Of Vietnam, Iced Coffee and the New Future

Ca Phe Sua Nong.JPG

Photo credit: Wikipedia

I talked about Vietnam “Pho” in one of my older post (click HERE if you want to feel hungry). So I am going to do it again and this time and talk about Vietnamese Iced Coffee. I was never a great fan of coffee or any form of coffee products, I am still not a fan of coffee and I don’t think I will ever be. But there is something different about Vietnamese coffee that I don’t mind having more than any sane person should whenever I am in Vietnam.

Vietnamese iced coffee, also known as Cà phê đá or cafe da, is made using medium to coarse ground dark roast Vietnamese-grown coffee with a small metal Vietnamese drip filter. After the hot water is added, the drip filter releases drops of hot coffee slowly into a cup. This finished cup of hot coffee is then quickly poured into a glass full of ice making the finished Vietnamese iced coffee (Thanks Wikipedia!). The very first coffee tree was brought into Vietnam, according to online sources, in 1857 by the French. The beverage quickly became a major contributor to the economy when Vietnam rose to be a strong exporter of coffee.

This is not a post about coffee but the history of coffee in Vietnam shows how the beautiful country is benefiting from the government and the people’s openness to collaborate with external parties. A very valid example – Vietnam’s third largest lender, BIDV together with FPT Corporation, one of the country’s leading conglomerates and Dragon Capital are working with South Korean conglomerate, Hanwha Group in running the country’s accelerator program known as Vietnam Innovation Startup Accelerator (“VIISA”) (For more coverage: Dealstreet Asia). This was officiated during the a recent conference held in Hanoi which was hosted by the Vietnamese government and other foreign and local partners.

with-big-boss

With the DPM of Vietnam and Chairman of FPT

My interpretation: Vietnam is progressively opening up the local ecosystem by welcoming more foreign participation and more importantly this is done in a collaborative manner i.e. foreign friends work with local friends on big big things. What I expect to happen is that there will be more and more of such foreign-local collaboration as the government has set the precedence which in turn will encourage similar arrangements to happen at different or all levels within the country. An official welcome from the government is like a VIP or a rock zone ticket to a Celine Dion (this doesn’t reflect my age) concert and you get to sing with her on stage. Not only you get to watch the show, but you get to be a part of the show with a key role. How did I come to this conclusion? The Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam stayed from the start til the end of the event as well as a closed door VIP lunch, and even moderated a session during the event. (I know this is rocket sciene!)

Main takeaways from the session:

  1. The government – To continue working on gaining recognition and acknowledgement of Vietnam as a great hub for startups. As the environment continues to improve, there are now about 12,000 new SMEs being registered per month; this is much more than the previous number of 5,000-7000 per month.
  2. Technology as catalyst – To develop innovative startup ecosystem through IT and technology. This is not just about the technicality, but also about how to be innovative and creative in business and commerce. Especially for SMEs/startups that are going through commercialisation.
  3. Awareness and startup culture – The government recognises the need to encourage more Vietnamese to get onto entrepreneurship bandwagon and that startup culture is no longer just a jargon. Startups as a community is no longer just a tool for pushing the unemployment figure down, but also as means to push the boundary for the progression of the country. The country needs to learn to accept failure and risks. What is more exciting is that the government is starting to learn that social objectives and economic benefits can be reaped indirectly from an active and vibrant startup ecosystem.
  4. Role of central government and local authority – To build an information hub and supporting centres as well as to allow access to finance and credits. Regulators and authorities are to build frameworks, policies and mechanism for angel investors, venture capitalists to play a structured role in supporting startups. Banks and credit lenders should also have a clear role on how to get into the game. However, the most important element of all these is to allow the market to adjust itself and follow the market principles. This is a very important point because it is a sign that the government realizes that interfering the economy might not be a good thing after all.
  5. Risky community – Ministries hope for startups to take more risks, cooperate and form a community on its own. The ministries acknowledge that sharing and cooperation is key to overcome and address risks. Investors and startups  are also encouraged to proactively propose ideas to government as the government now has an “open-ear” policy for the industry and willing to take in good input from market players.

