Like many others, we’ve been watching How to Start a Startup in a small study group, following the videos every week as they come out.
But we aren’t in Silicon Valley. We’re in Singapore, halfway across the world. Does Y Combinator’s weekly dose of concentrated startup advice, originally designed for a Stanford audience, make sense in Southeast Asia?
Episode 3: Paul Graham: Counterintuitive Parts of Startups, and How to Have Ideas.
Paul says: To succeed in startups, you don’t need expertise in startups; you need expertise in your own users. There’s a hump in the curve: beyond a certain point, you know too much about startups, and you start wanting to game the system. “Playing House” is what they call it.
The Asian Angle: Paul is absolutely right. Indeed, this is even more true in Asia – where every mom is a Tiger Mom, and every student, embittered by an incomprehensible, nerve-wrackingly competitive educational system, looks for tips and tricks and ways to cheat the test. Sadly, the pressure of school often translates to “I don’t want a corporate job – what’s the alternative? A startup!”
So they go into startups for the wrong reasons – they’re running away, not running toward. But still they bring the old mindset!
Paul says: But you can’t game the system in startups: you have to make something people want.
There are exceptions: Sometimes there’s a bubble. Sometimes, too big to fail. But the everyday world of business is more like physics than an engineer might suspect: if your startup fails to make something people want, sooner or later it will die, as surely as a rat in a sealed chamber.
The Asian Angle: If you happen to live in a country which is hell-bent on encouraging entrepreneurship, and if your civil servants haven’t read Josh Lerner on the subject, then your government might be busily creating perverse incentives for founders to launch weak companies and run them well past expiration date. In Singapore, we call founders of zombie companies “grantrepreneurs.” The good news is, with more enlightened leadership, things are getting better and the first generation of such startups are beginning to get flushed out of the system.
Paul says: How do you pick a good startup idea? Work on things that interest you – particularly if you’re the kind of person who finds boring work intolerable.
The Asian Angle: The current generation of emerging-middle-class students are at a disadvantage here. Schools in Asia are famous for being very good, which is to say they are very good at stamping out natural curiosity. Post-colonial emerging economies like Singapore are especially obedient: for generations, the highest ambition anyone’s parents could imagine was a job as a government doctor, or in-house counsel to a foreign bank. Even the scientists see themselves as employees first and researchers second.
The good news: that’s beginning to change, too – after a few generations of financial security, the youth are finally expressing themselves through software.
Next week, JFDI watches Adora Cheung on Building Product, Talking to Users, and Growing.
From a good idea to a great solution. 21-day online course with mentor access.No need to give up equity or to quit your day job.
How would you pitch the nicotine patch to a VC?
There’s a right way and a wrong way to do it.
Customer: Somebody who smokes cigarettes.
Market: There are 1.1 billion smokers in the world.
Problem: Smoking is bad. Tobacco consumption is the single largest preventable cause of death in the world.
Solution: The nicotine patch helps smokers quit by replacing cigarettes as a source of nicotine.
What do you think? Is that the right pitch?
If you’re a scientist, an engineer, or a doctor, that probably sounds right.
But if you’re an investor, a marketer, or an entrepreneur, that pitch is all wrong.
Customer: A smoker who’s trying to quit.
Market: On average, 5% of smokers are actively trying to quit at any given time. Every year $1B of smoking cessation products are sold, from e-cigarettes to gum.
Problem: Quitting is hard. Nicotine is addictive.
Solution: The nicotine patch helps quitters succeed by replacing cigarettes as a source of nicotine.
Clayton Christensen is best known for his Disruption theory, but he deserves equal billing for the “jobs” perspective. For a product to succeed, it has to do a job for the customer.
In the first pitch, the patch helps smokers quit.
In the second pitch, the patch helps quitters succeed.
This can be the difference between getting three term sheets in a week, and spending a year collecting rejections.
The customer has to already want to do a job. Your product merely helps them achieve their desire.
(The inception of that desire is a separate part of the marketing mix – that’s where advertising and other forms of promotion come in. The sellers of nicotine patches spend plenty of money on their customer funnel – they convert active smokers into intending quitters, they convert intending quitters into customers, and they convert customers into evangelists.)
Pains and gains converge to “I want to do X, and I need a better/easier/faster/reliable/cheaper way.”
Singapore, 15 July 2014 — Joyful Frog Digital Incubator (JFDI) today disclosed new data quantifying the impact of its startups on the business ecosystem in South East Asia. The data reveals that the first two years of JFDI’s accelerator operations yielded 21 active startups, raising in aggregate SGD9m (USD7.2m) in seed funding and now valued at SGD36.1m (USD29.1m).
