On day two of B Dash Camp 2013 in Fukuoka, we had a chance to listen to a general discussion of Asian startup trends. The speakers participating in this chat included Mohan Belani, the CEO of the pan-Asia tech media site e27; Jimmy Rim, the CEO of K Cube Ventures; and moderator Shuji Honjo, the managing director of Honjo International.
No better time than now
Jimmy started the session off by explaining three areas which he thinks are pretty hot in Korea right now. He cited mobile ads, as well as the notion of capturing a mobile’s front screen sort of like Facebook home. He also pointed towards online to offline trends, as well as R&D companies solving problems like recommendation engines for this like movies or content.
Jimmy noted that a lack of exits is something that plagues all of Asia, but noted that in Korea specifically, things are getting much better recently, with companies like TNC being picked up by Google, and Ticket Monster getting acquired by Living Social. This has had a positive effect on the ecosystem as a while, with lots of top talent realizing that joining a startup was a viable career option. In turn, many investors realized that investing in such companies made sense. He added:
I believe there has never been a better time to do a startup. Japan and korea are traditionally conservative, but if you’re a good engineer, there’s not much risk. even if you fail, the experience of becoming an is [of great value].
More exits, innovation, and optimism
As for Southeast Asia, Mohan mentioned the recent trend of exits and acquisitions in Singapore, citing specifically SingTel and Singapore Press Holdings which have very busy snatching up promising companies. He also noted an improved maturity of entrepreneurs in the region, ones who are developing real solutions to real problems (such as some who are tackling telemedicine in Indonesia), rather than just a social app du jour.
Mohan also took a moment to highlight the standout success of a company called Picmix, which racked up over 9 million users in just three months. They created a photo app for BlackBerry, filling a “unique gap in an area they knew well.” Now that they’ve succeeded on that platform, they have moved on to others.
While Singapore’s ecosystem was very much one that was pushed and promoted by the government, and with government investment, But now there is far more activity from investors, he explains. For companies outside the country, there are lots of business matching opportunities that would make trips to Singapore worthwhile. Mohan closed with a tip of the hat to Japanese investors who he says are a positive influence in the region:
I think investors, including Japanese investors) have been exploring Singapore and Southeast, and this is validation for many startups there. That confidence and cheerleading is something that Japanese companies and investors have done well. […] They realize they can’t understand SEA by just sitting in Japan.