Crowsourcing Week is a blog that aims to leverage the power of crowdsourcing, with the laudable goal to “bring thought leaders from the space across all industries to share best practices in their respective fields”. So it was an honour to be asked to do my first crowdchat on twitter this evening, with the theme Accelerating Asia’s Innovation Ecosystem. Apologies in advance to anyone who participated for any misattribution of wisdom in the summary that follows and many thanks to all for your questions and insights, writes Hugh Mason.
@CrowdWeek: JFDI believes innovation is evolving from an art into a science. Is innovation something that can be learned?
@HughMason: If you had asked me 10 years ago “can you teach innovation?” I would have said no. Same for entrepreneurship. But work by people like Saras Sarasvathy has changed all that.
@CrowdWeek: Beyond financing, what are three crucial resources for launching a successful startup in Asia?
@HughMason: We think the keys are a great team, an idea that they are best positioned to execute and passion. Passion matters because starting a business is so hard – if your heart is not in it as well as your head, you won’t keep going. We rejected a team from JFDI.Asia this time because they lacked passion even though they had experience.
@CrowdWeek: What does @JFDIAsia bring to the process of transforming people with good ideas into entrepreneurs?
@HughMason: The key thing is a community of people who have been there and overcome the challenges before. “Passion and community” – it sounds very unbusinesslike – but starting a business is a very human activity! So many of the things that hold us back are inside our own heads and mentoring from experienced people helps to see the way.
@CrowdWeek: What type of products and services does your accelerator program bring to life?
@HughMason: All the businesses we do at JFDI.Asia are digital in some way, but what isn’t nowadays? We define our focus as ‘in asia for asia’ and using mobile technology but beyond that it could be anything. It’s easier to say what we wouldn’t do – broadly things that belong somewhere else in the world to thrive.
@HughMason: Outsiders sometimes come to Asia and feel it looks ‘messed up’ because so much of it is developing but that signals opportunity. The key for JFDI.Asia is that startups we create build on the foundations here in the way families and society are structured.
@CrowdWeek: You’re originally from the UK. Why did you base JFDI in Singapore?
@HughMason: It takes so many things to come together for startups to thrive. We are just part of a whole ecosystem. Right now it feels like Singapore is the most developed start-up ecosystem in SE Asia so that is why we are here. There is so much money available for businesses that can show traction and which are based in Singapore. The key is not to try to sell a plan or an idea, but to have a credible team that can show that it is executing.
As the lean folk say, if you can:
- Show you have solved a problem worth solving,
- Show that your solution matches it, and
- Show that the market wants your solution … then you have traction and you will get funded in Singapore at the moment.
But we are JFDI.Asia not JFDI.Singapore – we are based on a tiny island so we try to bring together people from everywhere.
@gbriana: What’s an example of a Singapore team you’ve worked with or are working with?
@HughMason: Right now we have 9 teams with us ranging from healthcare through to business SaaS. One example would be @referoll which finds participants for medical and market research trials. It can be very hard to find, say, women who had breast cancer 15 years ago who live in a particular area and @referoll does that. @referoll uses social media. As does @myfitnesswallet which helps middle aged men like me change their eating habits. The idea is that your family helps you to make the right choice at lunchtime. Your daughter or your wife might buy it for you.
@CrowdWeek: How does the culture of startups differ from the East to the West?
@HughMason: My experience is that entrepreneurs are kind of the same the world over. Actually that is why I came to Asia. I am not great at languages but people who have ideas and want to make tomorrow better than today are everywhere. Again it comes back to passion – I guess I love passionate people and they are all over the world.
Some differences are there of course – like different views of risk aversion or work/family pressures. I have heard friends from Philippines say that family obligations are in tension with the focus you need for entrepreneurship. In Singapore parents seem to worry if they have paid for law school and then their son/daughter wants to do a start-up. Sometimes I hear stories like parents saying “Give us an instagram in 6 months or go back and finish your law studies” but attitudes are changing and, for example, I think some women in Asia are realizing that entrepreneurship brings a kind of freedom. If you are under pressure from family to get married, but not so keen on that, then building a business is a good excuse.
@DavidPriceOBE: The answer is no longer with the experts – it’s in the room. Innovation needs imagination AND collaboration.
@HughMason: You are spot on. We are seeing a democratization of innovation. It is no longer the exclusive preserve of “magic” people.
