Stripe Co-Founder John Collison shares his product-focused vision for Asia

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San Francisco’s Stripe has been increasing its global footprint rapidly, with some calling it ‘the new PayPal.’

Visa has also recently come on board as a strategic partner and investor, bringing the five-year-old payment processing company’s valuation to US$5 billion. While Visa brings its massive scale in all the countries it operates in, it’s looking to Stripe to help improve their mobile product experience.

We caught up with Co-Founder John Collison in Hong Kong and he shared Stripe’s plans for Asia and his company’s product-focused vision. He told e27 that when launching in a new market, Stripe first finds the right partners, does test runs with a few businesses to see how local consumers interact with the product then tailors it accordingly. He cites their European expansion as an example:

“One thing we noticed is when we expanded to Europe is every business there needs to think about multi-currency. They’re selling in euros, pounds and US dollars so they’re juggling all these currencies that US startups aren’t really,” he said. “So we’ll spend a while in private beta in Singapore as it’s only when you have the business up and running that you see what the product experience is really like.”

Also Read: Omise raises US$300K; can it be Thailand’s Stripe and Square?

Now operating in nine countries including Canada, the UK and Australia — Stripe is also collaborating with businesses across Europe in open beta. Although its early days for Asia, Stripe has already launched in private beta for Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong and will be testing and iterating their product over the next little while.

The importance of localisation has not been lost on Stripe and Collison chides US companies with a ‘one size fits all’ mentality.

“I personally feel a lot of American companies are too arrogant when they internationalise — they expect other markets to bend to their will. And you’re not going to succeed that way, the world is not short of examples of companies that have failed like that. If you want to succeed, you have to take the market very, very seriously from a product point of view — and it’s almost like starting again with a beginners mind.”

Forward-thinking Collison sees localisation as a global flattener between businesses in Asia and the US as infrastructure is being laid and improved by payment processing companies such as Stripe. While they’re just focused on affluent Asian markets, as the large majority of their business is in credit cards, Collison’s said his long term product vision is to make Stripe available in the emerging and even frontier markets where the majority of the population is unbanked. That of course, is in the distant future.

“So many people around the world have the ability to communicate with each other, but when it comes to economic interaction — it’s still day one. It’s very hard to move money around online. If you’re operating a business, you should be able to accept money from anyone and anywhere but we can’t do that today. We’re starting to make this better but it’s going to be a very long term project.”

Stripe’s future work is cut out for them with backing from KPCB, Visa, Amex and Sequoia and Collison said all the infrastructure his team lays out now should pay off over the next five to ten years.

London’s Seedcamp wants to back Asian startups with global ambitions

blueprint co-working space and accelerator

blueprint co-working space and accelerator

With the influx of of UK startups flocking to Hong Kong looking to tap into the Mainland Chinese market, low taxes, proximity to manufacturing partners and a friendly business environment is a big part of the draw.

Hong Kong’s blueprint, an accelerator and co-working space backed by massive developer Swire Properties, is one that provides a soft landing. With London-based accelerator fund Seedcamp‘s former investment manager Hilary Szymujko leading the charge, blueprint has housed 34 founders in their first B2B accelerator batch. Among those, 11 were from Europe.

Szymujko joining blueprint has also aided in bridging ecosystem gaps, having brought Seedcamp on as a partner. Although the London accelerator fund is no stranger to Asia, having run back-to-back programs in Southeast Asia and India back in 2010, they’re looking east once more.

“We’ve had a history of having more of a presence long ago, we’ve been around for eight years now. We’ve had Seedcamp Singapore and Seedcamp Mumbai, so we’re not afraid to go outside of our main areas to set up hubs,” Carlos Eduardo Espinal, Partner at Seedcamp explained to e27 of their interest in Asia. “There’s a lot of latent potential in terms of investment ideas and investment projects and we’d love to help the founders that are building those.”

Hailing from London, which is home to one of the hottest tech scenes globally, Espinal shared his perspective on what it takes to build and nurture a healthy ecosystem.

He sees it as a chain reaction: First there is the creation of an epicentre, then comes an aggregation of intellectual capital which attracts financial capital. What happens next is the merging of people who drum up ideas, do startups and the interconnectivity of networks. He notes that this is why Silicon Valley was able to evolve into the mature ecosystem it is today.

