Jeremy Au appeared in Analyse Asia and discussed the startup ecosystem in Southeast Asia with Bernard Leong.They explore the region's potential for growth, the dynamics of fundraising, podcasting evolution and sci-fi's influence in imagining future societal changes and impactful innovations that transform lives.
(00:00) Jeremy Au:
Southeast Asia is a very exciting market and I think lots of folks and prior guests have talked about it, but let's just rattle off the list. Obviously you're rising middle class, you have that openness to trade, openness to immigration and openness to keep growing from a policy perspective. And of course there's the urbanization and the internet technology digitalization wave. So these are all the first three slides of every VC fund, LP deck, but also the first three slides of every market report.
And there's so many great ones out there. But I think when we double click a little bit further, what we're also thinking about is what are the industries that are right for change? And you call it disruption. You can call it digitalization, but I think there's the crux of it when we talk about venture capital.
How do you build that a hundred million dollar revenue business within 10 years? And create a 10 x multiple. I think that's the home run that VC funds are geared towards. That's something that is currently still in motion. 10 years ago, it didn't exist.
Bernard Leong: (00:56)
Welcome to Analyse Asia, the Premier podcast dedicated to dissecting the pulse of business, technology and media in Asia. I'm Bernard. Yes, and we did take a long break to recharge our batteries to kick off this season towards the 500 episode of our podcast. I would like to look. The investor and startup landscape within the Southeast Asia ecosystem, given the recent deep in investments across the region.
With me today, Jeremy Al, chief of Staff from Monks Hill Ventures, and host of Brave Southeast Asia Tech Podcast to help us with the subject.
Jeremy Au: (01:29)
Jeremy, welcome to the show. I'm excited to be on a show. I've been a regular listener, and in fact, I was inspired by your podcast when I first started playing around with podcasts and the space, so really glad to be here to share a little bit of my knowledge.
Bernard Leong: (01:42)
Thank you for coming on, and I want to basically start off, you have a very interesting background, not just being a VC yourself, but also an enjoy investor that. Works around the startup and investor ecosystem, but are probably very curious to get to know you better. How do you start your career?
Jeremy Au: (01:57)
Yeah, I mean, grew up in Singapore or Army, then I went to uc, Berkeley. I studied technology, economics, and business. Then I went to Bain, where I worked on consumer and tech across Southeast Asia and China based outta Singapore. Then I built my first company, which was the consultancy for the social sector, and you kind of like bootstrap. That grew, that became profitable and I eventually went off to Harvard to do, to do my M B A and there I built second company where we basically grew that from zero to millions of dollars of revenue.
Frome Seed Series A. Eventually sold the company and I was a GM there for a year in Boston, New York before coming back home to Southeast Asia and joining Moneo Ventures where I've been a VC and chief of staff. Looking at investing, looking at the data across the entire region. Also helping with the strategy planning for the company.
So really excited to be here. I also happen to host the Brave Obvious Asia Tech podcast, www.bravesce.com, where we. A little bit inspired by you, but a little bit more focused on the Southeast Asia, not Panasas Asia, and much more focused on like founder and more on the human stories that's there. So happy to share whatever you wanna ask.
Bernard Leong: (03:05)
We'll talk about that a little bit more later about the podcast. Mm. But I want to get a little bit much more interesting for the younger audience out there who are listening. What interesting lessons can you share with my audience about your career journey?
Jeremy Au: (03:17)
The best lesson I've ever had is, Go look for a good boss that's always paid off, honestly. I mean, you hear that when you're young and you're like, eh, and after a while you kind of, I think I actually had that experience actually at Bain because I think Bain actually is a really good employer. Lots of super solid training because they have an upper out policy, so they know that if they don't train you, they're gonna lose you and is in their interest to change you as best as you can.
It's up to you to drink from the fire hose. But even within Bain, I think you have, honestly, you have great. Project leaders, and then you have good project leaders and you have project leaders who are new and learning a job. And I think you kind of get that massive, like every three months you get a new boss and then you're like, whoa, okay.
You start to get a sense of like, okay, these are the people I can learn from. These are the people I have like psychological safety with, and then these are people that unfortunately just figuring it out and there can be a lot of pain associated because you're learning and you are learning anyway. I think one of the big things I learned is like, I think it goes over and over again like.
I've always done best when I had a great board member. 'cause board members, when they're vc, they're your boss in a fiduciary, in a coaching sense. But also you can have board members who are hard to work with, right? And then being an employee, great bosses are a big part of it. So I think my advice is, yeah, this.
If you have to choose between two, two jobs and one's paying a bit less mean, obviously to some level where it doesn't make any more sense, of course, but at some level I think picking the better boss is like 90% of it. That's interesting because I got both your bosses on my podcast to talk about their journey and their view of this service Asia ecosystem.
Bernard Leong: (04:48)
But today, for the main subject of the day, I wanna talk to you about angel investing and also. Venture capital and the Southeast Asia ecosystem. I think the best way to set off this conversation is how would you describe the venture capital and angel investing landscape in Southeast Asia?
Jeremy Au: (05:12)
Southeast Asia is a very exciting market, and I think lots of folks and prior guests have talked about it, but let's just rattle off the list.
I mean, obviously you're rising middle class. You have that openness to trade, openness to immigration and openness to keep growing from a policy perspective. Of course there's the urbanization and the internet technology digitalization wave. So these are all like kind of like, I guess the first three slides of every VC fund, LP deck, but also the first three slides of every kind of like market report.
And there's so many great ones out there. But I think we double click a little bit further. I think I. We're also kind of thinking about a little bit is what are the industries that are right for change? And you call it disruption. You can call it digitalization, but I think that's really, I think the crux of it when we talk about venture capital is how do you build that a hundred million dollars revenue business within 10 years and create that 10 x multiple.
I think that's the home run that I think VC funds are geared towards. And I think that's something that is currently still in motion. I mean, 10 years ago it didn't exist. I remember being an early founder and I remember we were in the first co-working space in Singapore, the Impact Hub Singapore Jungle Ventures was there Go, golden Gate Ventures was there.
We were all working on the same co-working space Uhlin as well. It was kind of floating around the same ecosystem. So that first wave of ecosystem builders was just emerging at that point of time. And now I think fast forward 10 years, I think we're definitely more mature. I think Singapore has started to rise and be quite clearly a great hub for capital, but also deployment and advisory across Southeast Asia.