@CrowdWeek: What kind of response have you seen from SE Asia’s startup community to @JFDIAsia?
@HughMason: We have had tens of thousands of people visit us online and thousands turn up to our events which is great. We are only able to accept about 3% of the start-up teams that apply to us, so we try to maintain an active online community to help everyone move forward.
@gbriana: wow- harder than getting into law school!
@HughMason: We try not to say ‘no’ to teams but rather ‘not yet’ and here are the things that we think would improve your chances. We have developed a ‘FrogScore’ which gives individual feedback to people who take the time to apply to us – we think we owe that
@LPlus: Hey Hugh tell us more about FrogScore . Is it out yet?
@HughMason: Yes. The FrogScore was developed by my co-founder Meng Wong. It scores different aspects of the team and their idea, then looks for fit between them and JFDI.Asia as objectively as we can.
Actually we are not so bothered about ideas. We don’t have a crystal ball so don’t claim to be able to predict which ones will be a hit. Rather we look for ‘domain expertise’. For example, @duablechinese came from the US to china, taught themselves the language and then did Masters-level research. They showed us a real passion for their subject and that they had ‘taken their own medicine’ and found a way to teach that works. Likewise Doctree.Asia offer medical practice management SaaS, which is not unique in itself but they come from medical families and that is an unusual combination with coding ability.
@BehnkePR: Can you name 3 characteristics of a great startup team?
@HughMason: a) Right skill mix, b) Domain expertise and c) Passion are the magic three qualities I think. A team can come up with ‘the idea’ later.
@CrowdWeek: How do you see Asia’s entrepreneurial ecosystem evolving?
@HughMason: I have a hunch that SE Asia will develop something quite unlike Silicon Valley. It might be more distributed, taking advantage of the different stages of development and resources in different places. For example Singapore has money and good corporate law and political stability, while Thailand/Philippines have great engineers. Indonesia has a huge market.
I think that China and India seem relatively distinct as markets. If you have a billion people all using the same currency and, in China’s case, the same language, why go outside?
The crazy thing is that half of Silicon Valley is staffed by Asians. And Asians save and the wealth is all here, while the west borrows. So I put my money (and my family) here.
We do need more self-belief and it would help hugely if we got some significant exits valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Once that happens, and I think it will in the next few years, self confidence will grow here.
There’s also a cultural shift. Right now it’s still possible to make a lot of money out of palm oil and real estate here but ayounger generation of wealthy family members are interested in exposing a little of their portfolio to new kinds of business too.
@LPlus: is it Asians who studied in U.S.?
@HughMason: Good question! I wonder if our friends at The Indus Entrepreneurs would know?
@CrowdWeek: In what ways can people get involved with @JFDIAsia?
@DavidPriceOBE: In order to innovate and welcome the crowd, companies have to go open – therein lies the knowing-doing gap!
@HughMason: Yes I agree 100%. We argue that if your idea is easy to copy, it will be so don’t be coy – post it and get feedback
@gbriana: How disruptive are Asian Founders?
@HughMason: there is a tendency for some groups in Asia to put forward ‘me too’ ideas. But then there is often nothing wrong with cloning something that works, in a new market. The kind of disruption we like is stuff that offers bottom-of-the-pyramid innovation, or does stuff in a very Asian way.
@DavidPriceOBE: I am writing a book on Open Learning. CEO of major UK VC says no capital in ideas, capital lies in implementation … today’s confidential info is on Facebook by tomorrow.
@HughMason: Yes the value in business lies in execution, not really in ideas – they are easy to copy.
@envirotarian: What is single biggest factor hindering innovation in Asia today?
@HughMason: I wonder if it’s self-belief. It’s like people are waiting to be given permission sometimes. So here in Singapore, local businesses are incredibly innovative around areas like retail and food and beverage but less in tech. It’s as if somehow Singaporeans believe they can ‘do’ F&B and retail but somehow the only option with tech is incremental innovation.
@LPlus: what do you think about Asia’s crowdfunding and will it pick up like it picked up in Western markets?
@HughMason: I think crowdfunding has huge potential here. Not just to fund businesses but also to change attitudes. Our neighbours @crowdonomic are doing a great job pioneering crowdfunding in the region.
@gbriana: What are a few of your favorite resources – ebsites, twitter handles, etc – for tapping into Asia’s start-up ecosystem?
@HughMason: We listed some here.