JFDI ambassadors and staff at JFDI’s 2014A Demo Day on 7 July 2014.
From left: Yatin Thakur, Timmy de Jesus, Ryan Chong, Mukul Pasricha, Keith Tan, Victoria Au (staff).
Front: Michelle Gwee (staff) and Pitch Taniteerawong. Lio Yi Jun (not in picture).
Singapore, 14 July 2014 — Joyful Frog Digital Incubator (JFDI) announced today that it had appointed the first in a new network of “Ambassadors” to support the growth of startup communities across Asia. The Ambassadors will connect JFDI more effectively with existing startup groups and events in Thailand, Malaysia, India and Philippines, building on what local organizers have already created and sharing the opportunities and insights of JFDI’s mentors, investors and startup growth programs.
SINGAPORE, 7 JULY 2014 – Today, Joyful Frog Digital Incubator (JFDI), Asia’s leading startup accelerator backed by Infocomm Investments (IIPL), the investment arm of Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA), presented its first-in-2014 cohort of 12 new startup teams to a strong showing of 150 local and global investors active in Singapore. Collectively, they manage over a billion dollars in early stage startup funding. This is the first Demo Day to be held as part of a strategic partnership between IIPL and JFDI to run accelerator programmes for high growth, innovation driven tech product startups based in Singapore.
Singapore, 10 June 2014—Joyful Frog Digital Incubator (JFDI) announced today that it is launching a 3 week technology incubator program called TINC Asia in partnership with Innovation Norway. The program will start with a 2 day briefing session in Oslo during August, followed by the main 3 week program in Singapore from 15 September to 3 October.
Singapore, 2 June 2014—Joyful Frog Digital Incubator (JFDI) launches a 21 day program this week called JFDI Discovery to help business startup founders take a deep dive into their market in a quest to achieve ‘problem-customer fit’. The program will run every month and teaches participants to apply the formal methods used with success in JFDI’s main 100-day accelerator program.
Delivered every month through a blend of self-directed activity and online support, JFDI Discovery is available to anyone, anywhere, any time. There is no need to attend physical meetings or group webinars unless participants want to, so it can run alongside existing work commitments.
The JFDI.Asia Frog family has grown! Here’s our staff at full strength now.
Chief Executive Frog
Ong Chiah Li
| Nie San Lim
| Lucy Ng
Strategic Partnerships Manager
Lean Startup Coach
Lean Startup Launcher
Joining the team:
Nie San Lim, our lovely venue manager.
Lucy Ng, helping us with our daily administration.
Victoria Au, managing our recruitment process for JFDI Accelerate 2014B.
Alena Arens, building strategic partnerships across regional startup ecosystems.
Adrian Tan, JFDI.Asia alum, joining us as a volunteer Lean Startup Coach for JFDI Discovery.
Chi-Kai Huang, also joining us as a volunteer Lean Startup Coach for JFDI Discovery.
Joyce Huang, joining us to help build a vibrant JFDI community.
Say hi to our new frogs!
A great list of ‘Be-wares’ – dead ends for startups to avoid - captured from the eloquent Ben Joffe:
- Funware (fun but no market)
- Easyware (anyone can make it)
- Sameware (similar to existing products)
- Solutionware (amazing technology that hasn’t yet found a problem it’s good at solving)
- Vaporware (can’t be made)
- Lameware (good intentions but the compromises needed to get it to market lead to disappointment)
- Failware (successfully built something nobody wants)
- Lateware (woke up competitors who beat it to market)
- Lossware (no product margins)
- Borewear (people quickly lose interest and stop using it)
- Futureware (amazing technology that is too far ahead of market demand)
- Localware (too tied to a small local ecosystem to make it in the world)
Seoul, Singapore, 22 May 2014—Joyful Frog Digital Incubator (JFDI) and the Banks Foundation for Young Entrepreneurs (Banks Foundation) today announced a strategic partnership to boost the skills of first-time entrepreneurs across language and cultural barriers and to help established startup companies from Korea and Singapore expand beyond their home markets across the Asia Pacific region.
The partnership will allow startups who are members of either JFDI’s Innovation Campus in Singapore, or the Banks Foundation D.Camp working space in Seoul, to work free of charge in either space, giving them a foothold in both the north and south of Asia. The organizations will share networks and know-how to support startups venturing out from home and co-develop a multilingual joint education program to get first-time entrepreneurs ready for the international market from Day 1.