And of course, we see that other markets in Southeast Asia are starting to grow as well. And yet I will share is like, it's not just the past 10 years, it's not the current year, it's about the next 10 years, the next 20, the next 30. And I think that's really, I think where there's this interesting conversation that's happening everywhere, which is.
Hey, what do we think by next 10 years and can we create venture scale outcomes in the next 10 years? And if we do so, how do we pick effectively and how do we help companies get there? Well, right. So I think it's highly exciting, lots of potential, and we have to acknowledge that it's still about 10 years.
I think there's more time to let the movie play and maybe just to also help the audience is that when we talk about Southeast Asia, we talk about the top six countries, the likes of S Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, and Vietnam.
Bernard Leong: (07:20)
And then there is of course the other Southeast Asia allows Cambodia and Myanmar thinking a lot more about the landscape as I think you have given some of the macroeconomic factors and also the trends.
There's making it. Becoming a breakout. Mm-hmm. Emerging region. How does it compare to say, the US and China? 'cause there was this comment that was given to me recently, in the old days, when you think of the US or the economy, now you go to China and then in, now you think about Europe, you go to Southeast Asia.
Jeremy Au: (08:01)
Yeah, I mean, I love metaphors. When I was in secondary school, I wanted to be a poet and I was doing a lot of poetry, and I think metaphors are very easy because I think it allows us to understand, I think the parameters that are there, and I think it makes us have that analogy that makes it easier. I.
I'll talk about where I think that analogy is really good, especially looking at it from a G G P per capita basis. So obviously US is number one. Singapore is actually about the same G G P per capita as the US actually is even higher than the UK right now, which is kind of interesting 'cause the two crown colonies are ahead of the UK right now.
But then of course China is kind of like, Then there's India. I'm giving these hand motions that kind of show the third level. And then if you look at Southeast Asia, actually if you disaggregate those six countries you mentioned, we see that Malaysia and Thailand are pretty high, but we see that Vietnam, Indonesia are growing quickly but at a lower base.
And of course we see that Philippines is lower as well on the stack and the Singapore's high. So this is interesting dynamic. So I think if we kind of un parcelled that a little bit, I think each country's economy growth rate is gonna let people kind of like say like, Hey, When you've roughly reaches aware about the India, then China, kind of g p per capita, these are inflection points.
I think Asia Partners does a great annual report talking about this belief point, which is then certain verticals become easier to digitize. And then of course there's also a sequential path, dependency in a sense that you can't have. Online home buying without consumer internet, you can't have consumer internet without infrastructure like the internet.
Right? And so there's, you work backwards a little bit. I think people are building successive generations of startups on top of each other, and then these startups can stack on each other to become successful. So I think that's where I think the analogy works well, which is that I think. In general, we believe that G D P per capita is gonna rise over time and therefore industries will ma mature.
For example, like wealth tech can only emerge when there are many accredited investors equivalent in the country. And so it will eventually happen, but it may be too early for some countries right now, but it may be just in time for some countries. Now, I think where it's a little bit tougher, and I think, I think we to be mindful of is that, for example, Southeast Asia is not a single.
Common zone in terms of language, religion, regulation, right. Or even political incentives. Right. And so it's kind of like, in some ways actually similar to Europe before the European Union, in that sense, everybody has a history with each other. And I think it does make that interesting dynamic where, I remember when I was in the US though there as a founder, it was very much like we were Boston and we were expanding to New York and they were discussing should we go to New York?
Should we go to dc? But, and I remember we doing that market selection and it almost felt. So much easier compared to the market selection that we had to do now in in Southeast Asia because there's so many things we took for granted back then. It was like same language, same effectively, same law except for municipality or city law, same talent pool, same time zone.
So a lot of things is much easier to handle versus going from Singapore. There's so many companies now that, I was just talking to someone recently, he's like, should we expand to like Malaysia or to Manila? And I was like, whoa, these are like. The fact that you're considering these two, I need to figure out what your Xes, what your criteria are.
Right. Because the good news is that both are pretty, for example, fluent in English actually, so that's good. But distance is totally different. One is one kind of like common versus manila and this much differences that if you really get into it, kind of make it really difficult actually for companies to do multi-market expansion.
Right. And so I think that limits to some extent the market size, ease of entry, but also creates very disjointed, what's the word? Risk milestones that capital has to underwrite, but also like founders have to actually execute against. I was talking to Helen won from AC Ventures a couple episodes ago, and she talks about either you go very big in Indonesia or you try to go for a regional play.
Bernard Leong: (11:53)
What do you see as the most significant trends in the venture capital industry in Southeast Asia?
Jeremy Au: (12:10)
I think one of the biggest trends actually, you know, it's kind of like what you mentioned earlier is I think the emergence of angel investors as, as a, I wouldn't say profession, but actually as an activity and I think you see a large growth of syndicates, but not just in Singapore, but also in Indonesia and Vietnam, and emerging also in Philippines.
So I think it's kind of interesting to see that. Conversation going. I think there's increased sophistication of angel investors because I think obviously, you know anybody who's like reading kind of like English CK Angel list. I think there's a whole bunch of materials that is there and I think it's free education.
So adding a lot of angel investors, they're already successful in technology or in associated industry like advertising or finance. So they wanna do that and. They're savvy. They probably invest in other asset classes, so I think they're willing to do some legwork to get savvy on it as well. So I think it's interesting to see that emergence because 10 years ago there were hardly any angel investors.
I think there was just funds actually. And now I think it's interesting to see the syndicates emerge. So we see, like I. Obviously the Asia Sustainability Angels. We see Ascent Angels, obviously we see NC as well as Angel Central. These are Singapore. I also see the Manila Angels Network, the XA network, so many syndicates.
So I think it's interesting because I think they are a very important asset. I. Pool in terms of investment return, but also really important source of advice and capital for early stage founders to get started, right?
Bernard Leong: (13:31)
That how have changes in technology and also markets influence the type of startups that investors from the region are interested in.
Myself being part of the XA network, we typically see many different deals across different industries, and each one of us would have our own nuances and. Take on which industry we want to tackle, so Right. Maybe from your perspective, can you elaborate a little bit on that?
Jeremy Au: (13:58)
Yeah. There's like the intersections.
One is different countries are different levels of G G P per capita, but also different levels of industry stack. So some markets, for example, already a property tech emerging right now. So you can imagine that after this there's gonna be additional property tech that's built on this financing stack, for example.