So, now tell me – why aren’t you looking at Vietnam yet? Not only because of the food (and coffee), but also the overwhelming energy level when you talk to any Vietnamese friends.

If you are looking for more “evidence” for the vibrance in Vietnam, check out the latest co-working space that has been setup by a group of high energy level young entrepreneurs – CirCO.

Now, that was a long. Til next time.

 

 

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The WHO reminder

if I have 48 hours a day

Thesis: I would build an app that would instantly remind me of a person who is waving at me or shaking my hand telling me that we have been in touch before. Why such idea? Because I am bad with faces and names, and generally not very good in replying messages and emails quickly!

Target users: Anyone who thinks they need to look less dumb when that person starts to tell you how you met, bla bla bla and yet you can only go with pretending you remember.

Business model: How it works? Scan the person’s face with your phone camera (obviously you will need a bit of skill to make sure the person doesn’t know you are “scanning” him or her – time to be a real spy!) so that your camera can immediately pull information from social medias and public sources to identify the person and then get that linked back to your mailbox, contact list, text messages and call history. Once you have built enough data on the individual, the app will then provide you suggested actions or tips for your conversation with the counterpart. The app should also be rating or categorizing the individual to allow you to decide on how much time you want to spend with this person.

Housekeeping: This idea may not be realistically practical and is thought through based on personal assumptions. Also, it may have been executed or currently running by someone else.

Done with my ranting. Til next time.

Red or Blue Ocean

Red vs Blue Ocean

Been a while. Work has kept me really busy:

*Commercial time: Offpeak, Eko and Hermo*

One of the similarities between Offpeak and Hermo is that they are both competing in industries with multiple players – the RED ocean.

Given the niche, Eko is considered to be in a space that has less competition and disruption – the BLUE ocean.

For entrepreneurs-wannabe, it is important to diagnose the type of “ocean” they are going to be swimming in. The recent hype around entrepreneurship has rushed a lot of new founders into the market without them doing sufficient homework. Simple analysis such as competitive landscape (direct/indirect), important stakeholders and especially customer needs are essential before going all out.

What most great companies that got invested have in common is that they are all targeted at specific needs of users, whether or not these needs or demand are organic (existing gap in consumer needs) or “exploitable” (not sure if this is the right term, but what I mean is that you can foresee a demand or a potential evolution of user behavior).

Customer acquisition strategy for different type of demand or markets are generally different. This is what I think:

Red vs Blue Ocean 2

Note: I don’t have all the answers and this is just something I drawn out at 12:03AM!

That’s all for today. Til next time.

P/S: All the above are merely my personal rant and shall not be taken into account  reaaaaalllyyy serious decision making.

Profiling Your Investor

More often than not you would want to fundraise with a certain expectation of closing the round within X months, yet the process might take months and you might very well be running on cash deficit when it becomes X+Y months. So, what would you do? Pay your team with I-OWE-COUPONs? Not that you have a choice when your bank account is empty (yet you still have to pay the bank fees for maintaining your account).

At a recent sharing session, I was highlighting about the importance of being able to profile your prospect investors. This is precisely to handle the kind of scenarios mentioned about. I believe many investors have elaborated on this subject before. So I am just going to share with you my version of investor profiling. Ta-da! (Look down, I mean below this paragraph not under your table.)

VC Groupling table

I call this the “Groupling Table”! So to help you understand, see below again (you should get it by now)

Hungry Leader – VC who looks to lead your round and generally having higher risk appetite to new ideas and ventures.
The “Let’s See” – Typically the type that follows other investors and have less tendency to be the first one to jump onto an investment opportunity.
Decisive – VC that gives you an answer quick enough.
Deci……..sive – VC that gives you a maybe for an answer or just never gets back to you.

I would think it is useful to know the type of investors that you are dealing with and subsequently figure out how to get a decision out of them. Of course, it is always advisable to be: clear, specific and friendly towards your prospect investors. So that they won’t kick you out of their office!

