I have been wrong, very wrong. And I am extremely happy about it!
For two days I have been at the Startup Asia 2014 conference here in Singapore. I had low expectations, without a reason I must admit, and in so many ways I am positively surprised.
There where a huge bunch of startups mingling, in booths, on stage, battling in the arean and pitching investors. the quality of the startups was over all well above expectations. As a Swede I have a tendency to look for design and technology execution. And Asian (in general) do not have design as a key priority. Many of the products were very beautiful and with a very intuitive design. Also the technology execution (to the extent that I was able to judge that) was well above expectation. Impressed.
What also impressed me was how aggressive the startups where. Since I had an Investor badge hanging around my neck, I was approach many many times, sometimes in very aggressive ways and some where even pushing other out of the way. This was a really positive experience. The determination and dedication is everything.
Only one thing really bothered me. The local focus. I would say that the Singaporean companies are the ones who think most locally. This even with products that are global in it’s genes. This is a really big issue. During these two days most failed to have great answer to my question to this and only one passed flawlessly, and that was a startup that involved physical products and personal delivery, but she sincerely understood the potential and how to execute on that strategy, impressed (follow up meeting already booked).
One other thing that is a bit worrying (please note that it is just a reflection and not a statistically proven theory). Many of the startups I talked to who was funded by government grants or other government supported funding, gave me a feel of comfort. They lacked the spirit and attitude and also felt a bit too safe. It was like they did not have the pressure to make things happen. As a startup I think that is one of the most important things, focus and make things happen fast……if not you are out of business. Fat and happy is not really compatible with startups.
To next year I would recommend to bump up the authority of the speaker a notch. The first keynote speaker was a guy from Vietnam how talked about running a company in Vietnam and how big he was in Vietnam. All good, but either the business nor the execution was that interesting. It is certainly a great company, but as a keynote I would have put the Razor CEO on the prime spot instead. Or any other star that has taken over the region or the world, not only his domestic market.
There was some interesting sessions, but too few highlights and way to many downers. The Tech In Asia staff did a good job as interviewers, it also gave some sincerity to the stage, since it was their own brand and their own conference. The team doing the interviews where also very different. Willi with his direct and on the border to rude (which often was more fun the rude) interview style that at least often got some interesting answers, Gwendolyn with her grace and passion and also Vanessa Tan with sincerity and informative questions. Well done!
Conclusion: Bump up the speakers, keep the interviewers.
Pitches from startups
This was the outstanding most exciting experience of the event. I think in total I got something like 30 pitches during these two days. 20 by being approached on the fly and 10 during the speed dating. I was a bit concerned about being the last company out the door, seemed like the session of death, almost like being the last speaker at a conference. Would the startups still be alive or awake? had all of the startups done their pitch to too many investor prior to us? Since we are new to the market, will people know about us enough to prioritise us compared with others?
The answer is simple, we had the best slot ever and some really good startups pitching. A huge benefit of being last was that we could stick around and actually let a few other (without queue numer) pitch as well. One of the best pitches was from that part. First follow up meeting tomorrow at 09.30. Thanks also to Darren and his team who managed the speed dating. Not only during but also his responsiveness prior to the event.
We have a few follow-up meetings and who knows what that will lead to and will most certainly be joining the speed dating next conference as well.
I much better event then I ever would have imagined. Great startups, great people, great product and a great execution of the event. This event will grow even bigger until next year and already looking forward to it.
I was wrong about the quality of the startups, I was wrong with my low expectations on the event, I was wrong on the attitude of the startups.