So I think that's obviously a market by market view as well. I think the second layer they just talked about is technology. So obviously with different waves of technology that have been happening. I mean, so you go back 10 years ago, it's just like, just the increased compute power of mobile phones, right?
If you go back 10 years ago, I always remember it's like the big thing that people had was like one laptop per child. Right. You know, sense that was like the big thing is like the form factor for every child in the emerging market was gonna be a laptop, right? And it was gonna be like NGO or government subsidized and turns out.
It turned out to be mobile phones, right? Which were more portable, easier, different price points. So obviously we saw a mobile emergence that went very fast. But also I think a lot of governments were honestly, I think surprisingly favorable to telcos pushing out data plans for with government subsidies, land support, just like all the various high ends, and even managing price across a different region.
But that was a huge, I think, unspoken wave that. It's very non-obvious because like if you grow up the internet, you're always like, oh, there's always internet. And I'm like, no, that's not true. Right. So actually I had friends who were going to Myanmar to set up the telco towers at that time. When I was liberalizing at that point of time, there was like setting, there was just going there to set up telco towers.
Right. And it was just kind of interesting to watch. But I think the next stack, obviously we've seen as several waves that starting emerge. I think one is, I think the professionalization of SaaS. I think the knowledge of what SaaS is has become. Tremendously codified from my perspective. Like 10 years ago it was like you had ask your friends and you had buy books to talk about SaaS and now there's all these statistics comparison tables.
But also I think we see a lot of democratization, I think, from my perspective of a lot of different tools. And so what I mean by that is it's not just about the knowledge of how to be assessed, but all these SaaS tools now that you build business for much cheaper. And so I think it was interesting. I was like talking to a.
Filipino entrepreneur and then she was using HubSpot, right? And there was no like local version. Obviously she's using HubSpot, but there's no need to, a, HubSpot is a global product, I'm sure. I'm sure. My friends at HubSpot are very happy and plugging now, I guess HubSpot. But the point is you can build a different stack because now you don't have to reinvent the whole 80% of the company, which is generation and closing and prioritization and et cetera.
You start selling, right? But now of course, that new waves are starting to come up. I think generative AI is the hottest one. I was just talking recently to a vr, ai AR company, and so I think everyone's kind of like doing this, like what I call like the M I t, what's what framework, which is instead of saying like, what is product market fit?
By looking at what customers want, you do that all the way around, which is commercializing technology or just with this technology, how do we find that right insertion point into the ecosystem as it is? And I think the best founders. I think localize in a sense, they understand what to bring, borrow, but also localize very rapidly and figure out a product market fit for the local canvas and a local customer.
And I think that's the interesting part is like you have the market one side, you have the technology on other side, and then the founder has to be the one kind of pulling it together and localizing and making actually work. Mm-hmm.
Bernard Leong: (17:14)
So what, what is a typical day like for you as a venture capitalist?
Jeremy Au: (17:18)
I mean, I think I wake up in the morning, I play my kids. I've got two very cute daughters, one year old, one one year old. So I gotta do that morning time now, and then I open up my WhatsApp and my email, and that's, that's the big one I think, because I think that's, I can wake up to like a hundred WhatsApp messages and like a hundred emails and this. Right now, I'm like, okay, how do I just process that?
Because I think people expect certain level of timeliness and certain level of triage. So you use like inbox zero as much as you can. You use David Allen's getting things done. All these like productivity hacks. And sometimes you just defer that. You hit a snooze button and you're just like, okay, I don't need to make a decision on this in two days, but at least I'm aware of it.
So I think that's the, I think. And I, I think it's not just email, right, but it's actually, you're just saying like you're communicating asynchronously to people who wanna to talk to you. So it's like people who wanna pitch you obviously, but people who want advice from you, people need connections or people just giving you information.
And of course I have to spend about an hour just reading pretty much. So it's just, I just try to, but it might be broken up across the day by society. Might be eating lunch. I'll just be reading the information. I'll be reading the can. I'll be using reading Asia Tech Review. I might be listening to your podcast a bit, just like here, snippet.
I just scroll, see if there's someone interesting. So I'm just trying to consume this information on a fly. And then after that, I think that's when you can do some of your deeper work, which is okay, these are the set of founders that have reached out. What is the help? The need, we're not currently investing right now.
How do we support and be proactive in that conversation? And then vice versa. These are companies we've invested in. How do we support them as well for the current needs as well? So I think what ends up is that at the end of the day, I think as a VC, you, you end up have to do all of that whole funnel. You have to source and you have to pick, right?
Then you have to help and all three things. Just gotta do that throughout the day. The good news is I'm an extrovert, so I'm happy taking calls and meetings, but I think my wife often finds me, I'm like seven, 8:00 PM She's like, I'm like in bed reading a book, a sci-fi book, and she's like, Who did I marry?
I thought I married an extrovert, you know, and you are at home at seven or eight. I'm like, oh, I'm extroverted out already. I've done all my conversations for the day. Yeah. Hmm.
Bernard Leong: (19:28)
So the question of that typical day is also thinking about where you think the time is best located in the sourcing. Maybe as you say, portfolio management, portfolio construction.
I. What do you think about when you look in the founding teams or startups, what are the kind of key traits would help you to make a decision in investing in them?
Jeremy Au: (19:48)
I mean, I think the simple fundamental is a great founder. A founder who's hungry, perseverance, smart growth mindset. So I think that's really the core of what you need in the founder or the co-founders.
And then I think you take a step back and then hopefully what that shows up is that they've been able to em a team that fits the pro problem they're having, they're tackling available problem and that they're able to build a solution that fits, uh, and has a unit economics to do that. So it's, I always think about it as like, it's almost like inside out.
Like people are like, oh, product market fit. And I'm like, yeah, yeah. But product market fit is a reflection of the founder in that sense. If the founder doesn't get. The target customer, guess what? Product market fit is wrong and if the founder really understands the problem, but you think problem, problem, market fit is is wrong, then either you as the judge, right as the investor are mistaken, maybe you have bad assumptions or maybe is a good conversation to have.
And turns out that based on conversation, the founder may pivot or iterate to get closer to product market fit. So I think there's that interesting dynamic where I think founder is really, really the crux of it and all things go back to the founder quality. That being said, of course the tricky part is you would know in X exit network is like, that's like saying like, Hey, you're a running coach at Olympics and I'm looking for some boy who runs fast.
