[00:00:00] Melanie Oliveiro:
So how do our other local tech companies deal with such similar challenges? That's why we wanna get a clearer picture from Jeremy, our venture capitalist, entrepreneur, panelist, business consultant, and author of BRAVE10: Inspiring Southeast Asia Tech Journeys. Hey, Jeremy. We all heard what DPM Wong said yesterday during a speech about that fragmented and complex Southeast Asian market. Can you give us some examples of these when it comes to the tech founders and MDs you've been speaking to all this time?
[00:00:38] Jeremy Au:
Definitely. So what we see is that Singapore founders are really looking to expand to the regional market, right? Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and there are three different types of problems they face. The most obvious seems to be different languages, localization, and some of the nuances around user experience and our customer journeys. This is what most people think about when they think about market expansion across the whole market. But the other thing is that Southeast Asia are [composed of] very different countries, different markets. We have tier one cities like Jakarta, Hanoi, Hồ Chí Minh City. We have tier two cities in each country and we have tier three cities and towns. The night and day difference in this GDP per capita, as well as logistics, and this is a huge challenge for simple founders to navigate. Lastly, because of this, this is what creates different business models. What works in Singapore at our income level, with our westernization and cultural influences may actually be very different from what needs to succeed on a freemium or individual market basis. This causes challenges of founders to navigate and adapt product-market fit and being thoughtful about different geography requirements.
[00:01:53] Lance Alexander:
So there's geography, there's cultural, there's even language differences. So what solutions, Jeremy, or steps are these tech leaders taking to address these challenges that you just mentioned?
[00:02:07] Jeremy Au:
Well the good news is that Singapore founders are really stepping up to this challenge. The first that we really see local founders are doing is really taking advantage of their cultural fluency for different markets. Every Singaporean founder is actually quite thoughtful about the fact that Vietnam is very different from Indonesia and requires that thoughtful execution and strategy. Secondly, it's about hiring local teams. Local founders' focus on meritocratic, fairness, distributor work has been really, quite thoughtful about really hiring the best talent wherever they come from and being thoughtful about whether and how they become executives and market leaders and bringing their thoughts at executive level. Lastly, local founders are really strong at bringing global capital to turbo charge because it's not cheap to find culturally fluid, but also to be able to hire great local talents.
[00:03:01] Melanie Oliveiro:
It's quite nice to know that our local founders, many of them are like you said, thoughtful, and they sound very discerning as well. Let's talk about one of them. Jeremy. John Tan, the founder of Saturday Kids, whom you spoke to for your book and podcast. Now, he said "Not enough is being done here to teach children about the ABCs of entrepreneurship." What more should be done in your opinion?
[00:03:27] Jeremy Au:
Well, entrepreneurship is very tough, right? I mean, we are asking people to do impossible things, which never happened 30 years ago, which is to build a billion-dollar company in 10 years. That's absolutely bananas from a historical basis but fully doable in today's basis and increasingly will be done even more in the next 50 years. So education really is about talking about how life is not a straight line, that there is failure, and it's part of the journey. These role models are really clear so we have to work harder about moving away from the current testing education model, where folks are thinking about scoring one to 100 and wanting everyone to be well-rounded, and moving towards more of an entrepreneurship point of view, which is what is your edge?
What are you super good at? What is your superpower? And for whatever you're great at, you can go way beyond a hundred marks out of a hundred. You can go 1000, 1 million, you should double down on all of it, and for the areas that you're less interested in or less good at, how do you now collaborate and bring other people who have that superpower?
Adding that entrepreneurship and collaboration is gonna be what allows people to be rewarded for not being well-rounded, but for really being a maximum at pushing their edge and bringing value to the ecosystem.
[00:04:45] Lance Alexander:
Hey Jeremy, do you think the tech pie is also shrinking because there's so many tech entrepreneurs as well running around, not just here in Singapore, but around the region too, that everyone's fighting for a shrinking pie.
[00:05:01] Jeremy Au:
I disagree. I think the pie is growing. If you look at the fundamental problems of what Southeast Asia's trying to have. Look at electricity over the past hundred years, the pie's only grown over the past hundred years. What we are asking is: Southeast Asia needs more water. It needs more data. It needs better management of HR. It needs more human potential being dedicated to the maximum of whoever they're going to be. We need better logistics – such huge problems that haven't solved yet. The region is crying out for tech founders to really build these fundamental businesses that are really solving what the region needs, not what other people believe is supposed to happen, but really serve these customers because by serving these customers, building all the companies and more of them will be built, especially over the next ten to a hundred years. What we're seeing now is really a function of the ripple effects of the federal quantitative easing. But these are small ripples that we'll honestly forget in the next ten to hundred years, because we're gonna be celebrating a new generation of technology heroes who are serving our region and serving people to be the best humans they can be.
[00:06:16] Melanie Oliveiro:
Your entrepreneurship is all about solving problems and making our lives better in an intrinsic sense. I suppose if you look at it, the pie will always be bigger because there are always problems to solve and there will always be avenues to make our lives better. Like you said, in the future as well. You also spoke to Joel Leong, co-founder of Aspire, an all-in-one finance platform for growing businesses in Southeast Asia. What good does he see in FinTech further improving small businesses in the future?
[00:06:52] Jeremy Au:
Finance and FinTech for B2B is super key because small businesses are the backbone of every Southeast Asian economy. Even my grandfather was setting up a small shophouse and struggled to get credit back then because only the privileged could get access to that financing. And so I think it's amazing that when FinTech is really about helping small business, they are helping to reduce working capital requirements, unlock more capital, and steering capital toward productive projects and growth. This helps create more jobs in a more distributed way at a local market, and these merchants are serving local needs. This not only helps the local requirements, but also allows existing employees to improve livelihood and raise their families to invest in education. This is broad-based growth that everybody wants and really cannot be easily navigated on a top down basis, but really comes through better credit access for the entrepreneurial folks who want to build lifestyle or normal or local businesses that are not VC-backed, but are critical to our everyday life.
[00:08:01] Lance Alexander:
We know the books proceeds will go towards The Codette Project, a local non-profit that helps with improving minority women representation in tech. What has its founder, Nurul Jihadah Hussain said about this representation so far?
[00:08:19] Jeremy Au:
Well, she's a good friend and she has shared that this needs to improve. Improvements have been made over the past 10 years, and yet much more needs to go, and I hundred percent agree. Fundamentally at economic level, we can talk about how representation improves decision-making, it's also about representation, it's about getting closer to customers and Southeast Asia. This is all stuff that helps the business get better, but I think what has been most compelling and we've been discussing quite a lot is that frankly, it's the morally fair thing to do. We have to lead by example in the region, meritocracy and fairness is really about letting you know the fact that talent is equally distributed and opportunity is not. Therefore, we have the responsibility to look for talent, wherever they are, and work with them. Coach them, nurture them. Because this not only helps the bottom line, but also it helps create a society that we actually wanna create.
[00:09:16] Lance Alexander:
Jeremy Au, venture capitalist, entrepreneur, panelist, a business consultant, and the author of BRAVE10: Inspiring Southeast Asia Tech Journeys.