P/S: All the above are merely my personal rant and shall not be taken into account  reaaaaalllyyy serious decision making.

Beyond the heat

Priceless art piece

Priceless art piece

Behold – the master art piece that you rarely get a chance to see. Observe the realistic fire that depicts the current “temperature” of the e-commerce space, opening an array of opportunities to what will be coming next. The fiery fire is hot, yet people are attracted to how much it is shinning. Seems like a realistic representation of how e-commerce has been a hot space for a really long time, yet entrepreneurs and some investors are still chasing after the dream of creating the best of same kind.

Ask any VCs, a lot of them will tell you that they think e-commerce has become too “hot” over the last 2 years. “Hot” meaning too expensive and too many. Hence, VCs are generally more picky and skeptical when a founder brings along an e-commerce idea.

To illustrate my point on the ecommerce market being too saturated, here is a list of some e-commerce ventures in South East Asia (I might have missed a lot more in the market!)

Country

Domain
Brunei 365eStore (http://www.qqestore.com/) Malppy.com (http://www.malppy.com/)
Cambodia SnapyShop (http://www.snapyshop.com/) FanNow (http://www.fannow.com/) SHOP168.me (http://shop168.me/) Gladmarket (http://www.gladmarket.com/) Ecamshopping.com (https://ecamshopping.com) Little Fashion (http://www.l192.com/)
Indonesia Bukalapak (http://bukalapak.com) Sportdio.com (http://sportdio.com) Cipika Store (http://cipika.co.id) Alatproyek.com (www.alatproyek.com) RALALI.com (http://ralali.com) Gudangsofa.com (http://www.gudangsofa.com) Sportkita (http://sportkita.com) Traveloka (http://traveloka.com) RajaMobil.com (http://www.rajamobil.com/) LOJAI.com (http://lojai.com) Tokopedia (http://tokopedia.com) The Icon Art Painting eCommerce (http://theiconart.com) Tiket.com (http://tiket.com) Tombolife Herb Online Store (http://tombolife.com) ORORI (http://orori.com) trivi teknik (http://triviteknik.com) Seroyamart (http://seroyamart.com) Libby Brownies (http://libbybrownies.com/home.php) Realtyrumah (http://realtyrumah.com) Chandra Karya Furniture (http://chandrakarya.com) Kucari.com (http://kucari.com) Bilna.com (http://www.bilna.com/)
Laos Kopnoi (http://kopnoi.com) Laos Flower.com (http://www.laosflower.com/)
Malaysia Blip (http://blip.my) Fruits Paragon (http://fruitsparagon.com) Favechic (http://favechic.com/) Lelong.my (http://www.lelong.com.my/) FashionValet (http://www.fashionvalet.com/) LuvClo.com (http://luvclo.com/)
Myanmar Shwe 99 (http://www.shwe99.com/) Myanmar Online Store (http://www.myanmaronlinestore.net/) Yangon Online Store (http://www.yangononlinestore.com/)
Philippines Sister Secrets (http://www.sistersecrets.com.ph/) Shop This Easy (http://www.shopthiseasy.com/) Galleon (http://www.galleon.ph) Ametech US (https://www.ametech.us/store/) Hallo Hallo Mall (http://hallohallomall.com/) Magpalitan (http://magpalitan.com/)
Singapore Tate & Tonic (http://tatetonic.com) DRESS A PETS (http://dressapets.com) Swimfie (http://swimfie.com) Clozette (http://www.clozette.co/) Bellabox (http://bellabox.sg/) NoQ store (http://www.noqstore.asia/) RedMart (https://redmart.com/) Kwerkee (http://www.kwerkee.com/) Luxola (http://www.luxola.com/) GoFresh (http://gofresh.com.sg/)
Thailand Central Online Shopping (http://www.central.co.th) invadeIT (http://www.invadeit.co.th) Follow’s Me Shop (http://www.followisme.com) Pomelo (http://pomelo.com) Wishbeer (http://wishbeer.com) WearYouWant (http://www.wearyouwant.com/en/)
Vietnam

cungmua.com (http://cungmua.com)

XDEAL (http://xdeal.vn)

thegioididong.com (http://thegioididong.com)

123Mua.vn (http://www.123mua.vn/)

FOREVA (http://foreva.vn)

This is an intriguing scenario because some might ask – what is next?