Like, like, you're like, not Jeremy, you're VC looking for great founders. They're so generic and yeah, I think it's, it is, but I think the other way of looking at it is just like I. Who are all the other founders in the ecosystem? If you look at LinkedIn and you say how many self-identified founders there are, there's like over 10,000 self-identified founders in the ecosystem every year.
How many investments are being made? Pretty much about a hundred. So you can imagine there's a tremendous, you can sort call it relative comparison where all these founders are all exploring different opportunities, and so it's like, are you the best version of yourself when you're doing this? If you take a step back and you're asking, what is the vc?
Who's meeting 10 to a hundred to a thousand companies? Or maybe they met all 10,000 founders, is are you part of that top 1%? Right. And I think it's actually really, really tough. 'cause think about it, I always go to, like, I was speaking at Antler for example, next week, and I think interesting conversation is like I, this whole batch, you know what I mean?
Everybody has self-selected to be an entrepreneur, which means that they have the psychological hunger and the aggressiveness to go for it 'cause they decide to take the risk. And then a program like Antler or so, so forth has decided to pick you. So there's another filter. So this is actually a really tough pull to compete against implicitly.
It's not a direct competition, it's not a zero sum game, obviously. But I'm just trying to say here is this like, I think that's the conversation what we gotta have, which is that building startups are hard. And there is a quantitative dynamic about the venture capital landscape. And so as a founder, I think that growth mindset is super duper key because the truth is when you, when I was day one as a founder personally, I.
I mean, I sucked. I mean, you have no idea. I was like, all my first pictures, it was like terrible. I was trying to do this, trying to do that. I remember I spoke to one investor and he was like, Jeremy, you're talking to me as if you're a consultant who knows everything, but if you know everything, then this wouldn't be a startup.
Right? So what's, what's the question here? What do we not know about a startup? Right? And I was like, yeah, that's good advice. Right? And so I think the truth is that day one, every founder is inexperiences. You are inevitably not great, but I think over time, over the course of one month, one year, three years, five years, 10 years, I think that's where I think there's a wining of the chaff from a other side perspective, but from a founder perspective, it's like who has the endurance to keep growing and learning?
Bernard Leong: (23:28)
So if I were to summarize, the way you think about it is that whe whether you are in an investor at any stage into investing, vc, or even private equity, is a people's business. So I'm gonna reverse the question and ask them, yeah. What are the red flags then you will look up for that deter you from investing in the founders and their startups?
Jeremy Au: (23:50)
Well, there's the easy ones, which is obviously past criminal or unethical behavior, as in straightforward one. Well, it's straightforward as a criteria, but I think what I've noticed now is that a lot of people do not do the legwork of reference checks, so I totally get it. If I angel investor, for example, are you really gonna do the legwork to check so, so forth.
But I think there's, I think one reflect that I think is both super obvious. I think it's also really important in an emerging market like Southeast Asia where there's like opaqueness around employment history, kind of like hub and spoke, disjointed information networks as well. So I think you have to do that legwork.
So I think that's one. I think the second is a conversation to be had is I think you can say, I think acknowledgement of the risk or how hard the business is. And I actually had an issue in the past, which was that, yeah, I just. Made it seem super easy, and I think, I think it works because a lot of investors actually won an easy company.
I was like, oh, it's a sure, sure win a hundred percent, duh, duh. But I, I think what I realized was that I think the more sophisticated investors that I, I eventually found raised from, and the board members that I really respected, really kind of like broke it down and say like, these are things that we think are easy or known, and these are things that we think are hard, but known.
That we just had to do, and these are things that we just don't know and we've gotta find out. And I think when a founder's able to structure that conversation, very, I wouldn't say cleanly, but in a very, you call it authentic, but very genuine way about these are things that make sense. These are things we've gotta do.
These are things your money's gonna help us de-risk. I think it creates a lot of trust and groundedness, um, in the fact that at the end of the day, this is a 10 year horizon kind of company. That there is that maturity and business judgment to kind of like step letter your way from point A to point B to point C.
And so I think the red flag version of that is making it seem super easy. You know, kind of like doing a lot of handwaving around what a company is and how difficult it is. And that's something to be mindful of.
Bernard Leong: (25:57)
Could you share some examples of startups that you have invested and what was the mental model in getting you to write that check for to them?
Jeremy Au: (26:05)
Well, I think there are many interesting startups that I've invested in. You know, I think one company that I do think about was iterative scopes. So Jonathan, it's a story where I was a Singaporean founder in Boston, and then everybody would meet me in dinner parties and would just be like, oh, you're Singaporean.
Have you heard of Jonathan? He's also a Singaporean founder here in Boston. So I was just like, and I had a whole bunch of conversations. I got like bored and tired about it, so I just messaged him on Facebook Messenger. I was just like cold messaged him and say, yo, her, you're the only other Singaporean founder in Boston, so let's hang out and whatever.
And we had some really, really good Chinese food and we ate there. And then we became really good friends. And then at some point in time for me, I was building, but he was building an AI computer vision for colonoscopy. So basically it's simple as that. You put a probe, you're doing colonoscopy, and then a doctor with the human eyes and making decision to count the number of polyps that may eventually become cancerous.
That will be later. B biopsied. Obviously there's a problem where you have false positives and you have false negatives. So a human guy is counting right, and he's moving the probe and everything. So basically what's happening is that you can have false positives, which is, is actually not a polyp, but you think it is based on the lightning, et cetera.
And then you have false negatives, which you missed the polyp, but, and you didn't identify it and marked location and observe it. Obviously this is human error and so he's doing computer vision and making it much easier, much faster. I remember there was one time he was just like, Hey, like I'm fundraising for next round.
I was like, Hey, I'm not your friend. I'm not your neighbor. You gotta let me invent a small check. He said, yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh, I forgot about this. Sorry. Sorry. Okay. Then just did the check and since then, I think that was pretty much my, my first check, and I thought that was really interesting because then I really watched that growth.
Because I think a lot of stuff made sense in retrospect. I wasn't not sophisticated, I just knew him as this incredibly hardworking guy who was working his ass off. Mm-hmm. And it made sense intuitively to me, but in retrospect, he's like, oh, it was a good investment sense that he was a doctor. He had built a company before he is studying in Boston.
