need to cater to a generation who see pets are part of their family and who very much want to travel with their pets.

285: Sudhanshu Tewari – Scaling a startup in Singapore

Podcast highlights:

  • 14:45 Recruiting and keeping talent in sales is very hard especially when you get beyond the entry level. Why would a company owner want to reward sales guys with iPads and things like that rather than just hard cash?
  • 24:15 When startup founders expand, they spend their time educating markets whether that be merchant partners or consumers, which is a huge risk – that’s a huge hidden cost that can sink a business. How does Rewardz do it?
  • 28:00 Often, the best salespeople aren’t very good at managing and the once who are good at managing aren’t very good salespeople. When Sudhanshu recruits and builds his company around that, what does he look for?

Podcast notes:

  • 00:05 Welcome Sudhanshu Tewari to Asia Tech Podcast Stories
  • 00:25 What has happened with Rewardz? Did it continue to grow directly as Sudhanshu thought back then three years ago?
  • 05:55 As an entrepreneur, did Sudhanshu find dealing with large organisations like a hospital frustrating or did he change his mindset about it?
  • 08:50 When Sudhanshu was building his sales team, does he recruit salespeople on the basis of them already having connections within the industries he’s trying to get into?
  • 10:00 When going to these organisations, does he target the HR departments? Who would be buying Rewardz?
  • 14:45 Recruiting and keeping talent in sales is very hard especially when you get beyond the entry level. Why would a company owner want to reward sales guys with iPads and things like that rather than just hard cash?
  • 17:00 How did Sudhanshu work with the eyewear company? Did he build a relationship with the founder, the retail store owners or the head of sales? Also, what would be the problem the eyewear company has that Rewardz is solving for it? Why would the eyewear company need a solution like Rewardz?
  • 19:20 Sudhanshu talks about the growth of Rewardz in 11 countries
  • 21:50 What is the most effective use of Sudhanshu`s time to scope up partnerships in new markets? How does he go about in markets like Indonesia?
  • 24:15 When startup founders expand, they spend their time educating markets whether that be merchant partners or consumers, which is a huge risk – that’s a huge hidden cost that can sink a business. How does Rewardz do it?
  • 25:25 How does Sudhanshu manage the 11 markets that Rewardz is in? Does he consciously ring fence his time?
  • 28:00 Often, the best salespeople aren’t very good at managing and the once who are good at managing aren’t very good salespeople. When Sudhanshu recruits and builds his company around that, what does he look for?
  • 33:30 How many people does Sudhanshu have now at Rewardz?
  • 34:30 In Graham’s telecoms business, he spent too much time managing all the people in the business when he should have been getting out there evangelizing, marketing and selling. How does Sudhanshu consciously author himself to do these things to grow the business rather than get caught in the weeds of growing a business?
  • 37:50 Does Sudhanshu find it a challenge being honest when going to social media and talk about where he went wrong?
  • 39:45 The branding side was something that did not come naturally to Sudhanshu and his cofounders
  • 40:35 Does Sudhanshu plan to continue to go on this growth trajectory? Is he popping the corks or is he a bit more low-key when it comes to his daily wins?

283: Wei Qing Jen from Vybes (PitchDeck Asia)

Podcast highlights:

  • 00:45 Let’s talk about Vybes. What is it and what are you doing there? — Vybes is a platform for millions of influencers to sell goods and services they create directly to their followers. We are disrupting the influencer market in a big way, allowing influencers to bypass brands and sell directly to their followers.
  • 10:03 Are there people or products that work really well on this type of platform? — We launched in April, 2018 and we’re still learning. It’s possible though to identify two types of people for whom this works well: 1) people with very niche products, and 2) people who really have superfans that will just buy anything.
  • 30:42 As a marketer myself, I am interested in what you call the K-factor. Can you explain what this is? — The K-factor is how many additional users does a new user bring onto the platform? If each user brings on an additional user, the K-factor is 1. If you’re interested, you should look into this as there’s a lot of information out there. What we want to do is figure out how to use technology to incentivize people to use our platform without us having to pay for them.