Seedcamp Partner Carlos Eduardo Espinal

Seedcamp Partner Carlos Eduardo Espinal

Espinal is optimistic about the process replicating itself in Asia. “With the amount of ecosystems that are popping up in Asia, the time is now. So not only is it a big market, it is one that is likely to yield great ideas because the maturity of the ecosystem is now enabling people to work together the way that they are in other startup hubs.”

He also asserts that elements like culture and consumer behaviour are what makes a startup space ripe for the picking, depending on which part of the world you’re in. The sharing economy, which Espinal cited as an example, was started in the US as users are potentially more trusting of strangers than in Asia. Fintech in Europe is another case study.

“In Europe, there are certain things that popped up first such as financial technology companies because you have those currencies that are so close to each other so there are a lot of transactions back and forth and where banking laws can change quickly. So what I’m curious to see is how Asian dynamics are going to pop up with new ways to change how things are done.”

As a pre-seed and seed accelerator, Seedcamp has graduated a number of successful startups including cloud-based collaboration tool GrabCAD which was acquired by Stratasys in September 2014 and TransferWise which was backed by Andreessen Horowitz in a US$58 million round in January 2015. At the pre-seed level, Seedcamp will lead the round and take 7 per cent of the startup for €75k (around US$82k).

With Seedcamp’s multi-faceted interest in Hong Kong, Espinal will act as mentor to blueprint’s new batch of B2B startups and is also looking to back Asian startups with global ambitions. While their investment plans for Asia are still in early stages, Espinal said Seedcamp has the flexibility to invest in wherever they can add value and their plans are not tied to a particular metric.

One of Seedcamp’s biggest priorities, according to Espinal, is building relationships with Asian investors. “One of the things we want to do increasingly is co-invest with Asian investors. I would say that a bigger desire of investing in Asia is identifying the right partners, because that’s a big part of a company’s success — to have that support locally.”

With European entrepreneurs starting up in business-friendly Asian tech hubs like Hong Kong or Singapore and UK accelerator funds actively looking to co-invest in Asia, we can expect more stories of cross-market link ups between the two continents in the future.

Dave McClure talks investment strategy and unicorn hype

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With over 1,000 startups on their portfolio, it’s safe to say that 500 Startups has far exceeded their goals.

Some numbers courtesy of TechCrunch to paint a picture of how 500 has been scaling up in the past five years. To date, the early stage accelerator turned VC shop has injected US$100 million into 1,000 startups across 50 countries. 500 is now the parent to three main funds and six microfunds with US$170 million in assets under management with plans to grow their team from 50 to 70 by the end of the year.

Compared with their top investing peers Sequoia Capital and Y Combinator, 500 is fresh-faced but has big boy plans to become the largest VC shop in the world, according to Founding Partner Dave McClure.

In a Quora post, McClure summed up 500’s most successful portfolio companies which is made up of two to three Unicorns (US$1 billion+), almost 30 Centaurs (US$100 million) and a bevy of My Little Ponies (US$10 million). What’s with the animal jargon? McClure said it’s his way of shedding light on startups that may not be worth a billion, but are just as valuable.

“People are always interested in the billion dollar company story, but we’re trying to differentiate between not just billion dollar companies. For us, we’re making investments that we think are very successful if they get to the hundred million dollar value. Even when we have exits that are south of a hundred million, they are still meaningful to the founders and are still decent returns for us.”

“Unicorns happen very infrequently, those are not very predictable. Centaurs happen more frequently and are a little more predictable and My Little Ponies happen all the time — but we can make money from those three different segments. It’s some way to capture public attention and really draw on the people caught up in the unicorn madness bullshit and get them to pay attention to all the small companies that are meaningful,” McClure told e27.

500 Startups invests early and stays involved

Besides building an army of mythical creatures, McClure and his team clearly have a shrewd eye for winning companies. While holding out for their first unicorn exit, the fund has seen 6 Centaur startups and 30+ My Little Ponies exit. “In general, we think that 15-30 per cent of our portfolio will get to an exit and 5-10 per cent will get to meaningfully large exits. We’re optimistic that we’ll get at least 100 wins out of that 1,000 and a few of those have already happened.”

On his fund’s investment strategy, McClure said they get in early and stay involved for a few rounds. Typically, 500 begins investing in startups that are raking in 5 to 10 thousand a month in revenue, ending at the range of 50 to 100 thousand. “When they get to 10 thousand a month in revenue, that’s usually not accidental. There’s something that’s working so that’s where we like to start investing. If the company continues growing from there, if other investors jump in then we might double down at the seed stage or Series A and write a third check into the Series B round,” he said but there are many variables. “It depends on how much we already own of the company and what the valuation looks like. In our best case scenario, we’ll write three checks and be in from half a million to a million.”