So Boston has a great pharma and bio ecosystem. It was the right timing because this was in, in 20 17, 20 18. So all that stuff, kind of like all worked together to make it a good investment in by today's standards. But it's interesting where it's just like, again, he was a super solid founder that I became friends with.
'cause I respected him and I liked him. And I think that's something that I do keep in mind. Is this like you respect this founder? Yeah.
Bernard Leong: (28:34)
So your first check is actually what influences how you think about in your later investments date.
Jeremy Au: (28:43)
And of course it's not sure thing. I mean, he's the first person to share like, Hey, we've got serious milestones ahead.
And just because we have this valuation that's really, really high doesn't mean that there's an exit. So he's working on it as well. I, but the fact that he's really kind of like crossed five years of incredibly hard work of F D A certification, building a team, fundraising again, fundraising again, and then fundraising again, all that stuff.
Not easier. And what that means is that he's a founder who was able to grow over the course of those five years, even though the company was doing hockey shape, his personal growth was also pretty much a hockey shape as well in in order to follow that. And that's not an easy skillset to have and not an easy mindset to keep.
Bernard Leong: (29:21)
Hmm. If I were to bring you back to Service Asia, then, what do you think are currently the unique strengths? Also the challenges faced by the startup ecosystems across different countries. I think you made a very good point. People seems to think that this is very easy. The life of our founders actually extremely difficult, extremely challenging, and you're actually trying to live a very, very heavy weight that to some others, it's actually considered a mission impossible.
Right. So maybe help to me to contextualize a little bit what you see now as strengths and maybe even challenges. Within the different startup ecosystems. A startup ecosystem in Singapore is very different from a startup ecosystem, say in Philippines and in Indonesia.
Jeremy Au: (30:04)
First of all, there are some really, really great investment reports.
For example, Philippines has the Fox Mont report and done in conjunction with B C G, so definitely check that out. There's also the Indonesia reports that are out there. If I did like, especially I mentioned earlier, Asia Partners, Nick Nash, who's a previous podcast guest who has a great report on, I think all the various ecosystems actually.
So that's Share a good pen. I think there's a Moxi Ventures, there's an Sana council report that actually talks about the underlying economy and the industries that we digitalized. Also, there's an our great report that's there on a pen, Southeast Asia view, and then obviously it is like Singapore ecosystem that's built by I think some of the local government agencies that out there was a pretty good report.
And of course there's Vietnamese reports as well that's out there, so, so taking a step back, if I just take a step back and say, okay, these were all the reports I read. These are all for us. We've dissected each individual report on, on the Brave podcast as well. And when I take a step back, what I think about is, I'll start first to Singapore because it's easiest.
Singapore. G g p per capita is as high as a us It's a developed country. And so it's like Switzerland, it's like Israel, it's like the us It's like London. It's a city state. What's interesting is that he has a very strong capital pool with a net inflow of assets from the US with family offices from China, but also from MNCs and so, so forth, and Southeast Asia.
So it's a banking hub, and so there's a net inflow of capital, so there's a lot of capital availability that's going into all the various sectors, public markets where estate, and also private markets, which includes venture capital and therefore founders. And of course you have a very ProTech government that's doing government policy and you have a highly educated workplace.
And then like you said earlier, it's also a very small market of 5 million people. So that's I think, the awkward reality. And so every single parent father kind of gets started and the advice very much is, Hey, you gotta build for a region or you could build globally. I think everybody's has that advice, kind of like written, I don't know, in red on the wall.
And every incubator is like, how do you think bigger? How do you think, well, how do you think deeply? I think the Indonesia ecosystem. I think Asia Partners did a pretty good report. Obviously it's 200 million people. I think G D P per capita is a step earlier, but also I think there is that set of industries that require a lot, a lot, a lot of productivity improvement is opportunity.
So I think obviously E Fishery is at the top of the town right now. It makes sense. I mean, I think the fishery business has a lot of productivity improvements that could happen, and they're starting to catalyze, and those productivity improvements across the whole value chain tremendously helps that set of conversations, but also as a result, the uplift in the daily lives of everybody.
But also I think what percentage that the startup can take in order to be compensated for helping. So it's a win-win situation for everybody. I think we also see, for example, for example, they're doing that for property financing. I think that's also in conjunction with Ideal. So obviously a lot of Indonesians kind of have different obstacles to access property financing in different cities across Indonesia.
So that's an interesting conversation be had, which is again, how does that whole process get simplified, digitalized, and then the productivity improvements create a foundation for a startup. To be able to earn revenue and earn that position over time. So, and what's interesting is that all the Indonesia companies are very much focused on Indonesia because you have 300 million folks that's there.
I think what's interesting is that we see in Vietnam, I think we see that it's a order magnitude smaller. So that's one instance of population size. G D P per capita is roughly comparable, but he has a. World renowned education system was featured, an economist recently for having a better education system than many D O E C D countries.
And what's interesting of course, is that because the market is small in terms of population size, then companies are often trying to think through like what I call like one-stop shops or trying to have multiple blades of products or monetization, right, to build so that, 'cause they wanna stay in Vietnam, for example, for those that choose to do so.
There are of course, are. If Vietnamese companies, for example, expanding to Cambodia, to Laos. So that's actually a different set of conversation altogether about the expansion path that we see. Mm-hmm. So these are different market differences that are there, but also I think there's different capital availability.
So in Indonesia, I. We have the large funds. There's also not just seed, but now series A and even series B funds that are just targeting South Indonesia and Vietnam. Obviously the capital ecosystem is one step younger. We have a lot of new seed funds, but also a few growth funds. But I think when we look at that ecosystem, I think we are that the capital landscape in terms of availability is different for each market.
And I think that shows up in valuations. That shows up in the depth of the technical talent pools in each market that shows up in the amount of knowledge sharing. And then one last thing I'll add to that is actually another interesting fact is on podcasts I kind of like, we coined the phrase like language locked.
So basically it's like the countries are landlocked if they don't have access to. Ocean, then you can't access maritime trade and so, so forth. So you're landlock. And so every country really, really wants to be, have a access to the ocean. And so what we see, for example, is that the countries can be language locked in that sense.
And so I think obviously so much of the startup ecosystem in terms of like, let's be super frank, it's like so much knowledge about how to build startups, how to fundraise, how to do sa, all of that is in English. When we look at the kind of like late stage growth investors, what's the language that's done in business every day is English in terms of the fundraising, the pitch, the negotiations, the board meetings, and so for example, deferring levels of English fluency.