Podcast notes:

  • 00:05 PIT2 – The Pitch with Graham D. Brown and Wei Qing Jen from Vybes.
  • 00:45 Let’s talk about Vybes. What is it and what are you doing there? — Vybes is a platform for millions of influencers to sell goods and services they create directly to their followers. We are disrupting the influencer market in a big way, allowing influencers to bypass brands and sell directly to their followers.
  • 02:45 How can you replicate the successes of the leading influencers for the less well-known? — We are talking about people with more than 10,000 followers on Instagram. In the future we plan to look at other platforms. So we are already talking about people with a significant following, but who lack the team of professionals enjoyed by the most influential people in this space.
  • 05:25 What’s the barrier these people confront now? Why are they unable to monetize their influence? — Great question. My personal view is people don’t really understand their personal brand and what makes them different. Vybes helps by providing in part education and examples for people to follow. We also use technology to help by providing data analytics and helping people increase their following.
  • 07:50 In the same way Facebook has democratized advertising, you are democratizing the model for influencers. Is this a good characterization? — Absolutely yes, we are really trying to help our users not be bound to selling other people’s product but instead market their own, unique things. We are liberating both influencers and users.
  • 10:03 Are there people or products that work really well on this type of platform? — We launched in April, 2018 and we’re still learning. It’s possible though to identify two types of people for whom this works well: 1) people with very niche products, and 2) people who really have superfans that will just buy anything.
  • 15:00 Let’s talk a little bit about your background. Can you tell us a little about this? — Grew up in Singapore, went to the US for college. Did undergraduate work at Stanford and then went to Harvard for Graduate School. Lived in New York City after that before moving to China for six years; started first company there.
  • 18:40 With Vybes are you focused just on Singapore? — Right now because we’re based in Singapore, we’re focused there for the first launch. Once we test and make sure we’re happy we plan to expand into other markets.
  • 20:00 You could have set up in the United States and maybe that would have been easier for you. Can you tell us why you chose Singapore? — Personally it felt like the right time for me to come back. One thing to consider though is that because we are in the digital space, it almost doesn’t matter where we’re located.
  • 23:13 Can you talk about your funding and where you are in that process right now? — Last year we raised our seed round for almost a million dollars and we are likely to be raising another, larger round later this year. If you’re interested, reach out at [email protected].
  • 24:30 What is the purpose of this funding round for you? — We have two purposes: 1) to support our existing team, and 2) to prime the pump for growing the company.
  • 30:42 As a marketer myself, I am interested in what you call the K-factor. Can you explain what this is? — The K-factor is how many additional users does a new user bring onto the platform? If each user brings on an additional user, the K-factor is 1. If you’re interested, you should look into this as there’s a lot of information out there. What we want to do is figure out how to use technology to incentivize people to use our platform without us having to pay for them.

279: Stuart Kerr – Rock Human Devices (PitchDeck Asia)

Podcast highlights:

  • 02:40 Stuart talks about Rock Human Devices, a Singapore-based company building tough, well-designed medical devices – starting with hearing loss
  • 22:10 What was Dyson really all about? Ultra-high performance first before aesthetics. Also, the backstory behind Dyson Supersonic hair dryer
  • 37:35 Stuart says Rock Human Devices will eventually become a software company that has the hardware that the software runs on. Also, he talks about developing a prosthetic limb with machine learning

Podcast notes:

  • 00:05 PIT – Stuart Kerr – Rock Human Devices – The Pitch
  • 01:40 What is the point of The Pitch?
  • 02:40 Stuart talks about Rock Human Devices, a Singapore-based company building tough, well-designed medical devices – starting with hearing loss
  • 08:15 Stuart and Graham have a look at a functioning prototype of the hearing-aid glasses. How much does it cost to make one? Also, will the hearing-aid glasses be regulated and medically certified soon?
  • 14:15 How did Stuart fund the making of the hearing-aid glass prototypes? What were the assumptions challenged when he did the trial with 25 people?
  • 17:05 How light is the prototype? Also, why hasn’t this been done already?
  • 18:30 Stuart studied electronic engineering at Strathclyde and robotics in Japan, worked in Japan developing machines used in particle accelerators in CERN and SUPERKEKB, then worked for Singapore-based startup Pirate 3D in launching a 3D printer, then joined Dyson
  • 22:10 What was Dyson really all about? Ultra-high performance first before aesthetics. Also, the backstory behind Dyson Supersonic hair dryer
  • 27:35 Dyson develops core technology that solves very fundamental problems with how people interact with machines. So why wouldn’t companies start with that thought – “this is the problem the customer has. What is the best way of solving it?”
  • 33:00 When Stuart was prototyping the hearing aid glasses, how did he keep it lean? Did he consciously not go out and recruit or was he so busy doing the thing?
  • 35:20 After receiving funding, what’s next for Stuart and Rock Human Devices? What would be the value of that to another company? Can Rock Human Devices become the Dyson or Apple of the medical device world, or IPO?
  • 37:35 Stuart says Rock Human Devices will eventually become a software company that has the hardware that the software runs on. Also, he talks about developing a prosthetic limb with machine learning
  • 44:40 Contact Stuart on Linkedin here https://sg.linkedin.com/in/stuart-kerr-35a79449

275: Bob Gallagher — Appsynth

Podcast highlights:

  • 04:18 Earlier this year, you picked up an award in Singapore. Tell us a little bit about that. — We picked up two awards from Campaign Asia-Pacific. Campaign Asia-Pacific is basically the de facto agency world magazine in the region. It was really good recognition for us. Now it’s onward and upwards!
  • 26:00 Do you see anything emerging in Thailand on the mobile front that will catch on in the rest of the world? — On the consumption side, Thailand is leading in terms of time spent on mobile. We’re talking 4-5 hours a day. There is also mobile payment via QR codes, which are very big here. We see the drive to a cashless society. These are things you would notice in Thailand, people scanning people’s QR codes and transferring money for products and services very easily.
  • 44:10 So now you’re 8 years into the story of Appsynth. Where do things go from here? — For us it’s a careful balancing act in terms of having the people we need versus having a situation where work dries up and we can no longer support the number of people we have. Maybe we could expand to 100 people, be we’ll have to see. We also want to look at growing regionally and also in Europe and the US. One effort we’ve engaged in is diversifying the nationalities of our employees. As we move forward we need to continue to figure out how to change our structure to support our growth.

Podcast notes:

  • 00:05 Welcome Bob Gallagher, Managing Director and Founder of Appsynth to ATP Stories with Graham Brown.
  • 00:40 You set up Appsynth in 2010, correct? — Yes, that’s correct. Coming up on 10 years in Thailand with 8 of those years running Appsynth. We have over 50 people working for us now and have seen a steady stream of growth in this regard.
  • 01:40 So your background was originally in music, wasn’t it? — Yep. Started working in mobile 12 years ago for a mobile music distributor and even before that running a record label. Came to Thailand first at age 18 and saw the potential in the markets there.
  • 04:18 Earlier this year, you picked up an award in Singapore. Tell us a little bit about that. — We picked up two awards from Campaign Asia-Pacific. Campaign Asia-Pacific is basically the de facto agency world magazine in the region. It was really good recognition for us. Now it’s onward and upwards!
  • 07:48 These awards must help in terms of recruitment. Can you talk a little about that? — We’ve probably hired a bit more than 15 recruits in the past year, which is a lot. The award adds to the prestige of working with a company like ours. While we’re growing, we’ve been focusing on things like company culture and creating an environment where people want to come but also then want to stay.
  • 10:35 When you look at other companies, who do you admire in terms of getting corporate culture correct? — There are many different role models in this regard. There’s no one way to run a business. But to name a few, there’s Spotify. Of course there are other inspirations from different fields. Just take a look at who are the best software teams in the world and how do they operate. One benefit we have in terms of hiring people is the ability to tell candidates they will be able to work on many different projects given that we’re not such a big company. We don’t have teams devoted just to narrow features or products.
  • 15:15 Can you describe a bit about how you capture the sort of software engineer who wants to go out and make a difference in the world? — This is really a reflection on how we go about business development and being selective in terms of who we work with and what sorts of things we take on. There’s a lot of work out there, but we need to find things that are exciting and are going to be used by millions of people. This gets people motivated.
  • 20:30 You’ve recently published some data about working in Thailand and the changes taking place there. Can you help us understand some of these trends? — We clearly see how hard people work in Thailand. Certainly in technology and knowledge work, people work very hard here. The pace of work has been increasing here and we expect this to continue.
  • 23:50 In Thailand you have a hard-working population, and a young population very connected on social media. What sorts of opportunities does this create for a company like Appsynth? — This is a point we like to highlight because Thailand really is at the forefront for mobile usage and mobile shopping. It’s not in places like the US, it’s here in Thailand.
  • 26:00 Do you see anything emerging in Thailand on the mobile front that will catch on in the rest of the world? — On the consumption side, Thailand is leading in terms of time spent on mobile. We’re talking 4-5 hours a day. There is also mobile payment via QR codes, which are very big here. We see the drive to a cashless society. These are things you would notice in Thailand, people scanning people’s QR codes and transferring money for products and services very easily.
  • 35:20 What sorts of other things are you experimenting with there in terms of mobile payments and money transfer? — The app we produced for 7-Eleven here in Thailand has a feature where parents can top up their children’s accounts and eliminate the need for those kids to carry cash. This helps parents better control where and how their kids can spend money too. Another feature you see is loyalty tracking, which can be used to offer discounts and enticements to consumers.
  • 36:45 Do you think Thailand will be a leader in terms of being a cashless society? — Yes, I think so. People have really embraced this new QR-based payment model. Maybe Thailand won’t be the first country to go cashless, but it will certainly be one of the first.
  • 37:45 What is the mobile music scene in Thailand right now? — People here obviously love music and mobile, and in fact Spotify as the big player in this space was actually a bit late to come to Thailand. There are other players here including well-established local labels who are getting into mobile music.
  • 39:50 Do you see a lot of Chinese investment coming into places like Thailand? Are there Chinese companies coming in and making big investments? — Yes, definitely. There’s pros and cons of course. We’ve seen some cases were Chinese investment comes in and ends up moving development jobs back to China where some Thai developers simply don’t want to move for whatever reason. This has opened up new talent avenues for the companies that remain. This is what happened, for example, at Lazada.
  • 44:10 So now you’re 8 years into the story of Appsynth. Where do things go from here? — For us it’s a careful balancing act in terms of having the people we need versus having a situation where work dries up and we can no longer support the number of people we have. Maybe we could expand to 100 people, be we’ll have to see. We also want to look at growing regionally and also in Europe and the US. One effort we’ve engaged in is diversifying the nationalities of our employees. As we move forward we need to continue to figure out how to change our structure to support our growth.

269: Pieter Franken – Safecast, Shinsei Bank, MIT & Monex Group

Podcast highlights:

  • 02:10 You came to Japan to work for Panasonic Corp in 1989. What was Japan like back then? — This was just after the real estate bubble started to burst. Prior to that Japan always felt like an endless party. In 1989 the hangover was starting. It was a special time. You find Japanese companies all have their own stories. They are not all the same.
  • 28:00 You were actually involved in the aftermath of what was the largest corporate failure in Japanese history. Tell us a little bit about that. — You’re talking about The Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan, which went bankrupt in 1998. I joined the bank that emerged from this in 2000, Shinsei Bank. My interests were in rebuilding the bank from a technical / operational standpoint. At that time, Japanese banking technology in services was lagging. We really started to innovate to make Shinsei Bank a leader in banking tech.
  • 43:23 When you look at FinTech innovation in Japan today, there seems to be a lot going on. How has this happened? Who is driving it? — First, it’s important to consider that FinTech is a very broad term, which at it’s core means bringing into the world of finance new digital technologies, new companies, and new innovative concepts. In Japan now there is a realization the central places for finance in Asia are in Singapore and Hong Kong, they are not in Tokyo. There’s a growing realization banks need to innovate more.