How much traction is considered investable?

Traction is important to any investor, but in which areas should a startup ramp up before pitching to 500? McClure said that while revenue is considered more important than customers in a transactional business, B2B startups may only have 5 to 10 customers and small businesses are expected to have “hundreds to single digits thousands.”

Those operating in the B2C space are weighted differently as well: “For consumer product offerings, we’d like to see companies have six figure monthly actives and maybe into single digit million monthly actives, and that’s for consumer-focused businesses that don’t have revenue,” said McClure. “Downloads are a bit of a vanity metric, so we’d be looking at monthly or daily actives more than downloads.”

What challenges face Southeast Asia?

According to McClure, 500 has roughly 120 to 140 investments in Asia to date and that number, along with their influence in the region, will continue to grow. Zeroing specifically on Southeast Asia and it’s incredible growth potential, McClure is optimistic — particularly about the investment landscape as it has changed a fair bit in the past three years. He notes that capital from Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Southeast Asian and US investors has been coming into the overall geography. His main concern rests mainly in the exit market where there is not as much liquidity and M&A activity.

Still, McClure and his team are dedicated to investing in the region and has named Thailand and Indonesia as the fund’s top picks. “We’re pretty bullish on Indonesia and pretty bullish on Malaysia and Singapore because they’re more developed economies but they’re not very large markets. We’re looking at Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines and Vietnam — but first among those is Thailand and Indonesia, second is Vietnam and Philippines. Some of that is based on population sizes and market penetration.”

With platforms like Freelancer.com, the world really is becoming flat

Matt

In 2005, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote ‘The World is Flat’ which discussed how the convergence of technological and political forces have created a global and web-enabled platform for collaboration. Friedman said that geography and distance were no longer barriers to working remotely with others and that soon, language will also no longer be an issue.

Fast-forward nine years to 2014, Forbes reported that 34 per cent of American workers qualified as freelancers. While this group of people don’t necessarily make their living exclusively from freelancing alone, many of them “moonlight” by taking on technical gigs as supplementary income to their day jobs. Big tech companies such as HP are also looking to outsource some of its projects onto freelancing sites and tap into this new and talent-rich labour pool.

Matt Barrie, the CEO of outsourcing marketplace Freelancer.com (and speaker at the upcoming Echelon Asia Summit), told us that a number of factors contribute to the rise of the freelancer: Workforce evolution, outsourcing trends and increased youth unemployment.

“Work is getting more and more fluid, which is leading rise to the freelance economy. An Intuit report has stated that more than 80 per cent of large corporations will increase their use of a flexible workforce and the International Labor Organisation said that in 2013, 74.5 million young people were unemployed around the globe. The trend is going up.”

An electrical engineer by training, Barrie worked in venture capital before moving into entrepreneurship in the network security space. He then saw a gap in the market for a time and cost-efficient platform for small businesses and startups to connect with the skilled global workforce, which led to the genesis of Freelancer.com.

“Online freelancing was in its early stages around 2009 when I launched Freelancer.com. I needed someone to work on a project I had and hired a freelancer myself. One thing led to another, and I encountered this amazing opportunity to make a change and connected all these aspiring young workers with startups from around the world.”

Also Read: Echelon 2015: E-commerce has revolutionised the way we live

The now six-year-old platform, whose name is ubiquitous across the globe, has over 15 million users from around the globe and has completed almost 8 million projects to date. Following its debut on the Australian Securities Exchange, Freelancer.com reached a market cap of US$1.03 billion at its peak. Typical projects on Freelancer.com include web and mobile app development, design gigs and SEO marketing.

Barrie said that his company’s mission is to help those in developing countries seeking opportunities to uplift their economic status. As reported by the Washington Post, 4.4 billion people around the world don’t have Internet access — with Myanmar topping the list with 99.5 per cent of their national population still offline. Further notable is that 80 per cent of those people who are not connected to the Internet globally are younger than 55, with 42 per cent below 25-years-old.

Still, the number of Internet users in the past 15 years has grown from 738 million to 3.2 billion. This has brought global Internet penetration up from 7 per cent to 43 per cent, and it shows no signs of slowing down. As more of the developing world gains web access, those who only need $10 a day to live can soon be earning $10 an hour.