With the many e-commerce companies in the market, the competition becomes much more intense and I can’t emphasize enough on this. This competition will be a battle of strategies and differentiation. The team that can bring in the most value add on top of the products that they are selling will be the winner in this fearsome battle where entrepreneurs will have many hair-pulling moments trying to figure out how else to make their customers happy and improve the metrics that they are being measured against. What this means is that there will be more opportunities for new ventures or ideas that exist to serve these e-commerce giants and dwarfs.

An area of interest for e-commerce companies would be on conversion ratio i.e. the probability of a lead being converted into actual sales dollars. Opportunities to pitch to these e-commerce companies will arise for analytics/intelligence ventures. E-commerce sites would want their visitors to be looking at items/goods that are most relevant to the characteristics and preferences of the unique visitors so that the chances of sales is higher. E-commerce sites would also want to know their customers better and be able to project the purchasing behavior, hence improving their inventory management protocol. In short, increasing chances of sales (so to increase revenue) and better managing inventory (so to reduce cost).

Another area of value add e-commerce sites would want to bring to their customers through improving payment and delivery experience as well as the fulfillment process. Payment has always been a key for e-commerce companies, especially when online buying is still a new habit for most countries in this part of the world. Deliver experience is also one area where a lot of customers complain about. Given the geographical condition of the region, it makes it more challenging for logistics company to tackle this issue.

To summarize my thoughts, beyond e-commerce we will see a lot more opportunities for entrepreneurs in this region to create a viable solution. As such, I believe investors should be more active in covering the space that I mentioned.

That’s all for this round. Til next time.

P/S: All the above are merely my personal rant and shall not be taken into account  reaaaaalllyyy serious decision making.

FanFic: Uber X MyTeksi (aka GrabTaxi)

THE CONTENT OF THIS POSTING IS MERELY A PERSONAL SPECULATION, a speculation I made simply because my mind keeps running around the excitement of seeing more money invested into ASEAN companies.

We recently heard about the Series C funding that was closed for MyTeksi (also known as GrabTaxi). Over the last 12 months it has raised a total of US$90 million from its Series A, B and C round. So this is where I begin to think – what is next for MyTeksi (besides the huge expansion plan they have)? How will its investors, which includes Vertex who went in at Series A and Tiger Global Management who recently joined the party, exit and get the multiples they are so looking forward to? I am quite sure not many knows the answer and we will have to wait for the big announcement when it is the right time.

As I was saying, I am supposed to do a bit of speculation here, so this is what I am speculating – MyTeksi be acquired or merge with Uber.

Before ellaborating further let’s take a look at the funding rounds of both Uber and MyTeksi:

Uber X MyTeksi

Source: Crunch Base and various tech articles online. I do not own the data!

Without going into details of the comparison between Uber and MyTeksi, what I am seeing here is that:

  • both Uber and MyTeksi has been winning their investors’ hearts, in large amount of $$$
  • MyTeksi has been more aggressive in their fundraising plans, considering that all 3 rounds of funding happened in a single year.

From the observations above, I extrapolate that MyTeksi could be in the game of valuation chase so that they can be acquired or go through a share swap at a price that is lucrative for the investors. The follow on question should be “Who will be the buying party?” – my guess is Uber.

I believe all that is happening to MyTeksi will somehow benefit Uber, mostly on pushing up the valuation of such business models. So at the end of the day, we are not only seeing competiton between Uber, EasyTaxi, MyTeksi, Taxi Monger etc. But this is also a form of “collaboration” through you-up-your-valuation-so-I-will-up-mine approach.