Podcast notes:

  • 00:05 Welcome Pieter Franklin to Asia Tech Podcast Stories.
  • 02:10 You came to Japan to work for Panasonic Corp in 1989. What was Japan like back then? — This was just after the real estate bubble started to burst. Prior to that Japan always felt like an endless party. In 1989 the hangover was starting. It was a special time. You find Japanese companies all have their own stories. They are not all the same.
  • 06:43 How did it feel being a Westerner there at that time? — It was an eye-opening experience to see how things could be done differently. Companies could be organized in different ways. At that time, Japan was the cutting edge place for IT in the world.
  • 09:50 Let’s talk about Safecast. You helped found Safecast quite soon after the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami devastated parts of Japan in 2011. Tell us about that. — You can look back at photos of that time and the work we did at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. It was from that experience we saw the need for more transparency in these types of events. We found, for example, the measurements of dispersed radiation issued by authorities were deceptive at best. Our idea was to give people the ability to measure radiation on their own.
  • 18:18 When you look back, that earthquake was the [4th most powerful ever recorded – ed.]. Was there really anything that could have been done to prepare for it? — This is the fundamental question. My own view is that the consequences from a disaster like this are very very large, but the odds the disaster will happen are very very small. Those odds are not zero, however. The question for us is whether we should do something if the consequences when something goes wrong are very very big? What one observes is people are not good at understanding the dangers when the consequences could be this severe.
  • 22:50 Another area where this thinking seems relevant is in certain tech fields, like AI for example. When you look at these projects, do you worry about the implications of things going wrong? — Of course. We should worry about what might happen when things go wrong. So Facebook, electric cars, reusable rockets, these things have clear potential benefits; but we have seen how the same technology can be used as a weapon. That’s the dilemma of progress.
  • 28:00 You were actually involved in the aftermath of what was the largest corporate failure in Japanese history. Tell us a little bit about that. — You’re talking about The Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan, which went bankrupt in 1998. I joined the bank that emerged from this in 2000, Shinsei Bank. My interests were in rebuilding the bank from a technical / operational standpoint. At that time, Japanese banking technology in services was lagging. We really started to innovate to make Shinsei Bank a leader in banking tech.
  • 35:05 You talked about things you helped innovate, like 24-hour ATMs. To us here in 2018, these do not seem very significant; but back then they had a real impact. — Right. In Japan, ATMs were only open when the bank was open. Imagine if this were the case today. There were certain challenges to innovating in the banking sphere. For example, when the bank closes, you have to take all the cash and put it in the vault. When you open the bank, you have to take the money out of the vault. So we really had to bring a process engineering mindset to these design challenges.
  • 43:23 When you look at FinTech innovation in Japan today, there seems to be a lot going on. How has this happened? Who is driving it? — First, it’s important to consider that FinTech is a very broad term, which at it’s core means bringing into the world of finance new digital technologies, new companies, and new innovative concepts. In Japan now there is a realization the central places for finance in Asia are in Singapore and Hong Kong, they are not in Tokyo. There’s a growing realization banks need to innovate more.
  • 49:00 What is the regulatory environment like in Japan? — The government in Japan made the wise decision to put everyone with something to say about what happens in the financial world into one place. They call it the Financial Services Agency and this has helped bring clarity to the market. It has also allowed the government to be more nimble in regulation, especially as new technologies come online.
  • 52:45 Do you ever think about what drives you? — You have to think about this. For me it’s building things and the passion that comes from building new things. You have to find ways to build where you can take risks while not fundamentally endangering the company or markets if something goes wrong. This is the challenge.