I think that's really a key prerequisite for many founders who really want to not just fundraise obviously at a seed, which is I think a lot more open, right, in terms of languages. But to keep accessing later stages of capital, you need to be on your A game for fundraising. And I think. Being fluent in English actually is important, is this important part and important reality of the business world today.
And so I think this is interesting dynamic where I think language is a big part of Southeast Asia as well.
Bernard Leong: (36:16)
You talk about the talent, you talk about the different governmental support and regulations, or even the infrastructure side. I think maybe just maybe we, if you take it all together at a moment and then you start to take a, take a look at all the different markets, correct.
How would you advise a founder, say, from Indonesia to expand beyond it shores or is Indonesia big enough? This is the same situation with China, where the Chinese market is big enough. Yeah. They don't even want to bother to get out of it. Same is going to be. India as well, but India, as some people will call term, is gonna be the largest English speaking population that's just gone online.
Mm-hmm. So how would you advise a founder, given that you talk about language a lot, which I think is also one of the very nuanced feature of the region itself, right?
Jeremy Au: (37:11)
Well, the first question is, yeah, what is your problem? Statement. Who are you solving this for? Are you, for example, solving for urban dwellers or urbanized of a certain income class who have access to a d c, for example?
They've already solved for housing, they've already solved for education. They already solve for basic needs. For example. Then for example, you may find that you're just actually targeting a tier one city strategy, so you're not really thinking about it from a Indonesia perspective, but you'll be thinking about it from a Jakarta Ho Chi Minh City.
Hanoi Manila strategy, which is totally serviceable because there's actually lot similarities actually, the capitals of these countries. So I think there's an interesting expansion path, for example. Or are you saying that there's something about the interlink between urban and rural? So for example, you're doing farm to table, you're doing supply chain for agri business.
Well, yeah. Disconnecting tier three to tier two to tier one. We saw that in China, they used to call them tier one to tier two to tier three, and then it's just like ERA was just like, Really working very, very, very hard just to keep that going. It's just logistics network is not easy and people are to say like, yeah, replicating this whole logistics infrastructure, this whole operation apparatus to another country is just way too disjointed.
Not enough. Upside synergy, but also way too expensive to do. So let's just focus on what we have and let's just figure out more ways we can monetize this infrastructure. So we can do more products. Can we do more services? Can we do financing? But how do we keep growing? So I think that's another version of it.
Or maybe people are just focused on what I call, like, you know, the oceans. So there's about a trade. So you're not really Indonesian company, you're actually about the trade flows within Asen. Your, your company is focused on tourism or trade, or. Customs or shipping, but it's about the links between the different countries.
And then in that case, it doesn't really matter which country you're based out of. You're basically playing in the ocean or the flight airspace. And again, that's a regional player. So I think there's that nuance that there's no like, Common answer playbook that fits everybody. I think we've just gotta say like, Hey, what exactly is your business model?
Who's your target customer? Who are they most similar to? And let's forget all the sexy stuff of like planting a flag flags on every country in ics. Like, let's just be real, is it costs money. It may not provide returns and can be a distraction. So what is the best business judgment perspective that the board and the founder really feels is the best way to move forward and execute?
Bernard Leong: (39:50)
Okay, so I'm going to come back to the podcast because we, you mentioned it earlier. So I think my curious question, you are also the host of a pretty well-known brave Southeast Asia type podcast. You wanna talk about the main teams of the podcast and also the intended audience?
Jeremy Au: (40:05)
Yeah. Happy to share. For me, when I came back to Southeast Asia, I very much was like, Hey, I like listening to podcasts, but.
Who's talking about Southeast Asia. Right. And it was pretty much just you at that point of time. And then also there's a bunch of like Southeast Asian History podcast as well. And I was like, oh, okay. And so for me, I think I felt, frankly, I. It was weird, but I, I felt like I didn't belong. I know. I mean, I grew up here, I came back, but I want to belong.
And I was like, who? Who? Who's out there? And so I think that very much was like kind of like my journey to be like, okay, I would love to talk to people who are passionate about their craft. Obviously connected to now technology across Office Asia and have really good conversations. So I think major themes is obviously, I think one is about bravery, fear, humanity.
Personal journey growth. So very much more of a personal story about that. And so I sometimes don't really focus too much on like the, the details or thesis or the company details. I'm more like, oh, I wanna know who you are. Right? And, and I think it's a wonderful dinner conversation I get to have every time I do the podcast, right?
It's just like, oh, I just had a good conversation. Right? And it's just like I'm all smiles of the conversation because yeah, I've gotta know the person, right? And I think there's one big team. The second big team, of course, is really about obviously Asia, right? And I think for me, I've always loved teaching.
I love coaching. That's one of my hobbies that I do. And I think for me, when I was a founder, I always hated it when somebody just kind of like gave me a bunch of BSS or the corporate line, you know what I'm talking about? The platitudes. The platitudes, right. And I think the thing is, as a founder, you're pretty smart.
I mean, you, if you get anywhere, you're like, you're hungry, you're, you're time efficient. You have to be impatient. You just wanna know facts. You wanna know the truth, right? And it can't, it doesn't need to be the truth in terms of objective. It can be your truth. It can be a truth. It can be a truth that you believe in that people don't, other people do disagree with.
But I think that patience is quite short. Right. And because you're building companies, right? And so for me, I think one of my big promises I had to myself was like, Hey, Jeremy. I'm not gonna bss, right? Like, like I don't wanna treat myself the way I was treated by some VCs back when I was a founder. So let's just have an honest conversation.
It turns out I can't answer the question. I just say I can't answer the question or I don't want to answer the question, but that's way better than just kind of like I. You know, doing a bunch of handwaving. And I think that's so important, especially in Southeast Asia because there's so much information asymmetry.
We can call it opaqueness, but it's also asymmetry. And that asymmetry is what prevents great founders from breaking out because this is clueless about this, clueless about that, and turns out you missed out on that information and then you don't succeed. So I think the other theme is really being no bss.
Lastly, in terms of intended audience, yeah, it's really targeted for founders to some aspect. Of course, aspiring founders. We also do have a kind of like weekly techno show where I think folks get to listen in about what we discussed. For example, we discussed the recent influx of family offices in Southeast Asia.
