Singapore's Startup scene - words of a Silicon Valley Entrepreneur
Posted on by angad
I was recently linked to Vincent Lauria aka. Vinnie who was in Singapore a few weeks back. A short bio -
Vinnie Lauria graduated with a B.S. in Computer Engineering, joined IBM in New York for a few years and then quit his job to move out to Silicon Valley. He joined onto the Meetro team - living and working out of the same house, building a location-aware IM client. The core Meetro team then set out to launch a new company, Lefora to make running a forum and online community easier. Lefora was acquired in 2010 and Vinnie and his wife Kristine decided to take some time away from the Valley and explore the world by backpacking across Asia. Vinnie has been drawn into the emerging tech scene of Singapore and has joined The Founder Institute as a mentor for the SG spring semester in addition to helping to organize the fun hackathon party SuperHappyDevHouse.SG happening this May.
We met up at The Pigeonhole and had a good discussion about the startup scene in Singapore. Vinnie agreed to do a guest blog post about his thoughts and his days in Singapore.
Here is the post. I have some thoughts regarding this - as a student who is amidst the developing buzz in Singapore and will be doing a follow-up post on the topic.
On my first trip to Singapore, I stopped into hackerspace.sg and caught a university entrepreneurial event. One thing stuck out - when 60 students were asked "How many of you have an idea to start a company" nobody raised their hand! This was the complete opposite of anything you would see in Silicon Valley. With the follow-up question "For an entrepreneurial group, no one has an new business idea?", one student raised their hand to say they "Needed more experience first."
The next day I met with Jason Ong for coffee. Jason helps organize a number of tech events, including the upcoming RedDotRubyConf. Jason is a great example of where the emergent tech community in Singapore is headed. As we discussed the differences between Singapore and the Valley, and interesting difference emerged: many new SG startups insist on keeping their ideas silent in fear that a copycat will steal them. They prefer to operate in 'stealth mode'. A Singaporean VC friend mentioned something similar. She is often asked to sign Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) by startups pitching to her firm - this is unheard of in Silicon Valley.
This is tremendous deviation from the open, collaborative, and transparent nature of Silicon Valley. It's common for founders of 'competing' companies to go out for drinks with one another. New startups will push their ideas out to the community through presenting at events, blog coverage, or just socializing at parties - looking for feedback and criticism from their peers I'm a firm believer that an idea is worthless, there are millions and millions of ideas in the valley. The number of people that actually act and execute on an idea is much less. I'm hard pressed to know of a situation where a small web startup is in the pre-launch stage and then a large web company swoops down and steals the market - usually the big company doesn't actually see the value in the idea until the small startup proves it with user adoption.
However, all that being said, the web/tech scene in Singapore is awesome! It's clearly on it's way up - it's thriving, it's growing, and it's organic. People are hosting events, from barcamps to meetups. Hackerspace is home to hundreds of creative tech folks and hosts dozens of talks and knowledge sharing sessions each month. And I've experienced multiple times, socializing with startup founders over drinks. Singapore is thirsty for new companies and fresh ideas. SuperHappyDevHouse.sg had over 50 members signup within a week of it's announcement.
Singapore holds a unique advantage over Silicon Valley, it's smack in the middle of half the world's population. SG presents a unique opportunity for launching globally across cultures. Singapore is English speaking (which helps for launching in the US/UK/etc.), and is smack in the middle of Asia with a diverse mix of people living in SG. This is a huge advantage for launching services globally. Even outsourcing development to neighboring countries is advantageous for Singapore, you share the same timezones and you can hold monthly or quarterly in-person meetings at a low cost.
- Share your ideas! - Feedback is great and you'll end up iterating your product and developing it faster.
- Encourage the idea of working for a small startup vs. a corporation - A large corporation may be stable with a healthy salary, but a startup gives a new hire the ability to really flex their muscle, be creative, and learn more in 2 years than they could at the bottom of the corporate ladder.
- Encourage programs/clubs at the university for students to come together to make mobile or facebook apps - a great low barrier to entry that is fun, exciting, and teaches everything from idea execution, to developing a product, to marketing. I've learned of Associate Prof Ben Leong leading courses on Facebook app development and Obj. C for iOS - awesome stuff!
- Promote the idea that 'failure' is a rewarding experience - We always hear the success stories of a company being acquired for tens to hundreds of millions of dollars, but we overlook the fact that most of the time, that same entrepreneur had 1-2 previous startups that didn't go anywhere. Those failures are great learning experiences for the entrepreneur.
- Leverage SG's unique cultural position - From the start you should be thinking of how to launch your product or service outside of Singapore.
- Internships - As a university student, spend your summers interning for a web startup. In the valley, these are frequently unpaid but provide an amazing education in running a web startup, building your network, and are actually 'fun'.
Let me end this post with posing the question of "What problems or concerns are you personally facing around joining a startup or starting your own?" Please post them below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to be of help.