A couple of reasons why I think Uber would love to join forces or acquire MyTeksi:

  1. MyTeksi is still ahead of Uber in conquering ASEAN, whereas Uber is strong in ex-ASEAN markets, so this provides inorganic growth to Uber;
  2. Uber can then include Taxis into its fleet, joining the expensive cars that they have been using – creating a GIANT taxi company;
  3. Given the recent government pushbacks of some ASEAN countries, it would make more sense for Uber to acquire/work with a local player such as MyTeksi.

So here you go, my speculation based on my imaginative brain. Again, all speculation without serious research nor inside information. In short, just another rant from me.

Til next time.

Peach..I mean Pitch

peachzdfgad

Do you know that peaches are native to China from where they spread to rest of the world via ancient silk route? Peaches travelled across ocean to get to the other regions, and this is what we hope our pitches can do too (not literally over the ocean, but to get our messages across).

Many times when I engage a founder, the founder would be most engrossed in talking about their idea, vision and how different and unique the concept is. While this is an important sign that a venture capitalist would love to see in the founder, it is also important not to overdo it. Otherwise it would seem like the founder is trapped under his/her own bubble world (of course, this is just my personal opinion).

Some of the questions a proper pitch should address are:

  1. What problem are you trying to solve?
  2. How do you plan to do that?
  3. How far are you in building this solution?
  4. What are the characteristics of your target customers and users?
  5. Who are your competitors and who are the stakeholders in your supply chain?
  6. How do you monetize?
  7. How does your financial projection look like?
  8. How much investment is needed and what instrument do you prefer?
  9. How will you and/or your investors exit?
  10. What is the next step?

There you go, the perfect 10 slides! Of course, this is just my personal opinion.

That’s all for today. Til next time.

Tinder for Investing

If I have 48 hours a day…

Thesis: I would build a platform that enables anyone on the street to access the market knowledge of the professional financial advisors through real time engagement with the professionals.

Target users: Anyone who wants to be a filthy rich billionaire (‘coz millionaire is too mainstream)! Not exactly, but actually anyone who cares where their money goes to and how they can create more value from it.

Business model: How it works? Financial advisors from different institutions can setup their personal (professional) profiles on the platform, which will then be browsed through by someone who are looking for the services of such advisors. Users can also create their own profiles, mentioning their financial objectives and risk appetite. With this, both users and financial advisors will have a better idea of each other and hence make the investing/financial planning process much smoother. This instills some sense of healthy transparency among the financial advisors as well as can indirectly boost the investment/financial planning knowledge of the users who are keen to learn more about what they can do with their money!

Housekeeping: This idea may not be realistically practical and is thought through based on personal assumptions. Also, it may have been executed or currently running by someone else.

Done with my ranting. Til next time.

Time lender

Welcome to a new section of my ranting space. This is where I will put down any weird, random, silly ideas that I have if I were to have time to start a new venture. Do note that some (maybe most) of these ideas are not realistically practical and based on certain assumptions. Also, some, if not all, of these ideas may have been executed or currently running by someone else.

If I have 48 hours a day…

Thesis: I would start a platform that helps solving the problem of people not having enough time to do some minor chores. For example if I don’t have the time to mow the lawn, I would need someone to help me do it for me.

Target users: People who do not have enough time and people who have extra (or too much) time. We can rope in merchants (see below for elaboration).

Business model: The idea is to create a outsourcing platform where users can list the tasks needed to be done. On the other hand, those who have the extra time (let’s call them the freetimers) can pitch to get the tasks done for some “time credit”. With these time credits, users can use them to claim certain benefits from merchants. Freetimers could be freelancers, your neighbours, your friends, or a friendly stranger. To handle the security issues, all freetimers will have their profile being verified.

Done with my ranting. Til next time.

 

Funding a Marriage

This crossed my mind this afternoon when I was dealing with a case where relationship between the entrepreneur and my venture capital firm has gone sour. In essence, entrepreneurship and venture capital both are businesses of relationships. So there is no other way better than using a typical stages-of-relationship process chain to describe an investment into an entrepreneur’s idea.

Funding a marriage 2

So when you are trying to get your idea funded, you are actually trying to get into a relationship with the venture capitalist of your choice, vice versa. Choose wisely.