As tech infrastructure gets laid out and economic barriers break down, Freelancer.com is perhaps one such established platform that’s equipped to empower the new wave of young and talented remote workers.

Meet QLC, a career and lifestyle portal for the restless Millennial

QLC

There’s been a lot of talk about the rise of the Millennial workforce. They’re a well-educated, opportunistic batch and prize an autonomous lifestyle above all else. While Generation X treated employment like a sacred marriage, committing 25+ years in exchange for a pension — Gen Y approaches work the way that serial daters do.

According to the ‘Multiple Generations @ Work’ survey of 1,189 employees and 150 managers done by Future Workplace, a whopping 91 per cent of Millennials plan on staying in a job for less than three years. Combined with increased mobility of people and opportunities to leverage technology in favor of remote work, taking the leap into digital nomadism or entrepreneurship is fast becoming the norm.

Australian entrepreneurs Will Fan and Fei Yao are emblematic of this movement. After working together at Accenture for almost three years, Fan and Yao grew restless and quit their consulting gigs to co-found their first startup — furniture marketplace Couchelo. After being accepted into JFDI Accelerate and moving from Sydney to Singapore, they pivoted into a different space to a solve a problem plaguing their generation and created QLC (Quarter Life Crisis), a career and lifestyle portal for the restless Millennial. They’re a generation of talented, freedom-loving individuals that want to find fulfilling and purposeful work, which is not necessarily in line with what their university major.

The issue with current job portals in general is that they’re tailored towards a candidate’s specialty and what they studied in school, with zero emphasis on what they’re passionate about. “We want to curate people’s career and lifestyle experiences based on what they’re passionate about, want to dip their toes into but don’t have any formal training in the area,” said Yao. “We position ourselves as a hybrid between online education and practical upskilling to help people pursue their aspirations and passions.”

During their ideation phase, the co-founders conducted 300+ interviews and found that 60% of participants were dissatisfied with their current jobs. Instead of focusing on the segment of Millennials that will throw caution to the wind and quit without a safety net, QLC targets those looking to “try before they buy” without risk.

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How does it work? QLC curates four to six week courses that only require a commitment of 5-10 hours a week. Running the gamut of roles in brand management for a healthcare startup to project management at a growth hacking agency, users can learn new skills in a space they’re passionate without quitting their day job.

Unlike other platforms that offer remote internship opportunities, QLC programs gives Millennials with three to five years of work experience under their belt the chance deliver value to an early stage business whose vision they feel aligned with.

“It gives them the chance of being an extension of the co-founding team without taking on the actual risk of being a co-founder. We provide them with a combination of online and offline training which would be a series of videos and reading materials we prepare with the business,” said Fan. “Each week we send them information on bite-sized activities that add value, have an impact on the business and scale them up personally.”

QLC pre-vets businesses by connecting with VC portfolios and accelerators to ensure the companies have a strong founding team, vision and growth potential. Essentially, QLC gives Millennials first dibs on potentially the next big thing. Positioned as a taste-testing platform that’s heavily focused on community, QLC lets candidates from all around the globe collaborate with each other. Case in point, programs currently have users in Israel, the US, Singapore and across Europe working together.

QLC launched their first beta program in November 2014, graduated from JFDI Accelerate in January 2015 and have picked up 3,000 users since. Now working with 300 enrolled candidates in 25 programs, the founders plan to start bringing on candidates through university partnerships and will be onboarding more companies come March. Besides being finalists in the Tyro.vc competition, Infocomm investments has invited QLC to go to South By Southwest 2015 next week. The startup is looking to begin fundraising for a seed round upon their return to Singapore.

Cyberport Launches Smart-Space 3F: A 27,000 Square Foot Co-Working Space with Room for 134 Startups

Smart
For digital and tech startups looking for a home, Cyberport has just opened the doors to its new co-working space.

The 27,000 square feet Smart-Space 3F is a stunning government facility that has the capability of housing 134 startups. Smart-Space 3F has 46 offices ranging from 2-12 person occupancy, 32 flexi-spaces (hot desks) and 24 work stations (dedicated desks).

Besides boasting a panoramic sea view, 3F’s affordable prices are another attractive feature. Two-seater offices go for HK $5,000/month, larger offices average $2,500/month per room seat (depending on size), dedicated desks are at $1,500/month while hot desks will only set tenants back $800/month.