This coming week, we're discussing about now that the 15% increase of female investors from a very low base of 120 plus female decision makers at VC funds, and so does a report by Ary Asia. So that's more of a, but again, that's a great conversation I have with Sheen at, she's the GP of Hustle Fund. This is a nice chitchat session talking about the news at a week.
So I think at the end of the day, the intended audience is founders, operators, VCs. At the end of the day, I always tell people I was like, in a podcast is the audience of one line. I was like, did you enjoy the podcast otherwise? Yeah. It's a, it's a, otherwise it's a very painful hobby. Yeah.
Bernard Leong: (43:46)
I, I want to sort of have, have a conversation with a fellow podcast also thinking about, yeah.
The learnings. I think you shared a little bit about the learnings on that. How do you think about growing your podcast, and I think you also do video and audio. Yeah. What do you see as the differences as well?
Jeremy Au: (44:03)
Oh my gosh. Going from audio to video was so painful. I only did it last six months and
Bernard Leong: (44:09)
I find it very, it's almost like doing everything all over again.
Jeremy Au: (44:11)
Yeah. It's just, yeah, a hundred percent. And actually, you actually gave me advice in the early days of the podcast, so you gave me advice on the podcast and everything. So I really appreciate you giving me advice in the early days during the pandemic. I, I think what I would say is like, the video podcast is so hard because I think as an audio podcast, it was very simple because, Truth is obviously you're talking to people.
What I try to do, so I already, it's not a cold conversation most of the time, but I think having an audio, lets. Do all your thinking and you can be writing notes and it's your way of thinking and you can edit. It's a very nice way to edit, so it's very easy to produce. But when you're doing a video podcast and suddenly, let's be real, right now, I get to see the face.
So audio podcast, I wasn't shaving. I'll just wear my singlet and just get it done right? And now I'm like, okay, I gotta wear my policy. Pay attention. Obviously you're paying attention, but demonstrate that you're paying attention. Use your hand, body language, all these things. So I think there's a difference between, I don't know, like a radio host on 98.7 fm, or it's your sunset.
So you sing Pinal like radio, but suddenly being like a TV in a sense, right? You know? And so I think there's that dynamic that's really, really important and I think I'm still learning how that ha happens. I think another aspect of it is the edits are much more obvious on a video podcast than on an audio one.
So the audio one is just like we flub it. Forget it. We'll just cut, right, move on. And it is initially invisible from a listening perspective, but I always remember I got feedback recently. It was like, Jeremy, you keep cutting all the time. And I was like, oh, that's because I have ums and ass and filler words.
And so it's much easier to cut. And so having been mindful that, yeah, when you cut out filler words on a video podcast, that's that right. I think the third thing that's a big difference, of course, is your guests guess. I think when they knows a video podcast, unfortunately, or fortunately, I think the audio podcast makes it a little bit easier.
I don't know if that makes sense to, at least what I've noticed is I think if guests come across a little bit more relaxed, 'cause they don't have to worry about how they look, the body language, the like, and, and it is having a conversation. It's like a phone call and there's still a video feed obviously between the two players.
But that video feed is not being distributed. Right. And so you tell them that everybody's relaxed, you know? It is an easier thing, but I think once the video comes on, everyone has to do their posturing and everything. Then the art of podcasting as well to some extent is having. An open, warm, genuine conversation, not a scripted one that is highly planned and boxed in.
Right. How do you create that psychological safety to get there? Right. I think that's also an interesting difficulty that I've had to overcome. Yeah. Hmm. Okay.
Bernard Leong: (46:48)
That is a very interesting point. I think I tend to be scripted, but even in situations where I thought, I have a very good guess, and I think the script is not working.
I just threw away everything and just go conversation mode. That actually works out better sometimes. Yeah.
Jeremy Au: (47:03)
Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
(47:04) Bernard Leong: So my traditional closing question then. Mm-hmm. What does great look like for a successful venture capitalist or angel investor in the Southeast Asia from our perspective?
Jeremy Au: (47:13)
I think there's great, from a performance perspective, and I think that's the long and short of it, is that every VC is gonna be measured eventually by, from the fund performance based on I R R and D P I, which is like the financial returns of, did you, from a quantitative perspective.
Generate return, right? And find home runs and invest as result, be able to do well and as result, be able to exit. It takes on the capital, return that back to the LPs. I think that's a simple fact. And I think right now across Office Asia, so many funds are effectively still in process on their fund one, right?
And fund twos. So that conversation is still ongoing about financial performance and that's one side of it. From a personal perspective, I think about it as I love Southeast Asia and it's home, right? In that sense, right? I'm like, past few months I went to Cambodia, it was great. And I started eating fried rice and I was like, oh my God, this is amazing.
And I was meeting Cambodian students and they're so hungry to learn. They were like, oh, I wanna build an internship matching platform. And I was like, oh, have you heard of this company called Glimpse? So like, you know, and then I've been traveling to Vietnam soon I'll be going back to Manila again for a second time.
I go to Vietnam this weekend. I went to, I'm going to Malaysia in three months. So I think Southeast Asia is great and, and I have family members who are distributed across the region as well, so I get to go hang out with family when I visit it as well. But I think for me, I think what I think personally is great is if you're actually gonna transform millions of lives across Southeast Asia, because the truth is there's a huge, honestly, huge amount of value that's created.
By great founders because when you're a great founder and you're working in Southeast Asia, what are you doing? You're basically saying, let me take a bunch of capital. Lemme take a bunch of talent and let me put all my a hundred percent focus and make this industry disrupted. What does that mean? That meant something that was painful and broken and not working for a lot of folk work for many more people and that's the financial reward for doing that, right?
And so the truth is I think that's something that's honestly something that I appreciate a lot. Is that almost every company that's in Southeast Asia that's working on a problem that makes sense and they have the hunger for it. Oftentimes those problems are super duper valuable. I mean, there's a great company called, for example, octopus and a bunch of other companies.
But what they're doing right, they're going after the recycling problem, which is that Indonesia has a lot of trash and people have to recycle and everybody's not keeping up. And so. They just wanna make things better. That's right. Which is doing about it provisioning for teams. It's trying to make life and hardware much more simple for companies across Southeast Asia, and that's improving productivity because recently, I can tell you right now, I, I hand carried a laptop to my teammate in Manila.
HR was like, Hey, here's the laptop and. Here's the charging key bottle.
Bernard Leong: (50:07)
I'm gonna put some disclosure here. The, the founder and CEO of Esevel happens to be my wife, so I'm just gonna, and on that and I didn't.
Bernard Leong: (50:17)
I didn't ask you for the plug anyway. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Unsolicited. That was great. Uh, Jeremy, many thanks for coming on the show.
And in closing, I probably have two quick questions. The first one, any recommendations which have inspired your life? A book or movie.
Jeremy Au: (50:31)
I love science fiction. Yeah. I'm a big, big science fiction nerd, and I'm always reading. I always have one or two or three, to be honest, you know, so I always read them at different speeds.
As for the law once earlier, and I just really love sci-fi. I mean, I just recently finished reading Ann Lackey Translation State. Yeah, she's a first female author, Torin, the Hugo and the Nebula simultaneously. She obviously had a good series on the Ancillary Justice Mercy series, and now she's doing a sequel called Translation State.
And for me, I thought it was interesting because it was just like she's talking about a future now. She wasn't necessarily talking about a future in terms of technology, but she was talking about a future in terms of society. So this one was in terms of pronouns, in terms of identity, in terms of culture, in terms of identification.
And I was like, okay, this is actually a really interesting conversation this, it made me think about a future, like what does it mean for A, B, and C? But then recently I was just kind of like looking at Overwatch, which is a computer game obviously, and I played for a bit, quite a bit of it during the pandemic, but actually I really got sucked into the law 'cause they're talking about AI and so forth about how society.
Ends up accepting AI in terms of language and so forth, and I thought it was a really interesting set of like concepts. They started pushing in some of their comics and so, so forth because they're trying to talk a little bit about what makes humanity, et cetera. And of course it's not a new question, but with generative ai, I think for example, I obviously everyone's thinking about how to make money, how to commercialize.
I think people are really kind of like understating the societal change that will happen from generative ai. Right. Which is like what happens. I starts talking to a startup and it's just not the only one, but it's just making like AI children books. So basically an AI that does infinite story time, any story, any personalization.
I mean that's bonkers because basically that's, that's your best friend right there from childhood. There's a tremendous amount of change and I think sci-fi. Doesn't mean it's right. It's just speculative and obviously there's a bit of drama and adventure to make, keep the spice going. But I always really, really enjoy that time travel because I always think to myself like, yeah, sometimes I get jealous of my kids.
Right? Like, I mean, don't, I think they have a tough handle. Obviously there's a lot of stuff to solve, but you would love a book called Times Scape by Gregory Benefit.
Bernard Leong: (52:47)
Okay. I gotta check it out.
Bernard Leong: (52:52)
You gotta work it out, because I think that's probably one of the best, it's one of my true favorites because it is about people discovering tachyons, which is faster than like particles.
Yeah. Yeah. But the way they figure it out is to send coded messages. Has more quote back to 1965 to warn them something. And then, and then, and then there's always this volume in me that, hey, maybe I should start sending code. If there ever exists, I should send some code message back to myself in 20 details.
Say, go mine Bitcoin, go mine.
Jeremy Au: (53:22)
You must, you must, you must also add and sell when to sell. You need to, yeah. No, no. That ike having the sports I a, but I think one more interesting part I thought I should just add about scifi since you mentioned it, is, I dunno whether you have tried this, but for those out there, if you are ever interested, actually took two summers when I was still doing my PhD in Cambridge where one summer I just read from the first Hugo winner till the Hugo winner in 2003.
Bernard Leong: (53:29)
Wow. Across the whole summer, and then do the same in the following year for the first Nebula winner all the way to that period. It's, it's actually very interesting because you start to see a trend line of how science fiction actually. Evolve from talking about alternate governments. Yeah. To become more and more real sci-fi, but the underlying how people live, the anthropology and the science.
I think there's a very big shift across very different decades of how the journal has actually evolved.
Jeremy Au: (54:21)
I never heard of that before, but that's really fascinating. It's a great idea. Actually. Speaking about that, there's, there's a new trailer came out. It's called Pod by, it's basically by Amelia Clark.
She's, this is basically a society where nobody has kids by the natural, organic way anymore. Mm-hmm. We have them in like capsules, basically the artificial wombs. Right. And it was a fascinating piece because they showed it in a very beautiful like Apple store. They beautifully done. People are still trying to put that pot and bring that as part, and then men would carry the pods with them.
And I, I thought it was just a really interesting piece because, I watched at sci-fi trade, I just clicked because I'd actually seen an artificial womb startup deck several years ago. And after I saw that deck, it kind of changed a lot of what I was thinking about. But this movie suddenly has come out kind of like shows what that consumerist application, careerist perspective where there's the new norm.
Right. And that was really interesting. Because I go back further back in time, I remember when I was fundraising years and years ago, a VC actually told me, it was like, Hey, you're building this thing in childcare so, so far, but could you do something in artificial wombs? Because I would like to have more kids as well.
And so it's kind of like interesting 'cause I like what I'm trying to say here a little bit is like, I. I first heard that rumbling like almost like a decade ago from a VC who said, Hey, I would like to underwrite you to experiment and explore this vertical. To seeing finally a startup deck several years ago to now seeing that, I dunno, what's the word, sci-fi movie of that painted so vividly and I was just like, wow.
Like, The truth is, is it's a, it's a function of time before it happens, rather than if it will happen. Yeah. I would just call Arthur C. Clark in any sufficiently advanced society. Technology is indistinguishable from Match.
Bernard Leong: (56:05)
Yeah. Oh man. R I P is the OG man. Yeah. I grew up reading Arthur C. Clark, man, some great stuff.
Okay, so my final question, how can my audience find you?
Jeremy Au: (56:19)
Go to www.bravesea.com. It's a podcast. It's conversations with change makers and leaders across Southeast Asia, Southeast Asia only, so there's that. But we also do a weekly tech tech news podcast, and we also have transcripts, resources, and discussion groups for conversations as well.
So really excited to have you follow us, whether it is Apple Podcast, Spotify, LinkedIn, TikTok, WhatsApp, YouTube as well, right? YouTube as well. Oh, sorry, I forgot. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Or Twitter as well. Mm-hmm.
Bernard Leong: (56:57)
You definitely find this podcast. Anyway, and of course, subscribe to our YouTube channel and everything else, Jeremy.
Many thanks for coming on the show and I look forward to speak to you soon. Yeah.
Jeremy Au: (57:08)