“It’s ideal for a very, very early stage startup. Local startups and overseas entry companies are our target markets,” said Cyberport’s COO Mark Clift. “Overseas companies want to expand to Asia and they’re attracted by the China market. For a lot of companies, it’s difficult because they don’t understand China and they’re weary of long term commitments – so the flexi-space gives them a good entry point.”

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Neighbourhood Social Network MyFlat.HK Launches New Pilot Programs to Jumpstart Two Hong Kong Communities

Photo by Edward Barnieh

Despite being one of the most densely populated places in the world, with 6,650 people crammed into one square kilometer, most Hong Kongers can attest to not knowing their neighbors.

MyFlat.HK, Hong Kong’s neighborhood social network, wants to change all that. As a location-based platform that allows users to connect with nearby neighbors and businesses, MyFlat.HK is a step above other social networks as it aims to connect people in person.

According to co-founder and CEO Matthew Tam, his startup has not only pulled in 3,000 registered users to date, but they’re also running two pilot programs to jumpstart two Hong Kong communities.

Their first plan of attack is to unite the student population in Hong Kong across six universities (HKU, HKUST, CUHK, BU, CityU and PolyU) and the MyFlat.HK platform will serve as a virtual bulletin board. “Most of those residential halls are managed by student unions, so we would expect students living in the same building to know each other,” said Matthew. “The need might not be there for people to connect within one building, so each university is going to be one neighborhood.”

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Introducing Venturetec, the First Enterprise Tech-Focused Accelerator for Startups in the Asia-Pacific

TZ Echelon 4
Following homegrown startup Divide’s recent Google acquisition, we’re convinced that enterprise tech is a space more startups should be paying attention to.

According to startup mentor Trey Zagante, the enterprise tech market is in investment terms, double the size of the more favored consumer tech market and has made up for 80% last year’s largest tech IPOs. Besides mentoring startups in the Melbourne-based Founder Institute and early stage accelerator AngelCube, Trey is also the founder of a newly launched accelerator program called Venturetec.

As the first enterprise tech-focused program for Asia-Pacific, Venturetec offers startups up to HKD $1 million in seed investment, access to Fortune 500 customers, office space in both Australia and Hong Kong and the opportunity to meet US and APAC investors. Diverging from the traditional ‘three-month and demo day’ accelerator model, Venturetec runs a six-month structured program, drawing from lean startup teachings, which is followed by an additional half year of ongoing support.Visit their website for more program details.

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Monk’s Hill Ventures Brings New US$80 Million Series A and B Fund to South East Asia to Invest in Startups

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As many American startups have made the move to Asia, the western VC model of ‘entrepreneurs backing entrepreneurs’ has also followed.

Monk’s Hill Ventures, a newly launched VC fund, plans on investing US $80 million into tech startups all across the APAC region at the Series A and B level. Besides being led by a team of veteran entrepreneurs who have built and backed startups in Silicon Valley and Asia, Monk’s Hill is also a VC fund based in South East Asia (with offices in Singapore and Jakarta), which is still a new concept in the region.

We had a chat with managing director Peng T. Ong to find out more about this innovative new fund and the gaps it hopes to fill.

“South East Asia is 600 million people. It’s only small compared to China or India – so we wanted to fill this gap,” he said. “Another thing we realized was missing is what you call ‘entrepreneurs backing entrepreneurs. I’ve spent 12 years in the Valley and the big thing there was experienced people helping the next generation.”

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PaperclipHK’s Deepak Madnani Opens Hong Kong’s First Startup Academy/Co-Workspace in Sheung Wan

deepak
With Hong Kong’s first Startup Grind on tomorrow at Paperclip, we went by the new co-work space and academy to chat with founder Deepak Madnani.

By taking a leaf from Steve Blank and Eric Ries’ book, the heart of Paperclip is in the academy, and courses will be drawn from the methodologies behind the lean startup movement. For those unfamiliar with the lean startup principles, it encourages entrepreneurs to get comfortable with failure and stresses the importance of always innovating and iterating. While great execution is what brings an idea to life, the lean startup way suggests that experimentation vs. elaborate planning can actually make starting a company less risky.

“It’s efficient, we’re building scale into the system from the very beginning and we’re forcing the entrepreneur to do their homework,” said Deepak. “At the end of the day, we want to extract value and you need an entrepreneur to teach [lean startups], someone who’s been through the learning curve.”

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